Making Peace with Cliff Huxtable

If you were born much past 1982 or so, it’s probably difficult to understand the depth of reaction to the rape and assault allegations against Bill Cosby. OK, so a celebrity is accused of sex crimes. That’s unfortunate, but regretfully, not exactly uncommon. Why are people reacting so viscerally, you wonder?

So you youngsters look back over Cosby’s career, trying to understand. You see him as a secret agent, a successful stand-up comic, and ultimately an all-around comedic talent with a strong emphasis on children and family.

Ding ding ding!

There’s not really been anything like The Cosby Show since. It was uproariously funny, but took family values seriously, well before it was a buzzword.

It’s there, on The Cosby Show, that you missed him being the nation’s dad: Dr. Cliff Huxtable.

There’s not really been anything like that show since. It was uproariously funny, but took family values seriously, well before it was a buzzword. The series was full of wisdom, yet it was nearly never genuinely political. It struck chords that generated nodding all around, on both sides of the aisle and everywhere in between. It was good sense. It united.

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Culturally, it wasn’t even just The Cosby Show. It was all that happened just before and during its run. Bill Cosby hosted Picture Pages. He was the Jell-O pudding guy, and the Coca-Cola guy. There was Fat Albert on Saturday mornings.

Bill Cosby cared. You knew it in your heart. You felt close to him. I bet the guy’s been hugged by a complete stranger 5,000 times in his life.

And that’s why his current situation feels like such a sucker punch.

To be sure, we don’t know exactly what his current situation is. He has neither confessed nor been convicted (or even formally charged). Mostly, there are allegations—but there are many allegations. That’s troubling. Opportunists of questionable integrity tend to come in onesies and twosies, not dozens. This would be an awful lot of smoke for there to be no fire.

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So it’s exceedingly difficult to feel good about it. Consider also that there’s nothing Cosby can do to alleviate that feeling. We all feel bad right now. So would we feel better if he confessed? See?

I’m not much into feeling betrayed or anything else substantive by celebrity actions, but I’ve had a hard time getting to a good place with this. The best I’ve done is comparing it to remembering something from your childhood with adult sensibilities, and having a sudden epiphany.

Perhaps you had a favorite uncle who doted on you. We’ll call him Earl, mostly because I don’t have an Uncle Earl (and indeed, know I’m not basing this narrative on any event from my childhood).

You always had a good time at Uncle Earl’s house. He told you great stories, and always had time to listen to yours. He found out and got you what you wanted for Christmas, instead of generic aunt-and-uncle stuff. He loved you. You loved him.

Then, your adult self thinks “gee, Uncle Earl pretty much always had a drink, didn’t he? And he wasn’t a very old man when he died. And…”

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Wow. Uncle Earl was an alcoholic. That was one of his demons. Not always fun being a grown-up and knowing and realizing grown-up stuff, isn’t it?

But does it change the love Uncle Earl had for you? (Now alcoholism isn’t rape, and I’m not making a statement of moral equivalence. I hold up the example only as something bad similarly concurrent to something good.) No, of course it doesn’t. Uncle Earl loved you.

And despite multiple allegations of despicable criminal behavior, the good family traits Bill Cosby espoused remain valid. Cosby’s work made us all think deeply about taking responsibility for our actions, looking out for those less fortunate than we are, and working hard and honestly. Those things haven’t lost value because their messenger may have.

Breaking those good things off and taking them with us may be our only ultimate resolution.