I will get this out of the way first. I hate Bill Cosby. I know that is a pretty strong statement to make about a person you have never met in person, so to speak. But disgust is a great description of what I feel whenever I see his image.
Yes, I know that now a total of fifteen different women have alleged that he raped them. Legally, that is how a news source with a large liability quotient can frame it. But let us not kid ourselves. When fifteen women come forth and describe a remarkably similar methodology that seems to hold consistent over multiple decades, the word “alleged” loses a lot of its meaning.
But the real reason I want to talk about this now is not because I feel spite and anger whenever I hear what Cosby is allowed to say. Rather, it is because of words in this particular article published on Vox that I wish to make comment now. The words I mean are as follows:
The fact that the allegations against him are so shockingly incongruous with Cliff Huxtable, the wholesome, good-natured, beloved dad he played on The Cosby Show, could partly explain why there was so little attention paid to them for so long.
And that led me to start thinking. Not just about Bill Cosby and his character in his self-titled show. But about how people seem to think Cosby and Huxtable are two different men.
I will admit this much. Huxtable does come across as a more respectable man who is right at least some of the time. In one hilarious episode where we actually get to see what he does for a living (Huxtable is an OB/GYN or however you say it), a well-to-do and very white couple discuss with him the impending due date. It becomes clear that both sides of this couple think giving birth is like exercises in one of those aerobic videos that were all the rage at the time. When their side of this plot point comes out, the look on Huxtable’s face as they demonstrate this is utterly priceless.
But Huxtable’s dark side was readily apparent to me when I was a six year old boy, and it is even more apparent to me now that I am a thirty-six year old manchild. Cliff Huxtable is described, along with wife Clair, as having fostered a tight-knit, loving family. Bullshit. Although it is true that neither Cliff or Clair are using violence or the threat of violence with any of their children, the level of psychological violence is truly amazing to behold.
I have probably written at length about it elsewhere, so I will give an executive summary here. During The Final Conflict (the third Omen film), Sam Neill repeats the prevalent trope of the time, “wait until you’ve grown up, then we’ll start to listen to you” before he explains what is really meant is “wait until you’ve grown old, then you’ll start to think the way that we do”. That attitude in a nutshell is The Cosby Show’s ever-pervasive theme, and it is one that many people who grew up during the 1980s have permanently scarred into their brains. And it is expressed very forcefully in the show.
The eldest of the five children born to Cliff and Clair appears halfway through the first season, and is noted there to be twenty years old. But the way Cliff speaks to her, you could be forgiven for thinking that she is half that age, and it only gets worse from there. I am uncertain of the exact age of the youngest character that Cliff actually speaks to respectfully without needing to do so, but if it is less than thirty years, colour me very surprised.
(For what it is worth, Clair, as played by Phylicia Rashād, although not completely opposite to this behaviour, is far less psychologically violent to her children.)
I used more words then than I was meaning to, but my meaning if not totally clear from that description of the character, is this. Cliff Huxtable is exactly like Bill Cosby in that he seeks dominance and control. He does not merely want the last word, like many men with serious psychological difficulties do. He wants the first, last, and only word. When he says “you are a bad person because you do not think like me”, anyone with an eye for editing can see how the scene cuts off at that point, with no rebuttals or further words allowed.
(I will further explain that point with comparisons at a later point.)
I have never been raped, so I will just repeat what I hear out of the mouths of quoted victims for a moment. I hear that rape is a crime of anger, which brings to mind a specific point of Bill Cosby. Show me a person with a comparable level of fame that is this palpably angry about the perceived or possibly unreal behaviour of others. I think the last one that I can name committed suicide in 1945.
But anger can also be mixed with a need to assert dominance. A rapist might well be saying “I own you and can do with you as I please” when committing rape.
And whilst those words never explicitly come out of his mouth on the show, Cliff Huxtable speaks to anyone who is not at least thirty years old and he has no professional obligation to speak nicely to in such a manner. I own you and you have to please me is the refrain I hear out of Cliff’s mouth.
So please do not tell me that a big angry rapist Bill Cosby is irreconcilable with a big talk-down-at-like-shit-if-it-is-young Cliff Huxtable. It simply will not do.
As a point of comparison, let us look at the central family from a show that was originally going to be titled Not The Cosbys. Married… With Children features a white suburban trash family where the father is perpetually drowning in his bills, the mother has no sense of responsibility whatsoever, and the children are perfect reflections of this.
Ed O’Neill could kick Bill Cosby’s arse without breaking a sweat, and I am not just basing that on my delight in his portrayal of Al Bundy. He has been training in the Brazilian form of Jiu-jitsu since 1991 and has had a black belt in it since 2007.
When Ed’s former co-stars are in the same room with him, it is hard to not be struck by how comfortable and relaxed such co-stars tend to be with him. And it is not merely off-set. Ed O’Neill has always projected a much more relaxed, gentle, and generally affable presence. Even on the numerous occasions when his character does enact violence (people in the show go out of their way to piss Al Bundy off), you can see a certain confidence of character. My favourite example of this is when Al beats the shit out of one of Kelly’s many boyfriends. On this particular occasion, he only needs to point at things in the house and the boyfriend in question will voluntarily bang his head into them.
Point being that Ed O’Neill does not feel the need to assert his manhood to other people because he quite apparently feels at peace with and in control of what is around him, especially himself. Cosby, on the other hand, acts like a little boy who thinks everyone around is obligated to love him in just the way he wants and no further argument will be tolerated in the matter.
In fact it is that very difficulty that rings the loudest both in Cosby’s behaviour and the accusations (not to mention his responses to them). There is a perpetual sense of “why will you not act the way I think you should?” about the person that does not merely carry over into his acting, but also his public speech and the stories other people tell about him.
So that, in a nutshell, is my point about Bill Cosby. Regardless of what you think of these allegations that buzz around him like flies, I have no trouble believing them. I have no trouble believing them because of Cliff Huxtable. Cliff Huxtable is exactly like the individual who plays him. Unable to recognise the level of privilege he has been afforded compared to comparable folk. Unable to recognise that people who try the same actions he describes himself as having done might get different results.
(And for what it is worth, contrary to Cosby’s “pull yourself up by the bootstraps bullshit refrain, he was famous before he got his PhD., not after.)
Cosby is best described by certain words in the Axl Rose song Sorry. Words like “you like to think in some way that it’s me and not you” or “you don’t know why I won’t act the way you think I should”.
Bill Cosby would, were he aware of me, like me to believe I am pathologically lazy or stupid. But Axl Rose has said one thing about a generalised antagonist that I think applies a million-fold to Cosby, and I doubt any of the thus far fifteen women who are now accusing him of criminal violations of their person would disagree with it.
The truth is the truth hurts, don’t you agree? [Cosby, *cough*] It’s harder to live with the truth about you than it is to live with the lies about me.