Bill Cosby Scandal: Fans Feel Sadness, Not Sympathy

Bill Cosby Rape Allegations
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As sexual-assault allegations regarding Bill Cosby have snowballed, admirers of his work have doubtless experienced hard-to-identify emotions. While those determined to defend the star at any cost appear increasingly foolish and tone-deaf, there should be room for sadness for those who grew up with Cosby now having those memories irrevocably tainted. That feeling of lost nostalgia has nothing to do with empathy for or sympathy toward the architect of all this seemingly horrid behavior.

Cosby is hardly the first public figure whose private behavior has cast clouds over his persona and career; indeed, he’s merely the latest celebrity to reveal the perils of blind hero worship. Still, even compared with, say, the many athletes accused of crimes and misdemeanors during or after their playing days, Cosby represents an unusually uncomfortable situation, thanks in part to the fact his standup act was moored in exaggerated recollections of childhood.

In those early Cosby routines, rotund friends weighed 2,000 pounds and tall ones stood 6’9”, making them useful for retrieving balls from the sewer. Cosby not only built an animated children’s series (“Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids”) around that, but successfully evolved his material by changing the perspective from the kid waiting for dad’s punishment to the father wondering what to do with his son, or why there was no good way for a dad to take his young daughter to the bathroom at a football game.

Beyond working clean, Cosby tapped into these universal themes in a way that almost literally guided young men from seeing through the lens of a child to early (and eventually, older) adulthood. His transition to television, moreover, yielded a historic breakthrough with his three consecutive Emmy wins, the first for an African-American lead actor, for the 1960s series “I Spy.” If “The Cosby Show” broke across lines of race in spectacular fashion two decades later, Cosby’s ability to do that as a performer had long been established on stage, screen and vinyl.

Stripped of any context, the comedy routines still hold up, but there’s no way now to separate them from their author. As new details emerge from his extended deposition, the charges of hypocrisy alone would be damning – given his Jell-O-pitching image and lectures about personal responsibility – even without the alleged criminality, rendered moot only by the statute of limitations.

Except for those who have chosen to circle the wagons around Cosby – which, for starters, requires ignoring the sheer tonnage of women who have come forward to accuse him – his work feels forever tarnished. The court of public opinion has delivered its verdict, and those who would still argue about “innocent until proven guilty” at this point simply sound desperate to defend him.

Viewed that way, his storied career becomes another memory that can’t be summoned without considering the source, along with things like Michael Jackson songs and Roman Polanski films. For many, those works now come affixed with a mental asterisk. It’s by no means a perfect analogy, but emotionally speaking a close cousin would be sports records stained by steroids or doping, from Mark McGwire and Barry Bonds’ homerun marks to Lance Armstrong’s racing victories. Yes, we enjoyed and celebrated them at the time, but the joy associated with watching then feels besmirched now.

When Armstrong’s cheating was exposed, New York Times sports columnist William C. Rhoden wrote, “Perhaps we can agree, moving forward, that our sports heroes do good things but do not have to be good people.”

In theory, it should be possible to separate who people are from what they do – but not unconditionally, especially when victims are involved. What those who once embraced Bill Cosby’s work should be allowed is grief – not for him, but for themselves, since they have experienced a kind of loss. And if anyone thinks Cosby is the last iconic figure that will let down those who once admired him, as Pete Rose might say, don’t bet on it.

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  1. Nick Turner says:

    What he did is disgusting and unforgiveable. But should we burn the video, smash the records and send Cosby’s life work to the trash heap? If we discovered indisputable proof Michaelangelo was a horrible pedophile, would we demo the Sistine? Probably not. But we didn’t grow up loving and admiring the Italian guy on TV. Maybe someday people will be able to separate Cosby’s monsterous flaws from his considerable achievements and enjoy his work. But in the meantime, I dont want to see or hear anything more about him. I actually used to laugh outloud at his stuff. I doubt I ever will again.

  2. JOE S HILL says:

    I Don’t care how many women accusers come out of the woodwork,to jump on the band wagon against Bill Cosby,because so far,all of this,has been nothing but hearsay and speculation,without solid evidence and facts to support these charges! but the liberal media has been feeding off of this witch hunt,,and the only thing that’s been revealed,is a leaked court deposition,from a sealed file,,and this is supposed to convince me of his guilt? looking past all the hate and scorn,Bill Cosby is STILL a media icon-and in the 50 years that i have watched him on TV,i enjoy his work,,especially on “I SPY”,which remains the superior,to this day! then there was his work on PBS’s “THE ELECTRIC COMPANY” in 1971-1972,,pure delight,and joy! and then,came “FAT ALBERT AND THE COSBY KIDS” for CBS Saturday mornings,from the people at Filmation Associates,which led Cosby to more Emmy awards! then the Carsey-Werner TV shows,which were solid,beyond measure! but scandal or no scandal,Cosby’s trackrecord will in no wise
    diminish the respect and admiration i have for the man! these charges have been in the liberal media for over a year and a half now,,and we’re all supposed to believe these accusations from all these women that nobody’s ever heard of,,and on alleged events,that took place years and decades ago,,and all this stuff is supposed to be news all of a sudden? got to do better then that,because despite all the sympathy
    for these women,this still has the earmarks of a very nasty money shakedown-and somebody is behind this campaign! hate em’ or like em’,Bill Cosby is still an icon,,and until the REAL truth emerges,or is proven,,then that’s a whole other story! but with all his credentials,i do not believe he’d be stupid or foolish enough to throw all of that away,on behavior,like the kind he’s being accused of,,so again,until any of this is proven,he’ll still be the same iconic man that he’s been,over these past 50 years!

  3. Aaron S. says:

    I too am saddened that I can no longer just appreciate Cosby for all his genius, and I’ve questioned whether it’s right for me to enjoy The Cosby Show. My 11 year old son goes to sleep listening to Cosby every night just like I did when I was his age. He loves the stories so much that I have declined to tell him that the creator is a despicable person. Cosby’s routines are so classic and timeless, I figure my son deserves to have those same sort of memories before they are tainted by the truth. He does play the routines really loud and sometimes I can hear Cosby from across the house. When I’ve had enough, I excuse myself and tell my wife. “I’m getting up to turn off the rapist.”

  4. Sheels says:

    People SHOULD BE feeling sorry for the victims he RAPED. But Lib’s brains are wired backwards

  5. Mr. Mike says:

    What’s the matter Hollywood? This is the same exact kind of perversion, misogyny and debauchery that you vomit up as entertainment.

  6. G-Man says:

    One of the best written essays I’ve ever read. Well researched, well articulated, and sadly appropos. Legions of Cosby fans like myself watched him reinvent his persona to each generation, viewed through what is now a cracked prism of family values and good behavior.

  7. filmsharks says:

    Cosby has a net worth of around $400 million dollars. He needs to retire and fade into the sunset. Or better yet, why not donate some of his wealth to charities related to violence against women?

  8. ex360 says:

    and Woody Allen’s movies

  9. Jacques Strappe says:

    Sadness for all the rape victims and unbridled anger and hate toward Cosby but less than zero sympathy for this monster

  10. Tom says:

    After the second woman came forward and was clearly speaking from the heart it should have been clear to all.

  11. Lisa A says:

    Dammmitall, because of this disgusting schmuck, “chocolate cake for breakfast” will NEVER be funny again. ….. dammit!

  12. At the end of the day…it’s not what you do in life; it’s how you’re remembered.

  13. Cherry B. says:

    I agree with these comments. Bill Cosby is disgusting and repulsive hypocrite who hides behind his celebrity and race. His arrogance and total lack of respect for women has come back to haunt him. How interesting that this predators victims are white!
    Thank goodness he is the one who is now exposed.

  14. elizabeth says:

    Michael Jackson vehemently denied the allegations against him which denials were confirmed by the NOT GUILTY verdict of a jury of his peers in 2005. There is no “mental asterisk” next to his songs which are played in every corner of the world. Shameful for this author’s failure to perform any research prior to including his name with others who either admitted their guilt or were found guilty in a court of law.

  15. Jeff says:

    I agree with the thesis of this piece – that Cosby fans are deservedly sad to see that their idol is not nearly as infallible as we once thought – but the focus needs to be on the pain he has caused his victims. Our sadness is hardly relevant compared to what they have gone through. These women were not merely “ignored” but chastised.

    • fredalf says:

      That’s only because he was more villainous about choosing victims whose parents were even more corrupt than him by taking huge bribes to shut up and also allowed the molestation to occur in the first place.

  16. Jim D says:

    Bill Cosby seemed to have it all ! It is sad and tragic for many; that Bill obviously decided that he was somewhat “entitled” to much more.

  17. DB62hr says:

    None of the comparisons in Lowry’s article, to Lance Armstrong, or the other examples can even begin to compare to the drugging, then raping 40+ women. Sorry, but Cosby’s actions are more heinous and criminal than ANY of those.

  18. Dick Enormous says:

    He’s a total schmuck. No one should feel sorry for him

  19. sharon walker says:

    As a little girl in the 60’s who with gathered family watched Bill Cosby rise on “I Spy”, who later enjoyed his comedy routines! Knowing his many contributions to Black colleges, yes I’m totally disappointed not only in him, but also in myself as a defender of this predator! I did start to cast a side eye as I listened to Beverly Johnson. I’ve long been an admirer of Beverly! What a sad end to what was a iconic legacy.

  20. Sadness? Sadness over a monster? You’d have to be insane to feel that.

    • Sheels says:

      when people feel sorry for the criminals, there’s something wrong with their brains

    • Sherry says:

      Skip Press, I think you’re missing the point.

      People aren’t feeling sadness over Bill Cosby himself – he’s done some horrible (as you point out, monstrous) things.

      The sadness comes from all of us who used to love his TV show and grew up watching it and now feel like the entire experience has been tainted. Our childhoods have been tainted. The sadness comes from knowing we’ll never be able to look at that show with love and appreciation again, because now if we were to see it, we’d be wondering if Bill tried to drug any of the actresses on that program. Every time Cliff Huxtable puts his arm around a younger woman in a scene, we’ll wonder if Bill Cosby thought about trying to seduce her or take advantage of her by using his celebrity and authoritative power to coerce to get what he wants.

      There’s sadness in a childhood favorite show being ruined. There’s disgust in seeing a guy who many times lectured America about responsible, family-oriented behavior being exposed as a huge hypocrite. And there’s horror in hearing about what it sounds like he has done to many women.

      • Anonymous says:

        “Doing porn” is a permissable, legal, and a choice involving consenting adults. Comparing that to what Cosby did to his victims minimizes the true horror of what they suffered. Next time maybe go with, “sodomized _____ “, “killed strippers”, or “drank martinis made with children’s tears”*. But don’t confuse what Cosby did with kink or scandal. It was violence. *#SaveHannibal

      • Concrete Brad says:

        Alex, you gave a certain young woman from my part of the country a brilliant idea!

        Belle Knox’s Neighborhood: Lookin’ for Cox

      • Alex says:

        Agreed, I grew up watching “Fat Albert” and I always looked forward to the “Cosby Show” and the rest of the Must See TV line up on Thursday night. Cosby was drugging women and raping them in the 70s and 80’s when these shows where on. What the f**k will we learn next, Mister Rodgers did porn in college?

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