Of the innumerable creatures in the animal kingdom, turtles are perhaps one of the most fascinating.
Their shells provide shelter and comfort and obviously a measure of protection from external threats. Whenever things on the outside get messy, something you’re certain to see is the turtle retreating into its carapace until the situation turns normal again.
By contrast, human beings are a vastly different biological species. Therefore, we cannot count upon the same ability to shield ourselves from harm when events overtake us. Pulling back into a self-made exoskeleton simply doesn’t work — at least, not for long.
It’s an analogy Bill Cosby would do well to heed as allegations of rape swirl around him. The man widely considered “America’s Dad” is learning a crash course in crisis management, cancelling appearances and refusing to speak at all in the interviews he actually deigns to grant. Cosby, a pop culture icon and a man who has a history of demanding accountability of others, is now eschewing it himself. One of the privileges celebrity affords performers is the ability to retreat into shells created from their own wealth and fame.
Unfortunately, that dynamic can’t withstand the test of time, especially in the Internet age. Although Cosby has been the subject of these accusations for at least a decade, the story has taken on added urgency in an age where social media can shame even the most famous personality with a few well-placed tweets — or in Cosby’s case, an off-color joke by a little-known comedian that quickly goes viral.
For that, the public perhaps owes Philadelphia-based jokester Hannibal Buress a debt of gratitude. In an instant, Mr. Buress managed to foist a measure of responsibility on a man whose personal fortune — and the general public’s unwillingness to believe that a paternalistic figure could be implicated by such horrific crimes — has inoculated him from it. As a result, Cosby’s wholesome persona is being chipped away daily, and rightfully so.
By now, the affable Doctor Heathcliff Huxtable surely must be sweating under one of those colorful sweaters he’s famous for wearing. Cosby is now approaching a point where an image he’s painstakingly crafted over the last several decades is running headlong into the brick wall of reality. The deafening silence coming from those he’s worked with over the years, from “The Cosby Show” to the man who recently authored a hagiographic tome about the man himself, speaks volumes about the tough spot in which America’s Dad now finds himself.
For now, attention is turning to Cosby’s commercial ventures, such as the comedy series he is developing with NBC. A snap poll taken by Variety.com revealed that an overwhelming majority of those surveyed think the Peacock Network should cut ties with a man who created one of their most iconic broadcast shows. Meanwhile, a Netflix comedy special centered on Cosby’s recent birthday and set to debut the day after Thanksgiving is now in some doubt as well.
Truthfully, Cosby’s commercial and broadcast ventures are the least of his worries. Television is a powerful medium, and like everyone of a certain age, your writer grew up watching Cosby and idolizing his family man image. Given the details we now know (and are admittedly sketchy), at least some of the life he projected after the cameras stopped rolling is a fantasy.
Indications about the man’s off-screen behavior have been around for years, but let’s face it — none of us actually wanted to believe it’s true. That suspension of disbelief has in part enabled Cosby to behave the way he has and has allowed him to sustain the idea that he can ignore the controversy and duck accountability.
Some think Cosby is being subjected to some sort of high-tech lynching, but that’s hardly the case. The allegations dogging him are serious enough to warrant a thorough investigation. If he’s found to be culpable, he should be treated exactly the same as any sexual predator — even if it means trial and or prison time.
One of the chapters in Come on People, the book Cosby co-authored with Harvard-educated psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint in which he issues a brave call for self-examination by blacks in the post Civil Rights era, calls on the community to “face the facts head on.” Mr. Cosby really should consider heeding his own advice.