Commentary: When It's Totally OK Not to Respect Your Elders
Was it the “Night Time Is the Right Time” cover on the anniversary episode? The time Rudy puffed her cheeks out like Dizzy Gillespie? Or maybe anything with Cousin Pam? Everyone has a favorite Cosby Show moment, a best of memory from the series that changed television history and made us all feel fuzzy, warm and good inside. Eighties kids grew up on it and younger generations can watch marathons up and down the cable channels.
Stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress wants us to think again about those warm, fuzzy memories. Especially the ones starring Bill Cosby. Buress went to Cosby’s hometown, Philadelphia, and delivered a scathing, not un-factual takedown of the Cos last week. Many in the audience weren’t feeling his message, but maybe that’s because the (alleged) truth hurts. "Pull your pants up, Black people. I was on TV in the '80s. I can talk down to you because I had a successful sitcom," Buress said, imitating Cosby, who has spent years criticizing young Black men for how they dress, talk and present themselves to the world. “Yeah, but you raped women, Bill Cosby. So, brings you down a couple notches.”
This is not one comic hating on another, more successful one. This is a man bringing up some facts that most of us don’t want to ever discuss because they really dim the lights on our Pudding Pop-bright, happy memories. Seventy-seven-year-old Cosby has never been charged with rape, but in 2006 a woman named Andrea Constand did file a civil suit against him saying that two years earlier he had drugged her at his mansion and, after she was unable to walk on her own, he sexually assaulted her. During the trial, not one, not two, not even 10, but 13 other women came forward as witnesses and said he did similar things to them. He settled out of court with Constand before the case could go to trial, so we will never know more details or hear his defense.
Why isn’t this bigger news? All too often, it's because the accusers tell their stories and the world covers its ears. Collectively, we do not want to hear that one of our legends, an icon who made entertainment history, could be capable of such gruesome, horrible things. It’s not unlike how no one wanted to think Michael Jackson could have been guilty. Or how few fans want to stop seeing Woody Allen films — even after the director’s adopted daughter wrote a detailed article in the New York Times on how he molested and sexually abused her. Or how many people have shouted “I love R. Kelly!” even after watching the sex tapes that seem to feature him and underage girls.
Just because Cosby can act like he is America’s greatest dad — he is, after all, an actor — does not mean he can not also be a sexual predator of women.
We may never know what happened between Cosby and these women and he, like everyone, is entitled to the presumption of innocence unless proven guilty. But as thinking people who form opinions all day, every day about whatever pops up in our Facebook feed, we owe it to these women to assume that their accusations could be true. It is wrong to assume that their victimization was less if their attacker was famous or that they are the real wrongdoers because they forced us to feel uncomfortable about someone we love. “I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns,” Buress told his horrified audience. But more importantly, he wants us to stop idealizing possible predators. And it shouldn’t take a comedian to make us face up to that very unfunny truth.
The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of BET Networks.
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(Photos from left: Cindy Ord/Getty Images for AWXI, Michael Loccisano/Getty Images)