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Kill Your Heroes, or how Bill Cosby murdered Heathcliff Huxtable

July 15, 2015

Brittany Harvey has written for LCB in the past. Here are her thoughts on Bill Cosby as an entertainer and the unsealing of a 2005 deposition: 


Bill Cosby has not been tried. Nothing has been proven. He has not been charged with anything. The theatre of the courtroom has been reserved for television and the internet. As Whoopi Goldberg stated on The View, the man is innocent until proven guilty.

Still, this innocence must be reconciled with fact. And the fact is we know Billy Cosby admitted to not only purchasing quaaludes but purchasing them as a means for drugging women to have sex. Not many crimes are more predatory, preconceived, or disgusting. The intent here is absolute in its evil, for it denies others agency with ongoing repercussions. My heart goes out to all the women he violated in anyway. And, no matter how this ends, Cosby clearly did something awful, perhaps multiple times. It is horrific, and inexcusable.


In the past weeks and months, I have heard news anchors, talk show hosts, and tabloids enter into discussions about the legality of concealing depositions, the definitions of rape in one state versus another, and the habits of sexual predators. Obviously, these discussions need to take place, specifically how to better protect women from becoming victims of sex crimes. The victims of Cosby’s crimes deserve to tell their story if they so wish, just as they also deserve to not tell it if they so wish. Furthermore, they deserve to be heard when they attempt to face the person who violated them—something that has been denied them up to this point. Ownership of the story does and should belong to them and not Bill Cosby.

Yet what I have to say is about the Bill Cosby who belonged to the general public; the iconic figure, who no longer exists, but who also cannot be tried in a court of law. I have struggled much more with Cosby’s crimes than with the crimes of other celebrities who, like Cosby, turned out to be less than we thought them to be.

People create idols and have done so for seemingly forever. Whether the idol is cast out of gold in the desert, or documented on reality TV, people love the idolatrous hero, especially when such figures appear to have their lives all together. This perfection can teach us the notions of right from wrong, show us who we are, inspire us, or allow us to dream about what it would be like to be someone else. Bill Cosby is not the first of these idols to prove false.  

Without comparing the degree to which a crime is awful, the revelation of Bill Cosby as a destructive human being is not a unique turn of events. But Bill Cosby is not Tiger Woods. He is not Ben Roethlisberger. He is not Ray Rice. He is not Kobe Bryant. He is not even Rob Lowe or Bill Clinton. Those men, like Cosby, were great at something, and how much that greatness matters is debatable, but mostly we loved them because of a talent they possessed. The same could be said for Cosby. He was really just a funny man. But what he did with that talent was much more than most of our idols do with theirs, because no line appeared to exist between the fiction and the reality. He did not need a locker room or an Oval Office to become himself—he simply was at all times Bill Cosby.


I should probably admit the extent to which Bill Cosby was a hero of mine. Though I have never been a fan of jello, I loved pretty much everything he did. I watched reruns of  The Cosby Show so much as a teenager, that when someone else in my family was flipping channels and came upon an episode, I needed no time at all to know which episode it was. I wanted to dress like Denise. I wanted to have a best friend named Cockroach. I wanted a cooler name—like Rudy. I wanted my family to put on lip sync performances of Ray Charles songs for special occasions. I lived in Georgia and Virginia, but those Brooklyn brownstones felt like home to me and most of that was due to Bill Cosby’s persona.   

Thus, what makes this more tragic than if anyone else had done what he did is that he was Bill Cosby even in the moments when other characters called him Heathcliff Huxtable. Cosby was synonymous with the character. After all, it was The Cosby Show we watched and not The Huxtables.

And, for almost a decade, he and Claire, along with their children changed the way America saw the black family. He educated Americans of all races about jazz, the blues, the Harlem Renaissance; he welcomed everyone into that high-ceilinged living room; and he made everyone laugh. The pilot alone is iconic family comedy from start to finish, and perhaps one of the best sitcom pilots ever.
           
He was a strict father. He was relentless with Theo about his grades; pretty harsh when Vanessa was caught drinking in high school; and all but scared away every guy any of his daughters brought home in order to ensure they were up to his high standard. And yet he also extended grace to his children. No matter what they did, he always welcomed them home--sometimes with their spouses and children in tow. He made sure his children did not think they were better than anyone else, but he never hesitated to extend his love to his neighbors or children’s friends. At the end of the day, his children always knew they had the best parents of just about anyone they knew.


I realize, much to the dismay of my teenage dreams, that the Huxtable family was not real. It, as much as other families depicted on TV, was entertainment. Yet to say people only watched The Cosby Show because it was entertaining is like saying people listen to The Beatles because the music is fun to dance to. The man and his creativity were full of life lessons. Though in the last few days, Bill Cosby has taught me one more thing: all heroes, no matter what makes them heroic, can fall. 


Strangely, he has turned out to be exactly the kind of man he taught all of his children not to be. I am outraged that there are people like him in the world, who would drug others to get what they want. I am heartbroken that the man who created such wonderful things could participate in such evil. I am saddened that that evil makes me never want to watch The Cosby Show again, that it will never do for my own son what it did for me. I thought that there could not have been a better dad than Heathcliff Huxtable.

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