Sunday, September 24, 2017

Public Opinion Clouds Bill Cosby's Legacy

Published: February 20, 2015
Bill Cosby

It is an innate thought to associate educational, uplifting and groundbreaking television sitcoms such as “Fat Albert,” “A Different World,” and most notably, “The Cosby Show” with the prominent comedian, actor, author and activist Bill Cosby. Since the 70’s, Cosby has impacted and influenced families and cultures in a positive light filled with levity for decades. His once popular commercial as the Jello-O Pudding Man, made him a favorite among many. Further, Mr. Cosby has given his time and funds to aid and benefit students through academic programs and scholarships at Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCU) such as Spelman College and Morehouse College. 

As we look to present day, there has been an insurmountable round of allegations as to whether Bill Cosby drugged, sexually assaulted, and/or raped a plethora of women between 1965-2004. In November 2014, approximately sixteen women, including model Janice Dickinson and actress Louisa Moritz, have spoken to press alleging the claims as true. Subsequently, in December, Supermodel Beverly Johnson joined the list of women by telling her story in a Vanity Fair article describing her encounter with Bill Cosby as an invite to his home and later drugged from a cappuccino drink.  “I knew by the second sip of the drink Cosby had given me that I’d been drugged—and drugged good.”  This sent a tidal wave of news correspondents, bloggers, radio shows, etc. into a pool of heightened speculation of Cosby’s innocence. Presently, at least 34 women have come to the forefront accusing Cosby of sexual assault. The outpour of women coming forward through public interviews and various media outlets has caused a round of scrutiny that gradually diminishes Mr. Cosby’s character in the public eye.

This leads to the significant question: does public opinion overshadow and tarnish one’s legacy? The probable answer to this has been exuded through the mainstream media, social media, and from Cosby’s colleagues in the industry. You can take a glance at a friends’ Facebook page and you may see a status referencing their viewpoints, continuous comments, and/or debates on why Bill Cosby is guilty or not guilty in their eyes, or why each women’s claims may indeed be truthful if so many are raising a voice. There are even instances of audience members attending Mr. Cosby’s comedic stand up shows and shouting “rapist!” or other demeaning terms toward him.  Cosby’s colleagues in the comedy and film industry have also shared their comments filled with support regarding the allegations. Actress Keshia Knight Pulliam, known as young precocious Rudy Huxtable from “The Cosby Show,” recently was a contestant on Donald Trump’s Celebrity Apprentice. After her elimination on the show, she did an interview on the “Today Show” stating, "All I can speak to is the man I know and I love the fact that he has been such an example [and] you can't take away from the great that he has done.”  His once onscreen wife, actress Phylicia Rashad also commented on her thoughts as a “destruction of a legacy.” The most important woman in his life, Bill Cosby’s wife, Camille, has released a statement supporting her husband on the matter, "He is a kind man, a generous man, a funny man, and a wonderful husband, father and friend. He is the man you thought you knew." 

On the contrary, a source close to legendary actor Sidney Poitier has recently stated, “I can tell you that Mr. Poitier is terribly disgusted by what Bill Cosby has done, and he feels sorry for him.” Actor and comedian Jerry Seinfield expressed his disdain at a red carpet event, "It's sad, and incomprehensible." The television network TV Land has even pulled reruns of “The Cosby Show” off of the air because of all the continuous news surrounding the situation, which makes it extremely difficult to win public sympathy. Is it now difficult for some to watch an episode of “The Cosby Show” or even his standup comedy engagements without a cringe-worthy reaction. Many are giving Cosby a verdict of guilty through a “court of public opinions” but we live in a country where a person is innocent until proven guilty in the court of law. In addition, a majority of the claims presented by a number of women are barred by the statute of limitations because some of the accusations happened over two decades ago. However, this does not turn a new leaf as far as how society feels after numerous women have come forth after years with stories of despair, shame, and hurt. As sides are being chosen, gradually the public is deterring away from what the great Bill Cosby has done.

Amongst all of the comments that have transcribed since the spotlight of the tumultuous claims, Bill Cosby has continued to perform standup comedy in different cities and refraining from addressing the sexual assault allegations. However, on January 16th, he praised fans for loyalty before a Denver show stating, “Hey, hey, hey — I’m far from finished.” Cosby has been able to maintain a face of optimism in a declining view of which millions of other fans once loved.

Will there always be a gray cloud over the once highly respectable man in entertainment history? It is extremely difficult to deny his contributions to society or the variety of lessons and laughs provided in homes throughout the years yet he is no longer seen in this manner. Bill Cosby’s credibility should not be at a loss but the vast amount of commentary from the public stifles it. As the numerous women stand behind their statements, the cloud continues to hover over what was once a clear sky for Cosby.

[1] Beverly Johnson, Bill Cosby Drugged Me. This is My Story., Vanity Fair (Dec. 2014), http://www.vanityfair.com/unchanged/2014/12/bill-cosby-beverly-johnson-s....

[2] Id.

[3] Robyn Ross, Keshia Knight Pulliam Weighs in on Bill Cosby Scandal After Awkward Celebrity Apprentice Premiere, TV Guide (Jan. 5, 2015, 10:16 AM), http://www.tvguide.com/news/keshia-knight-pulliam-1091395/.

[4] Bill Cosby’s Wife Camille Releases Statement in Support of Husband, FOX News (Dec. 15, 2014), http://www.foxnews.com/entertainment/2014/12/15/bill-cosby-wife-camille-....