“Civilization had too many rules for me, so I did my best to rewrite them.” (Bill Cosby)
That quote by Bill Cosby takes on a much different meaning today. As the scandal and attention surrounding the comedian continues to grow, so do questions of domestic abuse allegations, Hollywood cover-ups and the role and responsibilities of abuse victims.
In the last few years, public perception when it comes to victims of domestic and sexual assault has been changing at a rapid pace. As late as the 1980s, victims were often viewed as “asking for it” or “making a mountain out of a molehill.” Today, media coverage (such as the recent turn of events regarding the celebrity) often takes on a very different tone.
The 78-year-old comedian’s career in entertainment reaches back to his days in stand-up comedy in the early 1960s. Throughout the following two decades, Cosby’s successful comedy albums focused on family and (often exaggerated and satirized) memories of his own childhood. His reputation as a “family-friendly comedian” was solidified with the creation of “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids,” a Saturday morning cartoon (1972-79) that combined education with issues of morality.
In 1983, a live performance released as a feature film, “Bill Cosby: Himself,” focused on his life as a husband and father and was so successful it paved the way for “The Cosby Show” (1984-92). While “Roseanne” aimed its comedy at Caucasian, blue-collar family life, “The Cosby Show” was seen by many as a television pioneer in its attempt to show an upper-middle class, African-American household with wholesome values and a strong family unit.
Cosby married his own wife, Camille, in 1964 and the couple had five children (his son, Ennis, was murdered in 1997).
In the years since the heyday of “The Cosby Show,” its namesake sometimes has stirred up controversy over remarks he has made regarding childrearing and the responsibilities of parents, particularly in the African-American community. He also has been openly critical of the Republican Party, speaking of the frustration the African-American community sometimes feels over a lack of support and perception of apathy over civil rights issues.
Throughout his career, people in Hollywood are now claiming lurid accounts of his contact with women were an ill-kept secret in the industry. In the early 2000s, allegations and lawsuits began to surface regarding sexual harassment and assault. Cosby’s remarks in the last few years regarding morality and parenting helped fuel a new stack of allegations beginning in the fall of 2014. So far, more than 40 women have come forward with claims that the comedian was guilty of drug-facilitated sexual assault.
This week, after reports surfaced that Cosby admitted in a 2005 deposition of attaining Quaaludes to give to women, his wife (also her husband’s business manager) now states she believes the encounters involved drugging and sex, but with the consent of the women involved.
So who are the victims here? Is this part of a media obsession with knocking down a cultural icon and dragging his name through the mud? Or, is this a case of money buying privilege, where dozens of innocent victims were not taken seriously, paid to keep quiet and shamed into keeping a devastating secret for decades, often deeply affecting their personal and professional lives?
Now, the current scandal is threatening to take both the affection out of the “lovable, ’80s sitcom dad” and the aged wisdom and sting from the interviews he has conducted in the last few years.
In fact, the longer the scandal drags on and the publicity grows, the more irreversible the damage will be. Cosby’s (what we always thought would be) immortal status as a cultural icon and father figure to multiple generations will be gone forever, regardless of guilt or innocence.
If the allegations prove to be true, is this the vindication the victims need? Will they now be able to close this chapter in their lives and move on? If they are false, is this a reflection of our society’s “guilty until proven innocent” mentality?
Tina Culp, household coordinator with the Oasis Women’s Shelter in Alton, says victims of domestic or sexual assault have local avenues that are free and confidential.
“If it is an emergency, call 911,” Culp says. “For a non-emergency, my advice is to call us here. We provide walk-in counseling as well as counseling over the phone, and our staff here is trained to deal with every situation.
“We also can connect women with other resources to help, such as the United Way by calling 211.”
For assistance or counseling, call (618) 465-1978 or toll-free at (800) 244-1978.