Oct 20, 2015

Muse: Separation Of Huxtable & Cosby

So Ebony Magazine went there. Went all the way there with the cover of their November issue. 


As in life, there is opposition, and people are polarized, polarized and down-right enraged over the decision of this particular cover. Polarized and angry on why the cast of The Cosby Show have their faces marred by broken glass, next to a headline that reads "The Family Issue(s)" when The Cosby Show is a fictional situation comedy show that follows a fictional family called the Huxtables. Why put them in the same breath as the Obamas? Whatever "blended situation" the Real Housewives of Atlanta Kandi and Todd are in? They aren't real. Why punish fictional characters?

Simply because of that --- they aren't real, but viewers of The Cosby Show made it real, especially Black Americans made the Huxtable family into walking and talking members of our own family, or who we wished was in our own families. Even Bill Cosby himself made it real, so real that today we have a hard time separating Bill Cosby from the character he played on a television screen. Have a hard time understanding that the man who played Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable is in fact a serial rapist.

Bill Cosby is low-key the greatest actor in the world because of this. He pretty much fooled people into the art of his fictional character. He made people believe he was Cliff Huxtable. When he got up on the podium in front of an audience or lounged back in a chair on a late night talk show, we didn't see Bill Cosby, we were seeing Cliff, Dr. Cliff Huxtable rattling off jokes about domestic life, social commentary, every bullet point of respectability politics, telling Black people that they needed to stop embarrassing themselves, etc.. 

The lie of the thespian. A beaut isn't it?

Yes, he did it. He raped those women. I don't need anybody telling me otherwise or dubbing it slander. Fuck "innocent until proven guilty". All the evidence has been provided by the exorbitant number of women he raped, all their similar sounding recounts of their horrific ordeals, all the tears they shed, all legal documents drafted, Cosby's senility whenever he tries to form words to cover for himself, the obtuse ill-informed quotes from his defenders --- the man is a serial rapist, period. 

Look at the glass again. Cliff Huxtable/Cosby's face is mangled, the lines extend outward to the cast. It's a brilliant message that says everything, but says so in no words. Cosby's sordid actions have effected everyone in the picture, everyone who bought into the Huxtable ideal of the "perfect family". We forget about cause and effect, how our actions can effect others, even innocent people who aren't even involved. For a public figure like Cosby, he had power to effect a lot of people with his actions, but he abused that power to bring harm to not just direct parties, but outside ones as well. The Cosby Show cast, the Huxtables are there on the cover because for too long we have ridden on their fantasy, and its time for that fantasy to be exposed as such, to be smashed and fractured. 

I'm not disparaging the show or the "legacy" as so many defenders like to put it. I can understand the difficulty of coming out of the fantasy into the reality. Black people, we've always had to contest with the supremacy of Whites. We've been conditioned to see White people as supreme beautiful beings when it comes to the media. Never a blemish, never a wrong word uttered, and when one of their own went astray, their whole sense of being was intact. Not the case for Black people, when one Black person does something awful --- we are all universally blamed and looked at sideways. We are precious about our idols and icons because of this, because we know that the lie of perfection doesn't come around often. 

In the 1980s we needed to see the Huxtables, America in general needed to see the Huxtables. That type of representation was important as Black people looked towards The Cosby Show as something to aspire to, the fantasy of it all. For some who hadn't grow up with a father figure in the home, Cliff Huxtable became the replacement "father figure".  The Cosby Show also confirmed the strong, whip smart Black female character of Claire Huxtable (played by Phylicia Rashad) was in existence.
For me, the show was confirmation of my own Black experience. I grew up "Huxtable-esque". My father is a general surgeon, has had his own medical practice for 30+ years, and both him and my mother are college graduates, I even have a grandmother, great-aunts and uncles who attended college and made moves in professional settings. I knew that upper-crust 'Jack n' Jill' Black lifestyle. The Cosby Show, while total fantasy, still portrayed portions of my reality, confirmed that my personal experience was a "Black experience", this all while I was attending schools and living in a neighborhood that was predominately White. 

The show also predicted a new path for Black-minded art. Without The Cosby Show there wouldn't have been the swell of Black family situation comedy and drama shows that permeated the 1990s and 2000s. The Cosby Show allowed shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Family Matters, Moesha, Sister, Sister, etc. to be greenlighted, taken into consideration. This I do give credit to Cosby for in the creation of the show, he brought Black upper-class families to the a TV viewing public. Showed how Black people were in fact "moving on up", how we all weren't having "temporary layoffs" or lived near junkyards with our trifling sons. We needed The Cosby Show to show the myriad of the Black American experience, especially for the growing economic and social bed of the 1980s. Black Americans were worth investing in and The Cosby Show gave us the right image to push us as a people, forward. 

In 2015...eh, we don't need the show's imagery that much. We have real Black families making moves in the public eye thanks to the usage of social media, we even have a real Black family who resides in one of the most important houses in the world. We all know now (hopefully) that we can aspire for the Huxtable lifestyle, but understand that we all cannot acquire it. 

Stepping out of the fantasy of The Cosby Show, the reality is that of people believing Bill Cosby, and dismissing the women and their ordeals, women who I feel had legitimate stories, but were blamed for what happened to them because of the way we've condoned rape and the terrible treatment of women in this society. Ebony's cover sends the same powerful message about rape culture that the New York Magazine cover did by having Cosby's victims, all 35 of them who have come forward, right there front and center, in counting position, along with an empty chair symbolizing all the victims who have yet to come forward. The victim blaming has been so horrendous, that every time I hear someone say that those women were lying or are questioning why they waited so long to tell anybody makes my stomach churn and gives me supreme urge to throw things out windows. Makes me wish that we could have Freaky Friday moments where supporters of Cosby switch places with the victims and let them see just how difficult it for a rape victim to continue on with their lives when their rapist walks free, how arduous the process is for people to believe a rape victim. We'll believe the existence of UFO's over rape victims --- that's scary.

I can't even begin to imagine what these women went through, reading interviews and watching TV specials doesn't give me the truest sense of their pain, but I do believe these women, and after hearing their stories, while never revering Cosby, I began to come out of my neutrality of him and began to loathe him, loathe how he put these women in this position, that he had this power, physical and monetary, and that nobody could or would do anything about his horrific actions simply because of this power. Cosby played with us all, made us all believe he was the mature "voice of reason", made us all fall for that glittery image of visual deception known as television. As a Black person, I and many others have to face the fact that there is a Black man out there who was viciously raping women (and a majority White women at that) and that this time it wasn't some racist stereotype or accusation --- it is the damn truth. 

This is what we need to confront, not hide behind warm nostalgic feelings for a television show and a comedic personality. We need to stop feeling betrayed or embarrassed. We need to separate the person from their work, Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, the fictional character, from Bill Cosby, the serial rapist.

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