(I wrote and posted this in November of 2014 when the rape stories started to get my attention)
I want to put Bill Cosby in a box, into a spreadsheet, I want to break him into component columns so I can understand what is going on. I want to codify and understand what he is today.
In one box Cosby was a hero, a story telling role model, one of the great monologists not just of the 20th century but of all time. I listened to his routines over and over, learning how to spin a yarn that was funny and yet might also reflect the real world in a deeper way. Bill Cosby taught me and trained me by his example.
In another box he was an icon, not a great black man, just a great man, a man that broke down color barriers by highlighting the common ground we all lived and worked on. His successes are legendary. We listened to his records, one of his six television series raised the bar on television humor. I remember watching the first season of the Cosby show and knowing I was watching something new and powerful coming to life that would not only entertain but change things.
Those successes were the reason we all grieved with Bill when his son was murdered, because he was our Bill Cosby, our national, paternal figurehead.
Now we stand with our mouths hanging open, at what seems to be crawling out of the darkness.
Because Bill Cosby seems also to fit into the box of monster. If one reads the accounts coming out now, it is hard to dispute that Bill Cosby is a sick man, a man who forced himself sexually on an uncounted number of woman. And how does the father of women live with himself?
I’m so angry at him. I’m angry about his evil abuse of other human beings but I’m more deeply hurt about the lie. The way he presented himself, the way he represented a kind of standard. What he stood for remains real and important. I cannot let go of what was good because something bad is attached to it. It is my job to use what I can and leave the rest.
Are his stories still wonderful? Yes. Is he still a master story teller? Absolutely, the crushing thing is that his greatest story appears to be the lie he lived all this time. To some degree it is my fault. I should be smart enough to know that the great works of fiction are complex, never simple.
Bill Cosby was a comedian, he made me laugh. His timing, his phrasing, his subject matter all combined to draw out of me a vast array of smiles and rollicking cackles, I cannot let this awfulness take that out of my life. Those moments are eternal.
It is easy to sit here in judgment. Bill Cosby continues to teach me even now, but the lessons I take from all that his life means today will take me a long time to process. To get beyond judgment beyond black and white is my first goal.
He cannot fit in a single box, he is too complex for that. I strive for a simple, distilled version of him, but that cannot be created. Our greatest human gems have giant flaws. Our heroes, real heroes are just like us. No one is just a father, or mother, no one is just a hero or an icon, and no one is just a criminal or a monster.
No one fits in a box.