We’re watching our heroes go down. They’re dying, or being smoked out – being found out. Humiliating themselves, falling. The pop culture boom from the mid/late 1960s is what drew a lot of us, directly or indirectly to music and movies, TV and reading. For every sad story of someone passing there’s a terrible reminder that the strange and ugly power of fame (and the money of course that goes with it) is tough to beat. Mere mortals just trying to keep their head up don’t have a chance.
My Bill Cosby comedy records were gathering dust long before this latest scandal. I keep them because I couldn’t give them away, that’s as much reason as for any nostalgia around first being mesmerised by his abilities to control an audience with a microphone. But now it seems like it’ll be tough to even enjoy Hicky Burr or Herbie Hancock’s Fat Albert Rotunda or almost anything connected with Cosby.
He was the master of a G-rated comedy – just the man and a microphone. Two hours on stage sitting on a chair, never a cuss-word. Intelligent comedy.
He’s being smoked out now, like some last remaining Nazi war criminal. And he deserves it.
The last decade has seen Cosby ludicrously out of touch – an embarrassment to his early years. He’s essentially been working as a racism-denier, telling poor black people that it’s their fault – not their rich white masters. And usually it’s the fault of the poor black mother for the choices she made, never the absentee father. Never mind that Cosby, playing up as some paragon of fatherhood and family – capitalising on his early fame with a sitcom and several books dedicated to those subjects – was off having extra-marital affairs. Flinging himself about. That should have been bad enough – without the date-rape/sexual-assault/predator stories. Stories that (now – and once again) abound.
I’m always of the mind that the work is separate from the person. But with comedy it becomes harder to navigate through that. Art is the product of the artist – it isn’t (always and ever) who the artist is. Most comedians end up living inside the persona they create, usually an exaggerated version of themselves. Cosby’s great comedy character was instead the virtuous version of himself. The quiet observer. The stories are now circulating of his control-freak menace. And this sick lust that propelled such deplorable behaviour was just one version of his control fetish. It’s hard to accept the work now since it was clearly such a brutal, ugly lie. A manipulation coldly cruel and calculated.
What’s certain at this point is that Cosby’s goose is cooked. He can only come out and admit it and face up to whatever time is determined for his crime/s. Or he can become a complete recluse. He has the money to live out whatever is left of his life. And it’s not a fitting punishment that he might get to hide from view, slowly – and then quickly – deteriorating. It’s no justice for the victims.
That doesn’t weaken the work he created – the very best work. But if it weakens a desire to celebrate that work then that’s entirely understandable – particularly since, in this case, it would seem that so much of the work was predicated on a lie. And it will no doubt weaken any interest in revisiting the work. In celebrating it.
Recently the comedian Marc Maron voiced his sadness that Cosby would not appear on his popular WTF podcast – apparently Cosby wouldn’t do it because he didn’t like that the show had the work ‘fuck’ in the title. Always playing up the (ideal of the) G-rated comedian virtue.
And now he couldn’t buy talkshow space.