Columns

Kenyon GS: Is this goodbye, Dr. Huxtable?

By
Opinions Columnist
Sunday, November 30, 2014

We all carry the memory of special people in our soul. We grow with these individuals, age with them. As we develop our own senses, we watch what were once the mighty oaks of our childhood dwindle and dwarf before us. It is far too often that our rosy memories of these titans of our youth transform into Frankensteins of our adulthood — realities that we just do not want to open our eyes to.

The nation has inevitably fallen into similar circumstances, as headlines have chronicled the media-fueled fall of a figure of my childhood — Bill Cosby.

Some Brunonians may not be familiar with Cosby’s larger impression on the American cultural landscape. Following two decades of mixed ventures in producing entertainment and comedy throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Cosby came to the forefront of sitcoms in the 1980s hit “The Cosby Show.” The show, unprecedented at its time, was arguably the first mainstream portrayal of an educated and financially secure African-American family called the Huxtables.

For me, “The Cosby Show” was something more than a throwback sitcom — it in essence removed the concept of skin color from my life. Through the lens of my own quiet upbringing in a Caucasian home, with two educated parents, I identified closely with the African-American Huxtable family, without questioning the concept of race as a differentiator. The fictitious Huxtables were not so different from the real-life Kenyons. For that, I have always owed Bill Cosby a debt of gratitude. Huxtable was a wise father figure in my youth, passing along common sense.
But my tribute to a childhood role model ends now.

In the past few weeks, the media has come aglow over the resuscitation of sexual assault allegations against Cosby — with some arising about incidents from decades ago. I, like many fair-minded individuals, stand by the premise of “innocent until proven guilty.” But with each new allegation by another woman of Cosby’s purported acts, my respect for a childhood influence suffers.

When I stumbled onto a Washington Post article from Nov. 22, my respect fell further into question. The article’s authors portrayed Cosby’s 1960s lifestyle: a fresh and hip comedian regarded as a regular in the Los Angeles club scene and a guest of Hugh Hefner at the Playboy Mansion. Cosby socialized in a time and atmosphere when women could fall victim to forced coercion by men of high public status, often with little or no means of being able to challenge sexual harassment or assault.

The question has been posed — “Why only now are people talking about the allegations against Cosby?” Listen to the growing national dialogue on rape and sexual assault of women. Look at our own dialogue here on campus. If there has ever been a time to set the tone on sexual culture for the next generation, this is the moment. If Americans are going to confront the horrors of rape culture, we must unearth every wrongdoing — even when it costs us some of our most beloved figures in society.

Individuals can charge that the accusers are financially motivated or attribute this aggregated bombardment on Cosby to the 24-hour news cycle or even label Cosby’s silence as acquiescence. To date, Cosby does not face any legal charges. However, the allegations remain.

Arguably, the damage has already begun to take a toll on the sunset of Cosby’s career, as a number of public appearances have been canceled and NBC recently pulled the plug on a Cosby series set to debut in 2015. Reruns of the “The Cosby Show” have also been pulled from major national networks. As more women speak out against Cosby, it becomes increasingly difficult to refrain from judgment. To this childhood fan, Cosby’s spiral has come at the sobering loss of an early inspiration — one that taught me an invaluable life principle, albeit through a fictional character. As media speculation continues, one wonders, is this a drawn-out obituary of a national figure?

Ian Kenyon GS is a Master of Public Affairs candidate with the Taubman Center for American Institutions and Public Policy. He can be reached at ian_kenyon@brown.edu.

  • Wow!

    A fresh new take on this Cosby thing!

  • Anonymous

    I, like many fair-minded individuals, believe in innocent until proven guilty, but with each new allegation, do not believe in innocent until proven guilty.