August 2017

Line in the Sand: Bill Cosby, Guilty or Not?

Author: Barry Kaufman & Courtney Hampson

Barry Kaufman
Can we talk about Bill Cosby for a second? I know, it’s a weird subject right now, what with the recent grossness, but let’s talk about Bill Cosby—as in, the guy who pops into your head when you think of Bill Cosby. Is he a disgraceful criminal, celebrating his narrow brush with justice by shouting out “Hey, Hey, Hey” outside the courtroom? Or is he the guy who was just everywhere for a while, from his weekly show to his appearances in roughly every advertisement produced from 1986-1991? Which Bill Cosby you picture probably has a lot to do with your views on redemption.

Me, I’m kind of in between. On the one hand, as much as the criminal justice system has not convicted him of anything, it seems like he’s done some awful things. I’m not trying to make light of those awful things. If he did do those things, then he deserves whatever punishment awaits him. But that’s a strong word. If.

If he has not done those things, then he’s just the Bill Cosby I still want to picture when I think of Bill Cosby. The guy who inspired countless horrible impressions, my own included (it’s basically just me saying “Jell-O pudding” while trying to sound like I have a mouthful of bees). The guy who recorded Bill Cosby Himself, still one of the greatest comedy albums of all time.

In fact, there’s a track from Himself that I played for my kids recently because it’s just that damn funny. It involves Cosby making breakfast for his children, and realizing via his impeccable comedic timing why it’s okay to give his kids chocolate cake for breakfast: “Eggs! Eggs are in chocolate cake! And milk! Oh goody! And wheat! That’s nutrition!”

Yeah, I felt a little weird playing something like that for my kids, knowing that the guy who recorded it might very well be an inhuman monster. But that track was such a huge part of my life growing up. My dad owned it on vinyl, and he would not only play it, he’d remind us any time we ate chocolate cake that eggs are in chocolate cake. And milk. Oh goody! And I’d laugh every time, because my dad’s Bill Cosby impression was probably the only one worse than my own. So that’s why I still want to picture Bill Cosby as I once did, as I did for so much of my life—as a brilliant comedian who reached a somewhat obnoxious level of ubiquity in the late ’80s.

But let’s talk about the redemption of Bill Cosby, if it’s possible. If you’re the type who only pictures the monster, let me ask you something. How do you picture Johnny Cash? Or Chuck Berry? Or Charlie Chaplin?

I’d imagine you picture them as the marketing arm of their estates wants you to picture them: Cash, the man in black, his signature baritone reverberating off the walls of Folsom Prison. Berry, duck walking his way to changing the way rock and roll looked and felt. Charlie Chaplin, wiggling his mustache as he waddled his way through iconic silent films that defined cinematic comedy.

But let’s be real. Johnny Cash’s truck caught on fire once while he was driving through the woods, and he just left it there to burn while he went fishing. It started a blaze that took out half the California condors in existence at the time.

After his star had faded, Chuck Berry bought a Missouri restaurant and allegedly installed a camera in the toilet of the women’s restroom. A raid on his house around the same time found intimate videos of a minor. He settled out of court.

Charlie Chaplin knocked up a 15-year-old and forced her into marriage when she wouldn’t terminate the pregnancy. He was 35.

The point is, at some point, a celebrity’s legacy overtakes some of the horrible things they’ve done. As sickening as they may be, they’re just not enough to overcome the mountain of goodwill they’ve built up because of their work. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just pointing out it happens.

But redemption isn’t just about the court of public opinion. Redemption is about someone who has done terrible things trying to atone for them. You never know. Cosby could end up turning out to be innocent and work the rest of his live sowing good deeds to restore his own legacy. Think of all the good things he’s done, and think about the motivation to do even better as he faces his final judgement if, indeed, he is innocent.

I like to think it’s possible. But then, I tend to look at people the same way Cosby looked at chocolate cake. There are good eggs out there; they can just be hard to see sometimes.

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Courtney Hampson
I’ll give you a second to recover. Go ahead. Take a deep breath. Take a minute. I know you’re surprised, probably looking around to make sure you’re still in your kitchen, sipping coffee from your favorite mug, reading the August issue of C2. Relax. You haven’t been kidnapped. This isn’t an alternate universe. I just quoted the Bible. Let’s consider it progress and not get all weird about it. Okay?

Thank goodness for kooky celebrities, reality TV, bad politicians and policies, and social media. Without the aforementioned atrocities, I doubt Barry and I would be able to keep the debate going strong for what is now dozens of months. The more ridiculous people act, the more years of material we have. So, thank you public, for keeping us in business.
This month Barry posed the following question: “Is redemption possible for everyone? If Bill Cosby cured world hunger would we remember him for that or for…ya know, the other thing?”

I quickly responded, “No. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. You’re an a-hole. I move on.” So, while it sounds like Barry is getting ready to re-stock his freezer with Jell-O pudding pops, my opinion is a smidge different.

Now, I’ve never met Bill Cosby, and I’m pretty sure if I did, I wouldn’t be having a cocktail with him to discuss his issues of late. But, if you’ve drugged and raped dozens of women (allegedly), you’ll meet karma eventually, and I don’t have to be a part of it. Likewise, to Anthony Weiner and his pee-pee pics, OJ Simpson and his glove, Hugh Grant’s hooker, et al.
So, I apply this question to my life—not Cosby’s, Weiner’s, Simpson’s, Grant’s or even Barry’s—and in the end, I think it comes down to effort. How much of yourself are you willing to invest in the forgiveness and ultimately the redemption of others?

Frankly, I don’t think redemption is mine to give (you know, since I am not the omnipotent one, I have questions about his/her very existence, and haven’t been to church in a decade), but forgiveness is a gift that humans can give. And I think we struggle with forgiveness, because we think that if we forgive someone it means that we’re wiping the slate clean and starting over. We forgive. We forget. In reality, it just isn’t that easy.

Have you seen the movie, or read the book, The Shack? The gist is that, after a horrible tragedy, a grieving man receives a mysterious, personal invitation to meet with God at a place called “The Shack.” There is a moment where God (played by Octavia Spencer, which totally makes me want to believe and want God to be a black woman!) tells the main character, “Forgiveness is not the start of the relationship.”

Now, I know it is just a movie, but the moment I heard those words, “Forgiveness is not the start of a relationship,” I felt a peace. The person I was watching the movie with began to sob uncontrollably. Two very different reactions, but for a very similar reason. We were both able to come to terms with forgiveness of someone who has made our life difficult. Our situations are different, the people are different, and our ultimate course with each person is different. But those words were so powerful.

In my particular situation, I forgive the person I speak of but do not intend to continue to invest my time or energy in maintaining a relationship with him. He chose his course, made bad decisions, treated me and those around him poorly, and unfortunately owns none of it. Rather than continuing to be upset about what he’s done, I choose not to think about it anymore, and I don’t let him affect me anymore. Someone else can make the decision on his ultimate redemption. Or not. I choose to stop caring.

And, I think that is all we can do. If somehow, after his next trial, Cosby lives life as a free man and ultimately cures world hunger (Jell-O for everyone!), I think he’ll forever live in the shadow of his past. Don’t we all?

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