Bill Cosby’s Image Is Shattered but the Impact of “The Cosby Show” is Etched in the Lives of Millions

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Ebony magazine released the cover of their November 2015 issue amid both praise and criticism. The controversial cover and accompanying cover story compares the fictional and lovable husband and father,”Heathcliff Huxtable” of The Cosby Show to Bill Cosby, the comedian accused of drugging and raping more than 40 women over a span of four decades. It took me some time to sort through how I felt about the strong cover story and even had a few debates on the subject. I have now decided that I abhor the concept and am disappointed in the historical magazine for addressing this issue in this way.

Below is the excerpt shared by Ebony as a sort of introduction to the article penned by Goldie Taylor.

“Debuting in September 1984, The Cosby Show was based on the stand-up comedy routines of Bill Cosby, already a celebrated Hollywood staple, and loosely mirrored his family life. For eight seasons on NBC—five of which it was the country’s most-watched program, according to Nielsen ratings—Cosby’s portrayal of Heathcliff Huxtable—a physician, loving husband and doting Black father-reinforced the widely held virtues of the nuclear family, if not also unwittingly illuminating the hazards of respectability politics (the notion that if Black people simply act “good” and “behave,” the world-at-large will treat them as such.)

Now, some three decades later, as Cosby stands accused of sexually assaulting at least 40 women, Black America is left to grapple with his once-unimpeachable legacy. If Bill Cosby is finished, what does that mean for Cliff, and the rest of the tribe called Huxtable?”

Let me start by saying that I grew up in the 80’s when the iconic show was aired every week during prime time. I have fond memories of sitting down and watching the show with my family. Watching a show that depicted blacks as educated, accomplished…and well, normal, during a time when positive images of blacks on any screen were hard to come by made me proud. I’m pretty sure that being a part a show that had such a positive impact on their culture made the actors on the show proud as well. Keshia Knight-Pulliam (Rudy Huxtable) feels strongly about the show’s impact.

“You can’t take back the impact that it’s had on generations of kids, and it’s continuing to have such a positive impact on them” she said in a interview last year.

Since the allegations surfaced, other cast members have expressed their frustration about the threat that the horrific allegations impose upon the legacy of the groundbreaking sitcom. Malcolm Jamal-Warner (Theodore Huxtable) gave his take on The View recently.

“My biggest concern is when it comes to images of people of color on television and film, no matter what … negative stereotypes of people of color, we’ve always had The Cosby Show to hold up against that. And the fact that we no longer have that, that’s the thing that saddens me the most because in a few generations the Huxtables will have been just a fairy tale.”

The fact the Bill Cosby has been accused of such heinous crimes has not a thing to do with the fact that watching The Cosby Show since it debuted in 1984, and has been in syndication since the moment the show ended in 1992 (for good reason), has positively impacted generations of people young and old; and that impact can not and should not be retracted. Here’s a few reasons why:

  1. The work put in by the producers, directors and actors who contributed to show should not be discredited nor should their names and reputations be tarnished due to the personal decisions of one person. The fact is that the show was successful and allegations against one actor can’t change that. Have the personal struggles of Charlie Sheen made watching re-runs of Two and a Half Men any less funny or enjoyable?
  2. The Cosby Show helped to make possible numerous television shows with predominantly Black casts including Martin and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. (Have the personal struggles of Martin Lawrence changed your perception of Martin or the series’ success?)
  3. Although it was a fictional sitcom, The Cosby Show often served as a platform to discuss issues that were important in the Black community including dyslexia, bullying, teen pregnancy and the need for higher education. The conversations started and positive life decisions made based on the content of the show should not be devalued.

Notwithstanding the opinions of those who feel the same as I do, Ebony is defending the cover citing the need to start the conversation.

“This is our annual Family Issue and we decided, after much deliberation, to go with a focus on what we felt was an urgent and provocative conversation happening within the Black community,” Ebony said in a statement to E! News. “It wasn’t just about making a statement; the cover is also asking questions.”

I have no problem with Ebony creating dialogue about the allegations against Bill Cosby; in fact I applaud it. I think he’s guilty to some extent and should be punished if his guilt is proven. Regardless of the legal ramifications of his alleged actions, the legacy of Bill Cosby may be shattered forever. The same should not be said for the legacy of The Cosby Show.