Ever since Bill Cosby was accused by one, then two, then four, then almost uncountable women of everything from unwelcome kissing to flat-out rape, the one reaction I can’t quite figure is TV Land pulling “The Cosby Show” reruns from its air.
You’ll recall “The Cosby Show” as America’s most popular program for five straight years in the 1980s. It portrays a well-to-do African-American family dealing with folksy sitcom issues. Cosby is the funny, loving, often-perplexed father.
It was a show. Cosby was acting.
No different than Charlie Sheen acting in “Two and a Half Men.” Sheen has been charged with all kinds of nasty behavior. You still see his show in reruns.
No different than Gary Dourdan, who for years played an investigator on the hugely popular “CSI” series. Dourdan was arrested on battery charges and drug possession charges, including heroin, Ecstasy and cocaine. You still see “CSI” reruns everywhere.
No different than Christian Slater, who did jail time for physically assaulting a girlfriend, yet was given another TV show earlier this year on ABC. No different than Gary Busey, Vanilla Ice or Kiefer Sutherland, who have all had issues with the law — not just accusations — yet can regularly be seen on the tube, either acting or playing themselves.
No different than Mark Wahlberg, who was once charged with attempted murder, pleaded down to assault and did jail time, as a teen, for attacking two Vietnamese men. It hasn’t stopped him from becoming one of the biggest big office draws in the world, generating more than $1 billion for the latest “Transformers” movie, in which he plays, of course, a hero.
But Cosby, who, as heinous as these accusations are, has not been charged with a single crime, apparently must be removed from our consciousness.
I don’t know what to make of Cosby. I’d like to study it a bit longer. The litany of women coming forth with charges is so incredible, it’s either a piling-on or evidence of a serial monster who’s gotten away with so much for so long.
The truth may be somewhere in between. I don’t know. You don’t know. Not unless you’re him or you’ve been with him. As I’ve written many times about our culture of celebrity, nobody knows nobody.
But for the moment, we are not allowed to ponder the situation. “What more do you need?” you can hear people screaming. “He’s a creep! And if you don’t say so, so are you!”
It’s worth remembering that this latest wave of controversy began less than a month ago, when a comedian in Philadelphia — a comedian? — mocked Cosby’s social criticism of young blacks by saying, “Yeah, but you raped women.” That clip went viral, meaning a claim never once legally proven still could be heard around the world as gospel. Doesn’t that concern us?
Accusations flooded in, most of them 20 to 40 years old. And despite the fact that a person in this country is still innocent until proven guilty, Cosby’s career was virtually destroyed overnight. Even his reruns were pulled.
That may seem a little fast to you. But to say so out loud in our harshly righteous world is to somehow support rapists.
That’s not right, either.
Now, let me state the obvious. Rape is beyond horrific. So is any form of sexual assault. There are far more victims than ever come forward, and those brave enough to do so are often ridiculed or shamed into submission. It goes on. It has been going on. It is far worse than is ever reported. It has to stop.
Please read that paragraph twice.
But not instantly believing everything you hear in a media deluge is not the same as supporting rape. And yanking reruns in which Cosby played a role suggests we can’t distinguish between acting and the real world. It also makes us hypocrites: If bad behavior gets you canceled, we need to be pulling a lot more shows.
I hope justice is served here. If Cosby committed these crimes I hope he can be made to pay. Until that happens, I don’t need “The Cosby Show” to disappear any more than I need to watch it year after year. I never believed it was anything more than fictional entertainment. Why anyone would is a good question.
Mitch Albom, a best-selling author, is a columnist for the Detroit Free Press.
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