Yesterday, as I was sitting in the waiting room of the doctor’s office and trying to read, I kept getting distracted by the TV, which was airing a show called The Real.
The show’s first guest was Maclolm-Jamal Warner, who is still probably known best for playing Theo Huxtable on The Cosby Show. One of the hosts asked Warner about the current state of affairs involving Bill Cosby and all of the accusations of drugging and raping leveled at him recently.
While Warner said he couldn’t defend him, he also said he wouldn’t throw him under the bus, choosing instead to focus on the way in which the media is portraying Cosby compared to other men that have been accused of sexual assault crimes:
You just look at how the media is playing this whole thing out. And I can’t help but think about Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Stephen Collins…There’s no one that has been calling for Woody’s movies to be pulled off the air. Roman Polanski is still celebrated. Stephen Collins’ show still comes on. So it’s just interesting how it’s very unbalanced.
Is he right that all of them should be shunned? Yes.
Is he right that the media coverage is unbalanced? Yes.
Is there a reason for it? Yes.
Is this reason primarily motivated by race, as Warner intimated? I don’t believe so.
The idea of boycotting Woody Allen’s films has been widely discussed, even in The New York Times, so I’m not sure what “media” Warner is referring to. Mia and Ronan Farrow have been very outspoken in their allegations that, in addition to marrying his step-daughter – which is creepy, if not technically illegal – Allen sexually molested their adopted daughter Dylan, and those claims have been circulated and discussed by every major media outlet.
While Cosby has maintained his innocence, Roman Polanski pleaded guilty to having sex with a minor and fled the country. He is now a fugitive from the law in America and must avoid countries that will extradite to the United States. His Oscar win in 2002 for The Pianist was awarded by a small group of Academy voters and was not well-received. Much of the media, just like most of the public that are not Hollywood actors and actresses, wants to see him brought to justice. His victim has said that she “feels the case was a ploy to grab headlines rather than get justice for her,” which contradicts Warner’s assertion.
And Stephen Collins? That sounds like a drink. No one knows who he is. If you saw him at the grocery store, you may think he looks familiar, but he’s not an international star like Cosby. He has zero name recognition. When the news of his crimes broke, most people had to be informed that Collins was the dad on 7th Heaven. He’s a TV actor, but he wasn’t Cosby. It wasn’t called The Collins Show and, let’s be honest, Jessica Biel was the star of that show. There is only so much media coverage for a little-known TV dad.
Does that excuse their actions? Of course not. But it does help to explain the perceived double standard between them and Cosby. Personally, I am disgusted and appalled by all three and have not watched any of their work in years.
Warner’s appearance on The Real was part of their “’80s Day” and one of the hosts began the interview by saying that “You can’t talk about the ’80s without mentioning The Cosby Show.” No one says anything of the sort about 7th Heaven. The public doesn’t associate an entire decade with Allen, Polanski or Collins.
For many, Cosby and his show represented their youth, either during its run or in syndication reruns. Scores of people have talked about growing up on The Cosby Show. Aside from a few film critics, has anyone claimed to have grown up on Allen or Polanski films?
The fact is that neither Allen, Polanski nor Collins have had the cultural impact of Bill Cosby.
None of them were touted as “America’s Dad.” None of them sold Jell-O and hosted Kids Say the Darndest Things. Families never gathered around the TV to watch Annie Hall or Chinatown the way they did The Cosby Show. Yes, 7th Heaven was a family show, but it was barely seen on the WB, cracking the top 100 of the ratings only once. In its best season, it was seen by an average of 7.6 million viewers. In comparison, The Cosby Show, the biggest hit show of the decade, was in the top five in the ratings in seven of its eight seasons, achieving the top spot five times. It was seen by 30.5 million people in its best years and “only” 13.8 million in its worst, nearly double that of 7th Heaven‘s best performance. A huge part of the success of The Cosby Show was Cosby’s likability, something that was never part of Allen’s appeal:
Our collective vision of Bill Cosby was that of a warm father, the Jell-o pudding man. His crimes feel personal to the viewers who love him, who grew up on The Cosby Show, thinking of him as the Platonic ideal of a dad. Audiences feel betrayed on an intimate level, like they were sold a false bill of goods. And so the dismantling of Cosby’s myth, though it was many, many years in the making, was ultimately quick.
Allen’s public persona has never relied on the same mainstream appeal. He is, in the eyes of even his most ardent fans, a bit of weirdo; his self-aware awkwardness is essential to his shtick. A person could throw the whole Allen affair away as too bizarre to understand: sure, the thinking goes, Allen seems like a creep — we’re talking about a guy who married his own daughter — but maybe that whole famous family is just a little off.
The Cosby Show never did anything for me – I actually didn’t think Cliff Huxtable was all that great of a father, honestly – but it’s impossible to minimize the racial and cultural impact the show had on the country. It literally changed America. The same can’t be said of Blue Jasmine or The Pianist or 7th Heaven.
You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be the beloved face of a major television network who cultivates a certain image and then turn around and complain that you’re under more scrutiny than a guy that wasn’t nearly as rich, famous or successful as you were.
It doesn’t work that way.
There’s also undoubtedly an element of schadenfreude involved in watching Cosby fall. Unlike the three men Warner mentioned, Cosby has spent over two decades chastising and lecturing people, specifically the Black community:
Perhaps taking his role as America’s Dad a little too seriously, he presented himself as a disciplinarian and public moralist.
In a 2004 address to the National Association for the Advancement of Coloured People (NAACP), known as the “Pound Cake Speech”, he chided some African-American families for what he characterised as poor parenting, bad behaviour and a lack of responsibility.
It’s always fun to watch someone that has wrapped themselves in a cloak of moral rectitude be exposed as a hypocrite. Their race doesn’t matter. Just look at Josh Duggar.
More than anything, though, the biggest problem with Warner’s complaint is that the Cosby scandal is not the result of a media witch hunt. This wasn’t the result of a tireless investigative reporter digging for something on Cosby or a public that was just waiting for a crack in the façade of a man they perceived to be hiding something.
Cosby was beloved and the fact is that the media did look the other way for years. It failed in its duty. And it wasn’t just the traditional media that would have had a vested interest in protecting Cosby thirty years ago. A lawsuit was filed against Cosby in 2005, long after the rise of the Internet and blogs. Yet again, the media – in all its forms, both old and new – failed.
It wasn’t until a video of Hannibal Buress imploring the crowd at his stand-up show to go home and Google “Bill Cosby” and “rape” went viral that everyone – the mainstream media, social media, bloggers, and everyone in between – finally took notice.
The other reason the media continues to cover the allegations against Cosby is that it is still happening. Over the past year, more than fifty accusers have spoken out and the court case is just now beginning to get started.
Every time another woman comes forward, the media will cover it – as it should – and the media will extensively cover every development in case – as it should.
The fact that I’m white as I’m writing this may immediately lead some to believe that I am unable – or simply refuse – to see the double standard that is prevalent in our American media and culture.
That’s not the case.
I’m not one of these people that shout, “All lives matter!” or believe that pro-Black equals anti-White. I think the pearl-clutching over Cam Newton was racially-motivated and that if Connor McGregor were Black, most people wouldn’t find him nearly as charming.
I agree with Malcolm-Jamal Warner that Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Stephen Collins should face the same level of scrutiny as Bill Cosby. And while we’re at it, the same goes for R. Kelly, Jerry Lee Lewis, Charlie Chaplin, and anyone else you can name. I think Chris Brown is a piece of garbage and I feel the same way about Sean Penn, Dr. Dre, Charlie Sheen, and every other man – famous or not – that hits a woman.
I do believe that there are different rules and laws for different races and ethnicities in this country, not just publicly, but legally.
But I think the Cosby coverage goes beyond simply race.
Justice is supposed to be blind, but we know that’s not true, no matter how much we want it to be.
The court of public opinion is no different.
Christopher Pierznik is the author of eight books, all of which can be purchased in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, Medium, The Cauldron, and many more. Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.