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What We Talk About When We Talk About Cosby

Bob Chipman | 1 Dec 2014 12:00
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Separating the television personality from the real life figure is a challenge with a scandal like this one.

I write a column about television, which means I'm practically obligated to weigh in on The Bill Cosby Story. That I waited a few weeks to do so was partly about wanting to afford the news cycle proper perspective, but also (likely moreso) about a general sense that I didn't belong anywhere near the front of the line on this one.

The fall from grace of Bill Cosby -- and the privilege of adding my voice to the reaction to it -- "belongs" to me only in the sense that it "belongs" in general to any TV viewer or resident of popular-culture, yes. But it belongs much more to women watching justice (social, if not legal) come once again overdue for a powerful (alleged) abuser in a society that implicitly mistrusts their word in general and especially when leveled against powerful men; and also to multiple generations of black Americans who are seeing a figure of legendary stature who was foisted upon them (by the media and also enthusiastically by Cosby himself) as a singular role-model of proper success brought low by his own (alleged) monstrous behavior. Being of neither group, it felt incumbent not to rush to the forefront (or however close a Z-list internet fixture like myself can get) as though my take is the one everyone was waiting for.

This feels especially true since a big part of The Story this time is what brought about the renewed, more potent than ever "push." Initially, the revived outrage against Cosby (who, for the record, is accused of having drugged and raped a succession of women over several decades) wasn't actually based on any "new" information. The majority of allegations had all come and gone through the tabloid news cycle years ago, briefly discussed and then forgotten. That they gained traction now was largely attributed to comedian Hannibal Buress making reference to it in a standup set -- a clip of which quickly went viral.

So, yes, it's easy (and not at all inaccurate) to shake one's head at the shamefully-evident prospect that one man's off-the-cuff punchline counts for more than decades of detailed claims by twenty women. What else is new?

To be fair, though, what's more manifestly different this time is what's different in all long-time-coming watershed moments these days: social media. Twitter and Tumblr activism have their critics (and have deserved them) but there's no reasonably disputing that the difference between "then" and "now" in cases like these is that The Internet's ability to nullify temporal memory-cycles -- to leave events and ideas sitting atop the Trending Topics as "new" until activist dedication says otherwise -- makes it impossible to let The Public move on and forget.

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