Saturday, July 18, 2015

Robert Young Remains a Better Person (and Better TV Dad) than Bill Cosby


In TV History, there were two long-running sitcoms that presented an idealized version of the American family.  One show aired during the Golden Age of Television of the 1950s.  While it has continued to be a successful staple of reruns, it has become a show that has been denigrated by politically correct scholars who view it as the quintessential symbol of male dominance and repression, female submissiveness, and WASP complacency.  That show was "Father Knows Best" (1954-60).  The other popular sitcom depicted the trials and tribulations of an affluent and upwardly mobile African American family living in a lavish Brooklyn brownstone.  Whereas "Father Knows Best" symbolized all that was purportedly repressive and regressive about Mid-Century American culture, "The Cosby Show" (1984-92) was once seen as a progressive symbol of ever-expanding opportunities and aspirations for African Americans.  Similarly, whereas Margaret Anderson (Jane Wyatt) of "Father Knows Best," was perceived as the stereotypical TV homemaker, wearing perfectly tailored dresses and glistening pearls while staying home and doing housework, Clair Huxtable (Phylicia Rashad) of "The Cosby Show," whose character was an attorney, represented the modern, successful, attache case-carrying American woman who had supposedly broken free from that sort of stifling existence.  Moreover, the father figures on both shows--Robert Young as insurance agent Jim Anderson, and Bill Cosby as obstetrician Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable--were both considered, in their respective eras, as the perfect American fathers.  For decades, popular opinion would have you believe that Young's Jim Anderson exerted a gently repressive grip over his family, while Cosby's Cliff Huxtable was supposedly the more nurturing and encouraging figure with regards to his wife and children.


What both shows had in common was that Young and Cosby produced, as well as starred, in their respective shows.  As it turned out years later, what Young and Cosby also had in common was that neither of them turned out to be anything like the characters they portrayed.  Whereas one actor, Cosby, has had disturbing and horrifying rape allegations made against him by dozens and dozens of women, the other, Young, turned out to be someone who suffered from severe insecurity, depression and alcoholism.  However, it's ironic that the actor whose show was seen as a politically incorrect symbol of 1950s repression turned his personal problems into a mission to help others similarly situated seek help to deal with their demons, while the other (who was seen for years to be a politically correct and progressive activist) now appears to be a charlatan whose philanthropy has been negated and overshadowed with unsavory revelations about himself (which seem to have been largely confirmed with the recent release of a 2005 deposition where he has admitted obtaining drugs in order to have sex with women).  As such, it's appropriate to take time to reevaluate their on-screen and off-screen images and reassess where they now stand in the context of television and American history.


Like others, I've been following with interest the controversy that has encompassed Bill Cosby's life ever since more and more women have come forward with rape accusations after the YouTube video of comedian Hannibal Buress's on-stage act referencing Cosby as an alleged rapist went viral back in October 2014.  What's interested me is how the public and the media have had a tough time wrestling with these revelations about Cosby because they are unable to separate the real-life individual from his iconic, on-screen persona as the "perfect" American Dad, Dr. Cliff Huxtable on his blockbuster NBC sitcom "The Cosby Show."  Some people have tried to defend Cosby by saying that we shouldn't be surprised that he isn't Cliff Huxtable in real life because he was playing a character, not himself, on that show.  But I agree with those who say that highlighting the dichotomy between actor and character is on-point because he has built a public persona as a wizened, sensible father figure based on his role on that show.  You really can't discuss Bill Cosby, and the accusations made against him of drugging and raping more than 40 women, without considering how it appears to contrast with his image as Cliff Huxtable.


In some ways, I'm not as surprised as others about the stories we're hearing about Cosby.  I never liked him or his sitcom, and always found his personality on- and off-screen mannered and creepy.  All of these anecdotes appear to describe an arrogant, manipulative, narcissistic individual bent on making the rest of the world conform to his wishes.  The anecdotes that Cosby negotiated a story about his daughter's drug abuse with the National Enquirer, in exchange for the publication dropping their coverage of the rape allegations made against him, as well as the revelation made by a former NBC employee who shared evidence that Cosby used him as a messenger and conduit to pay off women through the years, makes it easy for one to perceive Cosby as a very selfish, self-centered person willing to throw the people around him under the bus out of self-preservation whenever it suits him.  But, like I said earlier, I'm not as shocked as others appear to be because, almost from the beginning, I differed from other TV viewers back in the 1980s because I never liked "The Cosby Show."  And my disdain for the show is almost entirely connected with Cosby's characterization and performance as Cliff Huxtable.


Unlike others, I never saw Cliff Huxtable as the ideal American father figure.  In my opinion, Cosby always portrayed Huxtable as a smug, self-satisfied, condescending individual, especially in his interactions with his children.  In later years, as the children grew older, Cosby portrayed Huxtable as someone who became increasingly disappointed and exasperated with the choices his children made in life.  In the story lines where Sondra (Sabrina Le Beauf) quit law school, Denise (Lisa Bonet) dropped out of college, Theo (Malcolm-Jamal Warner) acting immature and getting into trouble while struggling academically in high school, Vanessa (Tempest Bledsoe) getting engaged while she was in college to an older maintenance man working at her University, and Rudy (Keshia Knight Pulliam) becoming more and more of a brat, Cosby played Huxtable as if he had no respect whatsoever for his children.  Some people found his quietly exasperated skepticism hilarious and appreciated that Cosby was playing Huxtable as someone who exercised "tough love" on his children.  But I think "tough love" is appropriate and applicable if children are in serious trouble--such as getting involved with drugs, criminal activity, or gangs--none of which the privileged and entitled Huxtable children were ever in danger of.  Despite professing to love his children, the character of Huxtable just seemed to treat them with contempt.


I recall the episode where Denise, after dropping out of college and spending a year traveling in Africa, returns home and shocks her parents with the news that she has married a divorced Naval officer with a four year old daughter she met overseas.  Clair Huxtable is so angry that she can't even bring herself to calling Denise by her married name, while Cliff responds by calling his daughter "Mrs. Stupid."  Some people may find it funny, but I have never found the anger and contempt they felt towards Denise in this situation even remotely amusing.  It just felt misanthropic and self indulgent.  I also disliked how superior and judgmental Huxtable felt towards his children, as if he had nothing to do with how they turned out.  His character never seemed to acknowledge how these kids were ultimately reflections on him.  Particularly noteworthy is the scene where Denise attempts to tell her parents that she has gotten married.  When she finally articulates the information, Cliff is so focused on telling her that he has arranged for her to return to Hillman College that her announcement doesn't sink in with him at first.  It establishes Cliff Huxtable as a character with such high expectations for his children that he was unwilling to consider how they might not live up to those expectations.


What also annoyed me was the way in which Cliff was always portrayed as being scared that his children would remain a burden on him and Clair forever.  A lot of comedy mileage was derived from scenes where Cliff feared his children would become free-loaders and live with him even after they reached adulthood.  Even though the Huxtable children were arguably spoiled, self-centered and entitled, they were portrayed as essentially good people.  They were annoying, but they also didn't deserve the sort of cranky condescension they experienced from their father.  If the kids turned out a bit spoiled and lazy and entitled, some of the blame for that has to lie with the parents, a responsibility that the character of Cliff never owns up to.  That's why I always felt it was weird that Cliff Huxtable was being held up as the "perfect" American Dad.  If he was so great, why did he turn out such flakey, yet well-meaning, kids?


My main issue with the show, and its characters, is that the storylines never really challenge Huxtable in terms of whether his attitude towards his children is appropriate.  In so doing, the show is giving tacit approval to Huxtable's passive-aggressive method of parenting.  In contrast, Roseanne and Dan Connor (Roseanne Barr and John Goodman) on "Roseanne" could be harsh with their kids and make mistakes, but because they were portrayed as flawed, human individuals doing the best they could under difficult circumstances, it never felt as condescending.  Some people view "The Cosby Show" as progressive in its portrayal of an affluent African American family living in Brooklyn, but I actually found the show regressive in terms of how heavy-handedly Cliff Huxtable regarded the children in his household.  Moreover, the show may have allowed his wife Clair a career as an attorney, and included scenes where Clair appeared to successfully spar with her husband, but I think this was a token gesture to make Clair appear to be progressive when, in fact, the show was basically all surface-level politically correct subterfuge.  Generally speaking, since this was not a workplace comedy, we rarely saw Clair working as an attorney, so she may as well have been like a homemaker in a traditional 1950s family sitcom.  I also don't feel the storylines allowed Clair enough of a substantial opportunity to challenge her husband's disappointed and judgmental attitude towards their children.  At the end of the day, it's the father-figure who still runs the household, that's why it's called "The Cosby Show," not "The Huxtables."


Ironically, as mentioned earlier, "Father Knows Best" was often compared unfavorably to "The Cosby Show" by feminists who referenced it as the quintessential example of a 1950s American sitcom where the father figure heavy-handedly rules the roost with an outdated air of patriarchal dominance and condescension.  For years, I avoided the show for this very reason.  But, having caught up with the series recently in its Antenna TV network reruns, I've been pleasantly surprised at how the show doesn't always live up to its reputed image.  It makes me wonder whether the most vocal critics of "Father Knows Best" have ever actually watched the series.  In many episodes, Robert Young's Jim Anderson doesn't always know best and doesn't always have the answers for resolving issues in his family.  Sometimes, matriarch Margaret knew best, and sometimes the children are left to their own devices to resolve their problems.  I've heard that the radio show, also starring Robert Young, that "Father Knows Best" was based on, was much sharper in tone and that the father in that show was much more sarcastic and condescending towards his family than his TV incarnation.  But it's the TV version, not the radio, that has become such an iconic symbol of American culture and the one that gets unfavorably compared to "The Cosby Show."


The irony is that "Father Knows Best" is actually much more complex and nuanced than it is given credit for.  Throughout its years on the air, the show often critiques the sort of bourgeois Middle-American complacency and provincialism that people who have never seen the show presumes it celebrates.  One such example is the third season episode, "Betty Goes to College," where the Andersons visit their alma mater on a college scouting trip with oldest daughter Betty (Elinor Donahue).  Without actually discussing it with her, both Jim and Margaret automatically assume that Betty wants to follow in their footsteps and attend State College.  Throughout the trip, the well meaning Jim and Margaret smother Betty with their expectations of what classes she will take, what extracurricular activities she will be involved in and, in the process, overwhelm Betty to the degree that she realizes she doesn't want to attend that school.  At first, when Jim overhears Betty tell her brother Bud that she knows she doesn't want to go there, Jim is concerned and attempts to speak with Margaret about it.  Their discussion is interrupted when they run into their beloved Dean, who invites them back to his home to discuss Betty's future.  It's at the Dean's residence that Jim and Betty confront one another about her college plans.  Betty summons up the courage to tell her parents that she doesn't want to attend the school they went to because she feels like she would simply be reliving their college experience, instead of creating one for herself.  The Dean pulls out an old term paper Jim wrote decades ago when he was assigned the task of describing the real purpose of a college education.  This humbles Jim and reminds him that he needs to allow Betty to make the right decisions for herself.


This episode stands in stark contrast to the storyline from "The Cosby Show" where Cliff and Clair made their daughter Denise feel like attending their alma mater was the only acceptable choice for her.  As mentioned earlier, when Denise dropped out of Hillman College, and returned from visiting Africa, her parents were still determined to see her resume her education at their old school.  They failed to acknowledge or accept the fact that Denise really didn't have a fulfilling experience when she attended Hillman College in the spinoff series "A Different World."  By pressuring Denise to obey their wishes, as opposed to helping her find the right educational and professional career path, the Huxtables created the situation that caused their daughter to rebel and run off to Africa to get married.  Unlike the Andersons in "Father Knows Best," the Huxtables never appear to have the epiphany that their daughter doesn't want to follow in their footsteps.  I think acknowledging that children aren't meant to be carbon copies of their parents makes "Father Knows Best" look positively progressive and prescient compared to "The Cosby Show."


In another "Father Knows Best" episode (the fourth season segment "Mother Goes to School" that further develops this theme) family matriarch Margaret decides to take the same English class at the local college that her daughter Betty is attending.  At first excited at having her mother in the class, over time Betty becomes annoyed with Margaret's presence in the classroom and her annoyance spills over into outright resentment.  Both Margaret and Betty turn to family patriarch Jim to resolve the issue, but he is unable to offer any solution.  When Margaret witnesses youngest daughter Kathy (Lauren Chapin) become annoyed with her older brother Bud (Billy Gray) when he innocently intrudes upon her play acting with dolls in the backyard, she realizes that the reason Betty is annoyed with her is because Margaret's presence in the class intrudes upon Betty's burgeoning sense of independence and confidence as a college co-ed.  She realizes that her presence makes Betty still feel like she is still a child at home.  Margaret decides to drop out of the class and enroll in another English course at night so that she can continue her education without intruding in on Betty's academic and social life in college.


The surprising complexity in characterization is not just limited to the children and often allows matriarch Margaret an opportunity to be challenged in unusual circumstances.  In another episode, the fourth season segment "Margaret Learns to Drive," son Bud observes how his parents don't seem to argue the way the parents of other families do.  The Anderson family puts this notion to the test when Jim decides to teach Margaret how to drive.  The driving lessons bring to the surface tensions between Jim and Margaret that may have been simmering for some time.  After a particularly tense driving lesson, where Margaret tries to give their friend Myrtle Davis a lift to the store and almost gets into an accident, Jim and Margaret return home, screaming at the top of their lungs, to the shock and horror of their own children.  Jim follows Margaret back into the house, throws his jacket on the couch and begins tearing into his wife, "I've seen some hare-brained performances in my time, but NOTHING like that!"  Margaret retorts, "You kept screaming and shouting!  Hare-brained performance?  What did I do?!"  Jim responds, "Picking up Myrtle Davis, when you were supposed to be taking a driving lesson!  Getting that female public address system in the back seat.  Yack!  Yack!  Yack!  Paying no attention to where you were going...Myrtle Davis is a friend of mine too, but she's an instigating chatterbox.  If I had an ounce of sense, I would've have told her to get out of the car!  And what happens to you when you get behind the wheel of a car?!  That's what I want to know!  You turn into an absolute feather-brain!"




Margaret doesn't back down from Jim's tirade and gives as good as she can get: "Feather brain?!  Just because I do everything you ask me to do?!  Learning to drive wasn't my idea!  I have other things to do!  I don't care if I NEVER drive a car!  Just because I don't do everything absolutely perfect!"  Jim responds, "I don't expect you to be perfect!  I only expect you to use your head!  Think!  Think!  Not go plowing along willy-nilly!  Paying no attention to where you're going!  I have other things to do too, you know, besides taking my life in my hands!  Sitting in that car while you steer with one finger, carrying on an idiotic conversation with that female in the backseat!  Believe me, if that's the way you're going to drive a car you might as well quit right now!"  Margaret calls Jim out on his condescending tirade by telling him, "I'd be happy if I never set foot in that car again.  You with your superior 'I know it all and you know nothing' attitude!"  When Jim tries to mollify Margaret by pointing out that "I was patient.  I tried.  I explained," Margaret retorts, "Yes!  Like you were teaching a child!  'Ignorant, simple-minded little Margaret!'  You were just sitting there waiting for me to make a mistake, you were just waiting!"  Jim and Margaret continue shouting until they notice their children standing at the staircase, witnessing their tirade.  After a moment of awkward silence, oldest daughter Betty breaks the tension by applauding, "Bravo!  Very convincing!  You staged a very good imitation of a quarrel!"  To her siblings, Betty says, "You didn't think they were really fighting, did you?  They were just kidding!"  Betty continues to gently urge her parents to go along with her efforts to change the subject by rhetorically asking, "Alright, admit it.  You were only fooling, weren't you?"  Jim and Margaret play along with Betty's efforts to resolve the situation and realize how foolish their argument was.


The argument (which was alarmingly well-acted by Robert Young and Jane Wyatt) allows the audience to realize that there may be some underlying tension in the Anderson household that doesn't always get acknowledged by fans of the show.  It demonstrates how Jim, despite being essentially considerate and thoughtful, inadvertently reveals how he ultimately considers himself the dominant leader of the household, with Margaret bristling at his dominance.  Also notable is the fact that, for once, it's clear that neither Father, nor even Mother, always knows best and that it takes teenage daughter Betty to resolve the crisis.  The fact that Margaret stands up to Jim in this scene is eye-opening.  It demonstrates how Margaret is not unquestioningly complacent and doesn't always agree with Jim being the leader in the household.  Moreover, Jim's response to Betty's efforts to resolve the fight indicates that, even though his first instinct is to be the leader of the household, he is willing to step back and defer to the other members of the household, notably one of his daughters, if it is for the best of the family.  As such, this scene and this episode demonstrates how "Father Knows Best" is much more self-aware than it is ever given credit for in feminist discussions of the series.  It shows that Jim's authority in the house is open to being questioned and that Margaret and the children are not following his lead blindly.  Even though they are an idealized dramatization of an American family, I think there's more going on with the Andersons than is apparent at first glance.


In some episodes of "Father Knows Best" we see how Margaret Anderson isn't always the idealized housewife and mother that people presume her to be.  Even though she is happily married and loves her family, a couple of episodes underscore how Margaret does not see herself solely as a wife, mother, and homemaker, and suggests she might have other ambitions and interests for herself.  In the third season episode "Brief Holiday," Margaret gets fed up with the household chores that her husband and children have left for her to do.  At the beginning of the episode, after Jim complains of how the children take Margaret for granted, he still leaves her with additional chores to do before he goes to work.  Margaret wryly responds with "Et tu Brute?" to underscore how miffed she is that Jim has taken her for granted.  Fed up with the housework, Margaret takes the day off by visiting Springfield's bohemian Orleans Street, where she has lunch, has her portrait drawn, and buys a hat.  When she returns home, Jim wonders if Margaret is unhappy with her life and his questions regarding what motivated her to abandon her chores for an afternoon on the town only serve to annoy Margaret further.  Margaret ultimately tells Jim that the reason why his sudden concern over her momentary unwillingness to do chores annoys her is because it suggests that being a homemaker is the sole thing that should define her as an individual.  Margaret acknowledges she is basically happy with her life, she simply didn't want to only be known as the defacto servant in the house.  At one point, she even sardonically and self-deprecatingly refers to her role as homemaker as "my little trap, where I evidently belong."  Even though Margaret wasn't yearning to change her life and start a career, the episode is notable because it demonstrates that she doesn't only want to be a homemaker every single minute of the day, and is willing to challenge the complacent expectations people have of her.


On the issue of racial diversity, "Father Knows Best" also proves to be ahead of its time and more complex than expected.  Introduced into the series as a recurring character was the immigrant, Mexican-American gardener Frank Smith (Natividad Vacio), who becomes a close friend of the Anderson family.  Frank's role in the series may have been designed as comedic, but his presence on the series helped challenge American notions of WASP complacency that existed at the time.  In his most notable episode, the sixth season "The Gardener's Big Day," which aired October 19, 1959, Frank (who changed his name to "Frank Smith" when he emigrated from Mexico in an effort to embrace his new homeland), finds himself chosen at random by the city council of Springfield to act as a representative of all the citizens of the city at the dedication of a new park that will be attended by the governor of the state.  The city council chose Frank believing, on the basis of his name, that he was Caucasian.  Upon meeting him, they immediately begin efforts to try and get him to withdraw and replace him with another, less ethnic individual more to their liking.  After hearing the Chairman of the city council refer to Frank as "a broken down tramp," Jim Anderson admonishes the Chairman by pointing out, "I know Frank very well.  There's not a finer person in this town.  He's completely honest...and his whole philosophy of life is built on trying to bring a little beauty into the world through his gardening and by trying to make people happy.  How many other of your handpicked candidates can match that?...I'm not joking.  As far as I'm concerned, you couldn't have made a better selection.  He's not withdrawing...Frank Smith's name was drawn, and Frank Smith is going to be your man."  The Andersons later work to undermine the city council's efforts to manipulate Frank into leaving town during the ceremony to ensure that he will appear as originally intended.  In its own modest way, this episode, and Frank's role in it, acknowledges how the face of America was ultimately changing and becoming more diverse, and that the Anderson's were ahead of their time because they recognized that this diversity was ultimately good for the country.  Even though some aspects of the series, and the portrayal of Frank, might seem dated from a 2015 perspective, "Father Knows Best" should still be commended for being willing to produce an episode in 1959 that acknowledged the existence of racial prejudice and burgeoning ethnic diversity in the United States at a time when most movies and TV shows weren't willing to touch the subject.  In this respect, I would argue that it was more courageous than anything in "The Cosby Show," which was produced in the 1980s and 1990s, decades after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s already helped to reshape the country.


One ironic aspect of "Father Knows Best," and Robert Young's portrayal of Jim Anderson, is the fact that it was never the intention of the creators of the show to depict an American family where the father dominated all aspects of his family's lives.  According to the Washington Post's Tom Shales, when he wrote about Robert Young's death in 1998, "Young's original title for the series included a question mark.  It was to be 'Father Knows Best?' because Young thought that amusingly ironic and said everyone knew mothers were the real heads of households anyway.  But the sponsor, Kent Cigarettes, refused -- apparently finding the suggestion of doubt in the title to be potentially subversive  -- and the deal would have fallen through if Young hadn't capitulated and agreed to drop the offending punctuation.  Thus Jim Anderson was granted omniscience."  Despite Shales' assertion that the show characterized Jim Anderson as the leader of the family, I still maintain that it was still in name only.  The examples I mentioned help to demonstrate that, despite Young's compromise, he still allowed other members of the family their own perspective so that the entire household was not always programmed to capitulate to Jim Anderson's whims.  I think one aspect of why "Father Knows Best" proved to be more nuanced than expected was the differing political viewpoints of stars Robert Young and Jane Wyatt.  In real life, Young was essentially conservative, and Wyatt was known as a staunch liberal Democrat.  I suspect that Young and Wyatt's different perspectives eventually bled into the storyline and characters of their show, which is why "Father Knows Best" has a tendency to tread the line between affirming both traditional and progressive values, more so than other family sitcoms of the era.


Another thing I find ironic about "Father Knows Best," and Robert Young himself, is that Young was very honest about himself, and the show, in several interviews he gave later on in life.  He was also very open in discussing his battles with severe depression and alcoholism throughout his entire life and career.  Young admitted that he always felt insecure even when he was a movie star at MGM in the 1930s and 1940s, particularly because the choicest roles went to other stars, and he always worried that he would be eventually dropped by the studio.  It was even reported in the news in 1991 that Young attempted suicide at age 83.  The suicide attempt was unsuccessful and Young lived until 1998.  In his interviews, Robert Young always struck me as a sensitive, candid, and self-aware individual.  I don't think he ever tried to make the world believe that he was Jim Anderson--or his later iconic TV character, Marcus Welby, M.D.--because of the humility and honesty he demonstrated while discussing his life and accomplishments.  Young's humility also extends to his TV personas as well, where he made it clear that he did not intend for the idealized worlds of Jim Anderson, and Marcus Welby, to be role models for people to hold their own lives up for comparison.  Young was just a highly skilled professional doing a job and trying to entertain people in an intelligent manner.


However, because Young was so honest about what he perceived to be his own shortcomings--such as his depression, alcoholism, and suicide attempt--I think he did indeed help people.  By allowing the public to know that he was a very fallible human being, I believe he helped encourage others to forgive themselves and seek help for the problems facing their lives.  In later years, Young worked for the passage of 708 Illinois Tax Referndum, a property tax that supports mental health programs in his home state of Illinois.  The Trinity Regional Health System in Rock Island, Illinois honored Young by naming the Robert Young Center for Community Mental Health after the actor.  The Robert Young Center's website states that in "his later years, Young revealed that his public image was a direct contrast to his private life, which included a 30-year battle with alcoholism and depression.  After he discovered that he was suffering from a chemical imbalance, Young began to speak publicly about the issues and problems related to alcohol and depression, and his personal struggles."  In so doing, by acknowledging his weaknesses and shortcomings, Robert Young proved to have genuine courage and strength.


In contrast to Robert Young's courage in facing his vulnerabilities in a public manner, Bill Cosby's personal shortcomings had to be dragged out in the open by the approximate 40 women accusing him.  Especially in light of the details from his full deposition from 2005, which the New York Times has obtained, it's become apparent that Cosby has a history of shamelessly manipulating and exploiting women and has never been honest with the public about who he actually is.  Even before the recent release of the deposition, I have always believed that the women who are accusing him were telling the truth because I do not see what they would have to gain by coming forward with their stories.  As has been commented elsewhere, there is little chance that Cosby can face criminal prosecution and the likelihood that these women stand to gain financially from this matter looks slim.  Moreover, I do not agree with people who allege that these women are looking for their 15 minutes of fame.  We've become so desensitized by reality shows, where people are too willing to allow their private peccadilloes to be on display for personal gain, that we have come to believe that everyone is willing to put themselves on public display as long as it results in fame and fortune.  I do not agree that the world is filled with people like the Kardashians, who are willing to allow their private issues to be broadcast publicly for the sake of entertainment.  For months, I've been disgusted with how the public and the internet were filled with people too easily willing to call these women golddiggers, or worse.  (I am grateful that someone with as high a profile as Judd Apatow continues to publicly support these women.)  I never believed these women had ulterior motives for putting themselves out there because I do not believe anyone would subject themselves to having their lives scrutinized and judged by complete strangers if they did not feel a compelling purpose to do so.


Throughout these last few months, I have been disgusted by the news reports of Cosby receiving a standing ovation at his numerous stand-up comedy appearances.  I have also been annoyed at how the Smithsonian's National Museum of African Art refuses to take down their exhibit of Cosby-owned artwork (which I believe, despite their words otherwise, ultimately sends the message that they condone his behavior), that the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce refuses to remove his Star from the Walk of Fame on Hollywood Boulevard, and that there appears to be no recourse in rescinding the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received in 2002.  By not making more of an effort to revoke the rewards Cosby has received that have been based on his pristine image, it creates an environment that could cause other victims of sex assault to assume that no one will believe them, that their attacker will continue to enjoy life, and is likely to discourage them from reporting the assaults perpetrated against them to authorities.  I agree with those who feel that it's hypocritical of Cosby's defenders to urge the public not to pass judgment on him, when it's clear that his defenders have already passed judgment on the accusers.  This whole incident has reminded me that, despite the advances society has made, misogyny is still alive and well in 2015.


I'm also annoyed by how the issue of Cosby's guilt or innocence has been politicized, especially by conservatives like Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh, who allege that Cosby is being targeted by the media due to allegedly being a conservative.  The basis for this lies with Cosby's comments criticizing African Americans in his "pound cake" speech.  As a result of such comments, some people assume Cosby to be a conservative, but I think such impressions are unfounded when you consider that Cosby has donated money to the political campaigns of President Barack Obama, as well as Sheila Jackson Lee and Jesse Jackson, Jr, and has even recently given interviews opining that members of the GOP are no better than segregationists.  He is no conservative and I think the reason why that "pound cake" speech went over so poorly is that it was done from the perspective of someone speaking from their ivory tower, looking down by judging and condemning a large number of young African Americans, instead of being done from the perspective of a peer encouraging others similarly situated to strive for the best from one other.  Whether Cosby's statements had any merit is not for me to decide, but I will say that no one likes having someone who is speaking from a comfortable position of privilege and success talk down to them condescendingly.  In some ways, his "pound cake" speech is not much different in terms of being judgmental and critical towards young African Americans as his on-screen persona as Cliff Huxtable was towards his fictional family.


As such, I think Beck and Limbaugh's defense of Cosby is completely misplaced, especially because Conservatives are the ones who are supposed to believe in justice, prosecuting offenders of violent crimes to the fullest extent of the law and ensuring the safety and well-being of victims of these offenses.  Stereotypically, it's the Liberals who are the ones expected to make excuses and give criminals too much of the benefit of the doubt.  In recent months, the baffling Conservative defense of both Cosby and the Duggar family have called such notions into question.  For Beck and Limbaugh (and others like them) to politicize these rape allegations and ignore the stories of almost 40 women, because it conveniently conforms with their viewpoint that Conservatives are unfairly targeted by the media, undermines what ought to be the typically Conservative perspective on crime and punishment.  But don't think I'm letting Liberals off the hook on this issue.  I think Liberals, such as Whoopi Goldberg, who have defended Cosby were similarly misplaced.  Judging from some Tweets and articles I've read online, I have the impression that more Liberal-thinking defenders believe that Cosby is being targeted because he is a prominent African American philanthropist, activist, and role model, and that the media's interest in this case is an attempt to divert attention away from incidents such as the Grand Jury decision in Ferguson, Missouri regarding the police shooting of Michael Brown.


I disagree with such perspectives because I believe the media's focus on Bill Cosby at the same time the Ferguson issue was percolating just happened to be a perfect storm where two unrelated incidents involving African Americans were coincidentally taking place at the same time.  I tend to disbelieve that race is a factor in the media's attention with the Bill Cosby rape allegations because his celebrity status was what protected him from facing up to these claims for years.  Because he was so beloved as the "perfect" American Dad, people didn't want to believe he could be capable of such heinous crimes.  If he was indeed being singled-out due to his race, the scrutiny that is now being paid to these allegations would have happened a long time ago.  In my opinion, neither Conservatives nor Liberals who are defending Cosby are on-point at all.  In fact, if anything, the "pound cake" speech made people, who otherwise would have wanted to give Cosby the benefit of the doubt, see him as a hypocrite for condemning the criminal activity of a certain segment of the population, when he himself appears to have committed rape and sexual assault against dozens of women throughout the decades.


Even though it appears that I am making the case that Robert Young's Jim Anderson on "Father Knows Best" was a better "role model" than Bill Cosby's Cliff Huxtable character on "The Cosby Show," I actually don't believe in the notion that fictional characters, nor the actors who portray them, should serve as role models for the rest of society to emulate.  While I acknowledge that art can be a reflection of our times, and provide commentary or shine light on a particular subject or situation, I have never felt that fictional characters in a TV show or movie should ever be regarded as role models.  Similarly, we can like and respect a celebrity based on what we know of them, but we ultimately can't call them role models because we don't know them as well as the people around us.  Sometimes a character in a show or movie, or the performer bringing them to life, may have positive qualities we admire and might like to emulate (as I have discussed and acknowledged numerous times in my blog) but it's foolish to put them on a pedestal and call them role models when it is the people in our actual lives, who make a positive contribution to the world around us, who should really be our role models.  One reason I always despised "The Cosby Show" was due to the fact that, in the 1980s, I was a big fan of the 1980s prime time soaps.  I was always told by people around me that the characters on those shows were morally bankrupt and set a bad example, and that an impressionable young person like myself should not be watching them.  I was urged to watch "The Cosby Show" instead because that series purportedly reflected values that I ought to be emulating.  I always resented being told what was "good" for me to watch, which is why I find it gratifyingly ironic that, decades later, the most prominent actors on "The Cosby Show" no longer reflect the positive image they once represented, and that the nighttime soap actors of the 1980s all appear to be more straightforward and solid in comparison.  Never again will Bill Cosby be seen as a hero and, likewise, Phylicia Rashad deservedly lost the respect of countless people after she defended Cosby by calling into question the motives of the women accusing him.  Despite the fact that I don't want to necessarily state that Robert Young or "Father Knows Best" were purportedly better role models than Bill Cosby or "The Cosby Show," I do think that both Young and "Father Knows Best" has proven to be more honest, consistent and straightforward with themselves than Cosby and his phony, presumptuous, and pretentious show ever was.

1 comment:

  1. Cosby lead a double life. But so have others, like that fellow who played the pastor on the Hallmark show. You never know. i am very disappointed in Bill Cosby because he has genius. But he is just an act.

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