Saturday, November 22, 2014

Bill Cosby: A tragic hero?



Saturday, November 22, 2014

Here we go again.
Another main stream black man is torn down from his pedestal – or perhaps, undid himself.
Bill Cosby differs from OJ Simpson in most ways, partly because as a co-worker put it, many people of every color grew up with his TV show, and indeed, came to see him as The American Dad.
OJ was always little more than a minstrel show success, a sport star whose physical accomplishments brought him into our homes each week. We admired his skill, but never really got to know or admire the man.
Cosby is different. He got inside of us, and convinced us that he was just like us.
And this is even truer now, painfully true, because we have discovered he is extremely flawed.
Although the idea that he is a tragic hero won’t sound good to most feminists, it is an accurate description of Cosby, someone brought down from great popular power by his own inner flaws.
Unlike Othello, the other classic tragic hero, Cosby’s flaw hurts women, creating victims and misery, ruining whole lives for a moment of his self-indulgence – if indeed, the mounting accusations are true.
I don’t want them to be true. I want to continue to admire a man I have admired for so long.
But like all fallen heroes, the real tragedy is the betrayal of faith, and the loss those beyond the man feel when they have misplaced their trust.
We trusted this man to be what he said he was, a standard to which we could all hopeful aspire (few of us manage it), and now, with the man’s image crumbling, we are left with a rubble and no one to cling to.
Othello’s fall was tragic because he failed to live up to his own potential; Cosby’s is tragic because he has undone all that he has accomplished, and we will have to step gingerly through the wreckage, searching for any pathetic nugget of dignity left behind.
The problem is with his crimes – if they are true – is that they are so horrible as to scorch the very earth, and so as to taint forever anything he has touched. We will no longer be able to watch him as The American Dad and not see the rapist, or hear behind his protests over loss of value when it comes to hip hop and not think of the women he supposedly drugged.
What is wrong with the man, we think? So popular a figure, could he not simply have hired a prostitute if he so needed sex?
But this is not about sex. This is about power and powerlessness, and his crime is one of violence, not lust. He took advantage of trust, of people who came to him as a mentor or he put them in a powerless position so he could do what he wished. This is little different from the man who imprisoned women in his basement for decades. This is about Cosby having power over his victims. Sex was only the excuse.
And so his fall from grace is our fall from grace as we scramble to find a new more legitimate hero to believe in. But his fall will also make us skeptical that we can ever find another hero or if such heroes actually exist.
And that is the real tragedy.


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