Bill Cosby faces nearly fifty accusations of drugging women, sexual assault, sexual impropriety, and/or misconduct. His reputation as being “America’s Dad” has been shattered by these allegations, leading a number of educational institutions to rescind awards given to him, remove his name from buildings, cancel re-runs of The Cosby Show, and halt new television projects.
But what does all of this mean for Cosby’s body of work? What does this mean for The Cosby Show, which helped change the minds of Americans and altered the negative images many had about African-Americans? What does this mean to those who were inspired by the positive messages displayed on the 30-minute NBC sitcom?
On Tuesday, Roland Martin talked with Goldie Taylor, Editor-at-Large for The Daily Beast, about her Ebony cover story, Cliff-Hanger: Can ‘The Cosby Show’ Survive? Should It? Her controversial article examines the “intensely complicated relationship between the fallen icon, his most beloved character, and the broken hearts of Black America.”
In excerpts of Cliff-Hanger, Taylor writes:
Debuting in September 1984, The Cosby Show was based on the stand-up comedy routines of Bill Cosby, already a celebrated Hollywood staple, and loosely mirrored his family life. For eight seasons on NBC—five of which it was the country’s most-watched program, according to Nielsen ratings—Cosby’s portrayal of Heathcliff Huxtable—a physician, loving husband and doting Black father-reinforced the widely held virtues of the nuclear family, if not also unwittingly illuminating the hazards of respectability politics (the notion that if Black people simply act “good” and “behave,” the world-at-large will treat them as such.)
The Cosby Show was especially appealing in its early days, offering a 30-minute refuge from some of the negative imagery found on television. Still in their early stages, cable news broadcasts filled 24-hour cycles with images of gangland-style homicides, chronicling the crack-cocaine epidemic and pointing an indicting finger at the rise in single-parent homes. Black America was in turmoil, if one believed the narrative of the day.
Taylor told Martin that many African-Americans found themselves “reflected” in the characters depicted on The Cosby Show and “that is why it worked so well.”
“We saw a Black doctor and a Black Lawyer living in a household together with love and art and children and education, and these were things that we aspired to for ourselves and that we knew were attainable for us,” said Taylor.
She continued, The Cosby Show “was the lore for Black America. For White America, they saw a Black family living like them that told them the American Dream was alive and well, and that it was available to everyone who played by the rules.”
Taylor explained on NewsOne Now that if there has to be a conversation about Bill Cosby, it should be had “by us, for us, and about us.”
“This is about taking upon our issues and discussing them critically among ourselves and coming to our own self empowered solutions,” Taylor said of her Ebony Magazine feature.
As it relates to separating “Cliff” from Cosby, Taylor said, “There should be a difference between performance and platform and in this case, Bill Cosby used this show as both.”
“Both as the performance of his art and as a platform for his politics. That was sort of painfully clear with every episode and every speech that he gave across the country. He fused together the persona of Bill Cosby with a fictional character Cliff Huxtable, and so no one can be surprised today that people who grew up on this show, people who watched it live and not just in syndication, that we were true stalwarts of this show,” said Taylor.
She added, “No one can be surprised that we’re having a hard time separating” Cliff from Cosby.
Watch Roland Martin, Goldie Taylor, and the NewsOne Now panel discuss Ebony’s story, Cliff-Hanger: Can ‘The Cosby Show’ Survive? Should It?, in the video clip above. Be sure to watch the second part of the NewsOne Now conversation in the video clip below.
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