I never liked Bill Cosby.
If, anytime between 1984 and 1992, I’d been overwhelmed by a hankering to watch a loud, pompous middle-aged man yell at his family, I’d have moved back in with my alcoholic stepfather.
Bizarrely, it was that unpleasant eponymous sitcom, and not his earlier, gentler Fat Albert cartoons, that got Cosby dubbed “America’s Dad.” (And no, Young People Today, that corny appellation wasn’t a winking dig at the nation’s “dysfunctional families,” to use the then-trendy idiom. Irony hadn’t yet been franchised on every corner like it is today.)
True, most now-inevitable-sounding showbiz nicknames—“The Voice,” “America’s Sweetheart,” “The Only Band That Matters”—didn’t spring organically from fandom’s grass roots so much as from some press agent’s sweaty forehead. But “America’s Dad” in particular always felt more like bullying ballyhoo than an accurate reflection of public esteem.
Back then, I was alone among my fellow Gen-Xers in my gut-level aversion to Cosby, who seemed like a white David Letterman (another “comedian” I also, unfashionably, loathed): aloof, prickly, and, frankly, just not that funny. But I could never explain why.
I got called a racist for musing that Cosby’s ostentatious credit on his program—“Dr. William H. Cosby, Jr. Ed.D”—was his gauche attempt to pass off one of his honorary degrees as the real thing. I was chastened when told his doctorate was authentic (if a Ph.D. in a “discipline” like “education” can truly be considered legitimate). And then, while researching this column, I learned I’d been right (sort of) all along, at least if the late, lamented co-creator of The Simpsons can be believed:
I worked with bill Cosby on fat Albert. he had two of the writers write his phd thesis. —Sam Simon (@simonsam), Dec. 17, 2014
All that said, I’m on record as being suspicious of these psychosexual celebrity witch hunts. (Although given the advanced age of the alleged offenses, “archaeological dig” is often a better metaphor.) My brain starts blaring “McMartin preschool” and “Richard Jewell” like a car alarm.
So I swerved clear of Cosby news, until a woman now living here in Toronto finally filed criminal charges last week and made ignoring the story impossible.
What did intrigue me was a question Mark Steyn posed while guest-hosting for Rush Limbaugh the day those charges were laid:
Why is Bill Cosby finished while Bill Clinton is beloved?
Why is Bill Cosby finished? He was the most beloved guy. We keep hearing Bill Clinton is the most beloved guy in America. “If Bill Clinton was on the ticket, he’d sweep all 50 states…. But somehow, for some reason—you don’t see ‘The Bill Cosby Show’ [sic] on TV anymore….
You’d almost think it’s some kind of, like, racism thing. That somehow when a bunch of women make accusations against the black guy, boom, he’s vaporized. When a bunch of women make accusations against some white Southern redneck, we’re talking about putting him back in the White House for another eight years as first gentleman.
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