Culture

The Bill Cosby We Loved Is Gone

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Written by Susan Berger

Editor’s Note: This piece was originally published on the Huffington Post in December, 2014. With the author’s permission, we have republished it here. 

For those of us who grew up in the ‘60s, hearing accuser after accuser come forward with their accounts of rape and sexual assault by the beloved Bill Cosby is for some of us akin to a child learning there is no Santa, Easter Bunny or Tooth Fairy.

As a little girl we would play Cosby records and howl. It was a treat to put Wonderfulness on the record player and hear Cosby’s routines. I remember like yesterday The Lord paying Noah (Cosby) a visit and telling him to build an ark. And when Noah’s neighbor asked him what he was building it went like this:

Noah: I can’t tell you.

Neighbor: Can you give me a hint?

Noah: Well how long can you tread water?

And his tonsils routine — with Cosby as little boy and waiting with buddies Johnson and Rudolph to have their tonsils removed. His refrain of “Ice cream… we’re gonna eat ice-cream “ was one we learned and sang for every friend who had their tonsils out. To this day a visit to the hospital reminds me of Cosby yelling to an orderly “Hey, you — almost a doctor.”

And one of my favorites was how he would fake being sick but miraculously at 3:30 be well. He would tell his mom “A miracle happened. A little angel came up and hit me with a wand and said go out and play.”

Then there was the chicken heart that ate New York City and how Cosby would smear jello on the floor to make the chicken heart slip if he came to visit.

And one of his funniest was what his parents called Cosby and his brother: “I thought my name was Jesus Christ and my brother Russell thought his name was Dammit.”

Yes. We loved the guy. We especially loved him during a confusing time. Every night we witnessed the turmoil of civil rights on television. As a little girl it was hard to understand police beating people with sticks and hosing them down. Hard too to see race relations take baby steps forward and then get beat down with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and John and Robert Kennedy.

So while we didn’t understand our world, Cosby made the little things funny and there was a universality to his humor. You didn’t have to be black or white or rich or poor. When he took his microphone and made bump-bump noises that belonged to the chicken heart, when we saw the Huxtables, a black middle class family with the dad Cliff wearing his dad sweaters it felt right. And when he told his kids on The Cosby Show, “I brought you into this world and I can take you out.” It was funny. It just was.

There is nothing funny about 16 women coming forward with similar stories of rape. Women who at the time were too taken with Cosby’s power, or too scared to come forward. Women who sat on this for 40 years or so. Why did they wait so long?

Because the world we lived in back then was a man’s world. There were no strong powerful women in TV sitcoms. We loved I Dream of Jeannie with her great body,Gilligan’s Island’s Lovey Wentworth Howell, the flaky wife of billionaire Thurston Howell III, and Ginger Grant, the ditzy movie star. We had Wilma Flintstone and Betty Rubble and their airhead antics. On Leave it to Beaver, June Cleaver was always at the door with Beaver’s lunch or cooking dinner.

Women were not only kept in the kitchen. They were kept in their place. Remember Ralph Kramden on The Honeymooners? Ralph would always hold up a fist to his wife Alice and say, “One of these days… POW!!! Right in the kisser!” or “BANG, ZOOM! Straight to the moon!”

I would like to believe there has been a cultural shift. And if these women endured this alleged sexual abuse and rape today, they would have found justice in a court of law. It has never been easy to go to court and allege rape. The victim often becomes victimized. Even today, when women hold all kinds of positions of power including on the Supreme Court, the University of Virginia struggles amid allegations of rape on campus.

Americans have always had a special relationship with celebrities. One can look to controversies swirling around Woody Allen, Michael Jackson and OJ Simpson. But in this case, in spite of 40 years since the alleged acts, there are too many women with nothing to gain coming forward and it is simply impossible to believe it is all made up.

We can thank social media for allowing us to hear these stories loud and clear. And although the statute of limitations has run out, it seems so has the world’s love for Bill Cosby.

Susan Berger is a freelance journalist focused on health issues, breaking news, and criminal court and is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune. You can follow her on twitter at msjournalist

About the author

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Susan Berger

Susan Berger is a freelance journalist focused on health issues, breaking news, and criminal court and is a frequent contributor to the Washington Post and Chicago Tribune.