Friday, September 28, 2018

Kill the Messenger - Not His Message

Bill Cosby- following his sentencing for sexual assault. (Chicago Tribune)
In what has been pretty slow period for Jewish News worthy of commenting upon (that I haven’t already commented upon ad infinitum) I am going to discuss an issue that affects all of us – Jew and non Jew alike:  The demise of a former icon.

This is one of those rare instances where one should in fact ‘kill the messenger’. I don’t mean literally. But I do mean the kind of ‘killing’ Bill Cosby is getting. He is finally  going to pay for years of serial rape of - what seems like a multitude of women. In my view the prison sentence he just received (10 years with a possibility of parole after 3) seems rather light (despite his advanced age of 81) in comparison to the crimes he committed. Both in number and in severity. 

Be that as it may, there is a certain sense of justice being served here about the demise of a man that was once one of the most powerful and honored celebrities in the world. Perhaps to Cosby himself, the fall from grace and dishonor is so severe that it is an even greater punishment that his prison sentence. He will spend the rest of his life in ignominious infamy!

His career has been destroyed. As has his reputation. And a body of work that was one of the most popular and respected in the entertainment industry has been erased from the public square! Instead of a legacy of promoting good values and role-modeling behavior via his work, ethics, and moral courage, it is now a legacy of unmitigated shame. Well deserved, I might add.

There is some irony in the fact that that the message he conveyed in his signature series, ‘The Cosby Show’ was one of wholesomeness and good moral character. Which is the exact opposite of who he really is.

The values he championed were values that should guide us all. Those values and the success he had in disseminating them is one reason why he got all those honorary degrees (which have now been rescinded). 

His show’s portrayal of a successful upper middle class black family was pioneering. It destroyed the stereotypical view of black people as ghetto based drug czars or gang members. It showed the world that there is little difference between the values and culture of black families and the values and culture of white families - that have both worked hard to achieve success.

So successful was Cosby’s message that he was dubbed ‘America’s dad’! His character, ‘Dr. Cliff Huxtable’ was a role model of good parenting. His program was one of the most highly rated and most watched sitcoms of that era.  After the series ended it run, it went into syndication in what seemed like an infinite number of markets and media.

If one wanted to learn what good old-fashioned wholesome American values were - while at the same time being entertained, The Cosby Show was the way to do that. What better (or at least easier) way to do that than a program that children loved to watch! A program with characters they could identify with.

And what better way for the black community to be accepted than for people to forget they were even watching a black family. They were just watching a middle class American family. That they happened to be black was irrelevant. Which is the way we should all be about race: color blind.

Although nowadays the internet has taken over much of the attention of young people, there was a time not all that long ago where TV was the most powerful influence on children. For both good and for bad. How wonderful it was to have a show that was at the same time popular, entertaining, and promoted many of the values you wanted to teach your children!

That alone was a remarkable achievement for Cosby. But he didn’t stop there. He went further than that - publicly opposing all the apologetics from liberal black activists that always blamed others for the misfortunes of the ghetto black.

Cosby’s message was for his people was to stop paying attention to that. To take responsibility for one’s own future, getting up on their own  two feet and doing something about their lives.

Cosby ridiculed the black ghetto culture of drugs, guns and gangs as a way of life. He abhorred the victim mentality promoted by liberal establishment figures like Jesse Jackson who insisted that the government pour money into those communities as a solution to all of their problems. Cosby believed that those leaders were perpetuating a culture of dependency that was degrading.

I really admired him for going against the liberal establishment narrative. He wanted his people to value education, get educated, and succeed! And to stop crying while playing the ‘victim card’.

Personally, I feel that ghetto blacks are indeed victims of a culture they were born into. How they ended up that way is beyond the scope of this post. (Besides - Cosby didn’t care how they got there anyway.)  It’s hard to break that pattern without a little help. Liberal activists are not all that wrong in pointing all that out and asking for some help in changing the culture.

I nevertheless admired Cosby’s devotion to the principle that ghetto blacks would fare far better if they would just stand up and abandon that culture.  And instead do whatever it takes to ‘pull themselves out by their bootstraps’ into a more productive and successful life. He may have been wrong to completely reject the much needed help. But he sure wasn’t wrong about the values he preached.

Now, a lot of Cosby’s former critics are patting themselves on the back – happy to discredit the message right along with its messenger. And that makes the tragedy even greater!