Sunday, January 10, 2016

Cosby's Ministry of Truth Moment

From Time (via Legal Insurrection):

  • Spelman College. In July, the historically black women’s college discontinued its endowed professorship with Cosby, who donated $20 million in 1988. The school had suspended the program in 2014 before terminating it completely.

  • CAA. The comedian’s talent agency, which had represented him since 2012, dropped him in late 2014.

  • New York University. In September, university officials removed“William H. Cosby” from the title of its Future Filmmakers Workshop.

  • NBC. In late 2014, the network halted development on a new Bill Cosby sitcom. A top NBC executive said it was “safe to say” Cosby would not be returning to the network.

  • TV Land. The cable network removed Cosby Show reruns from its lineup indefinitely in late 2014.

  • Drexel University. The Philadelphia school revoked Cosby’s honorary degree in November.

  • The University of Pittsburgh. “Based on a unanimous recommendation from the University Committee for honorary degree recipients, the University of Pittsburgh has rescinded the honorary doctor of humane letters degree awarded to Bill Cosby in 2002 at the commencement ceremony on Pitt’s Johnstown campus,” the schoolannounced in November.

  • Jerry Seinfeld and David Letterman. In July, both of the comediansasked for their endorsements to be removed from a 2014 Cosby biography titled Cosby: His Life and Times.

  • Drew University. The New Jersey university voted in October to revoke Cosby’s honorary degree.

  • Brown University. The Ivy League institution rescinded Cosby’s honorary degree in September. “It has become clear,” wrote Brown President Christina Paxson, “by his own admission in legal depositions that became public this summer, that Mr. Cosby has engaged in conduct with women that is contrary to the values of Brown.”

  • Disney’s Hollywood Studios. In July, Disney announced that it planned to remove a Bill Cosby statue from its Hollywood Studios theme park.

  • Fordham University. In September, the New York City university’s Board of Trustees unanimously voted to rescind Cosby’s honorary degree. It was the first time Fordham ever revoked the honor.

  • Tufts University. The Massachusetts school announced in October that it was rescinding Cosby’s honorary doctorate of arts.

  • Goucher College. Cosby had received an honorary degree in 2001 when he was the school’s commencement speaker. In October, it was rescinded.

Now, some of these are certainly defensible business decisions. Obviously, the Cosby brand no longer supports new NBC sitcoms and CAA representation. But at the other extreme, I see the same spirit of Stalinism that had Soviet-era librarians pasting in rewritten history and retouched photographs into their encyclopedias, and that continues today in the ongoing effort to expunge Civil War memorials. It is no doubt true that the image America had of Bill Cosby personally will not turn out to be supported by the reality. But the 80s-era "Cosby Show" is either worth watching or it is not; nothing about the "real" Bill Cosby has any bearing on that question.

Similarly, I understand why Letterman and Seinfeld don't want their names associated with a biography suddenly in need of substantial revision. But . . . did Spelman return the $20M? And which of Drexel, Pitt, Drew, Brown, Fordham, Tufts or Goucher had his chastity in mind when they conferred their "honorary" degrees on the erstwhile "Dr." Cosby?* Rather, I think they had other reasons in mind.** Brown's progressive sanctimony is particularly galling.

Then there is Disney. The world is full of men who didn't use drugs to ease women into compliance but who yet don't have statues in their honor. Disney created one for Cosby as a tribute to his craft, not his virtue, and we should all yet observe the distinction. Sadly, too many people fail to.

* Actually, what is the point of an "honorary degree"? Apparently, only "we like you . . . but we'll take it back if we ever stop liking you, or if those who supplant us in our position don't like you."

** I was never a consistent fan of the "Cosby Show". I didn't object to it, but I didn't have a television back then, and it didn't cross a threshold where I would have found one just to watch it. But from what I gather, the success of the show rested at least in part on its presentation of a black family that could meet white upper-middle-class standards of behavior, by education, stability, warmth and manners . . . and at a time that was closer to the Civil Rights movement than it is to 20156. It wasn't representative in any of those respects, but that was kind of the point: the show was aspirational, Cosby's, and America's, vision of possibility. It is telling that there is nothing in entertainment comparable to it today, but it is also arguable that Cosby's current troubles are in way just a reminder of how that vision failed to materialize. At this writing, I am withholding final judgment on the allegations against him, but I will acknowledge that it doesn't help our evaluation of his work when the avatar of black family stability turns out to be just another sex-crazed African. Which is to say, I might be wrong about the inappropriateness of retroactively denying him honor for it.

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