He made us laugh. He taught us important life lessons. He turned the "dad sweater" into a symbol of fatherhood, and made eating Jell-O Pudding seem like an actual treat.
But Bill Cosby, "America's Dad," has also just been found guilty of three felony counts of aggravated indecent assault for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004 (and dozens of other woman have accused him of similar crimes). He might spend the rest of his life in prison. And, for those of us who grew up in the 1980s, the verdict might bring up some rather disconcerting feelings of sadness and even betrayal.
After all, how can you mourn such a victory for sexual assault survivors? Constand got the justice she deserves, and, as attorney Gloria Allred, who represents 33 of Cosby's accusers, said after the decision: "When all is said and done: Women were finally believed."
And as a woman, I'm incredibly encouraged that Cosby was found guilty. After all, it's the first major legal win for the Me Too movement. Cosby's original trial, which ended in a mistrial last June, came just months before allegations of sexual assault and misconduct rocked the entertainment and media industries, as well as politics.
"I'm stunned," Tarana Burke, the activist who coined the phrase "Me too," told NBC News in response to Cosby's conviction. "I think, like most survivors around the world, I never expected to see anyone with accountability."
I, too, celebrate the verdict as an overdue victory. But as someone who grew up thinking of Cosby as a comforting and steady father figure, I also can't help but mourn. This dissonance between my inner child and feminist is uncomfortable, and perhaps there's no greater living metaphor for my feelings than the topless protester who accosted Cosby on his way into court.
Warning: photo contains nudity
Nicolle Rochelle, a former child actress on the Cosby Show, ran toward Cosby shouting "Hey, hey, hey! Women's lives matter!" and with "rapist" written in red ink across her bare torso. Later, she told ABC News that she'd seen Cosby as a father figure.
"Just like anyone else, he was the 'father figure,'" Rochelle said. "He gave me advice about my career, my life. He was funny and he made jokes. He seemed like a nice guy."
"I felt angry ... and I felt sad for everyone involved," Rochelle added. "I felt slightly betrayed."
Calling Cosby "America's dad" isn't an understatement. As the Guardian notes, he "came very close to cementing his legacy as America's sweater-clad father figure and no-nonsense moral voice for the ages."
The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984-1992, has been called one of American television's most important programs and had some of the highest ratings ever recorded for a sitcom at the time (since Cosby's conviction, Bounce TV announced that they're pulling reruns off the air).
"There's a historical perspective here, because when this show hit, comedy was pretty much dead on television. Cheers and Family Ties were about the only comedies on the air, and they were not highly rated. This show changed that," Director Jay Sandrich was quoted saying in a 1992 Entertainment Weekly article.
And it wasn't just the comedy that made the show so appealing (although that certainly helped). At a time when American divorce rates were at their peak, Cosby provided a generation of kids like myself with the stability, moral guidance, and family values — all wrapped up in a colourful sweater — that we needed.
To quote Ravishly writer Joni Edelman in her personal essay on reconciling her views of Cosby as a father figure: "Excuse me while I have an existential crisis."
When comedian Louis C.K. was accused of sexual misconduct by several women (accounts that he later admitted were true), his friend and colleague Sarah Silverman grappled with whether you can "love someone who did bad things."
In an opening monologue on her Hulu show "I Love You, America," Silverman said that, while it's good and necessary to call out sexual assault, it will inevitably mean "some of our heroes will be taken down, and we will discover bad things about people we like, or in some cases, people we love."
"I love Louie," Silverman said, "but Louie did these things. Both of those statements are true. So, I just keep asking myself, can you love someone who did bad things? Can you still love them?"
"I can mull that over later, certainly, because the only people that matter right now are the victims. They are victims, and they're victims because of something he did," Silverman said.
And that has to be the way forward for those of us mourning Cosby's conviction. After all, between the years of allegations, the trial, and the retrial, we've already had a lot of time to process Cosby's fall. Thursday's conviction is just the final nail in the coffin.
Sure, be sad at having to let go of Cosby and, in the process, part of your childhood. But the victim here is Andrea Constand, who was drugged and sexually assaulted by "America's Dad." Be proud of her courage for speaking out, for how she conducted herself in the trial, and for being hailed as a hero of the Me Too movement.
As for what to do with the good memories of Cosby that we cherished, the laughter, the feelings of comfort, one need only remember that Cosby was an actor playing a role, and it was that role who we loved. "There is no way to reconcile Cliff Huxtable with Bill Cosby," writer Aaron Barksdale wrote in HuffPost a few years ago.
"To the extent that America still has a collective cultural memory, it's comforting to have the happy stuff to hold on to. And it's depressing to arrive at a juncture that forces us to let some of that stuff go," The New York Times wrote about Cosby after his first trial.
Depressing, yes. But it's time.
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