Bill Cosby: what will he be remembered as?
Beginning in the 1980’s, family night was filled with laughter as the Huxtables invaded televisions. This upper-middle-class, African American family showcased class and success from going through the education system. Bill Cosby’s character, Cliff Huxtable, warmed our hearts with his humor, but will he be remembered for that?
Bill Cosby’s recent rape accusations call into question what his legecy will entail after his death. Another important question centers on what image will newspapers and television news use when discussing his life? Will it be the Cliff Huxtable American families have grown up with? Or will it be the old Bill Cosby images that have surfaced after accusations? You may wonder: why does it matter which photo they choose? Because the perpetuation of African Americans as criminals, gang members, and drug addicts showcases a false sense of the true person. If the media frame Bill Cosby as the perpetrator, Leonard argues the frames justify his loss of his public image or in other cases his death.
A recent issue surrounding photo choice was the Ferguson, Mo. case involving Michael Brown. In a New York Times article, author John Eligon perpetuates the hegemonic image of African Americans with his quotes. In the article, Michael Brown Sr. (father) said, “that’s why I had to keep my foot on his neck.” However, the reference to drugs, stealing, gangs, and family issues only perpetuate the idea of hegemonic beliefs and prove that the issue of race is still prevalent in today’s society based upon the association with black males and crime.
The power of the media to frame Mr. Brown in two differing images begs the question of Cosby. Due to his privilege and access to power, the negative repercussions from media hype could hinder the rest of his career. Currently, Cosby has 10 women: Joan Tarshis, Therese Serignese, Angela Leslie, Carla Ferrigne, Louisa Morite, Janice Dickinson, Barbara Bowman, Beth Ferrier, Kristina Ruehli, and Renita Chaney Hill, who have come forward accusing him of rape. But, it is important to understand the racial element at play. Eight of these women are white, one is African American and one is Spanish. Thus, the issue of crime between a black man, Cosby, and mostly white privilege women is newsworthy. Although The Cosby Show represented hyper-authority where the frames and schemas mirrored policy of the time, Bill Cosby’s actions are not ideal for the hegemonic culture. By no means am I here to label Bill Cosby as a rapist. Nor am I here to say such acts are acceptable. According to the CDC, “1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) reported experiencing rape at some time in their lives.” Rape culture is consistently reiterated through popular culture and the hype surrounding Bill Cosby should be redirected to the larger, systemic issue of patriarchal society’s engagement in stalking and harassment reframed as romantic and desirable.
But the allegations surrounding Bill Cosby did not gain much attention until the Twitter #cosbymeme was created to let Cosby have it. The affordances of platform, how people can and do use the social media platform to articulate ideas about an issue, can challenge white privilege and policy. The fact that Twitter’s demographics are younger, 18-29, the purpose and application of Twitter varies greatly from other social media such as Facebook and Instagram.
Still, if social media has the power to sway society’s opinion about an issue or person, in this case Cosby, what images are coming to the forefront as a means to justify the acts? Bad images. Images white culture would associate with violence and drugs and a lack of education or a dysfunctional family. Without knowing the truth about whether Cosby did or did not sexually assault those women, we cannot allow the schemas about African American culture to be recalled because of media’s interpretation on the problem. The lack of evidence and comments may leave some questioning, but we have to ask ourselves: what image of Cosby do we want to be his last? Exhibit A or Exhibit B? With A we reflect the comedian and All-American hardworking Dr. Huxtable. With B we perpetuate stereotypes of African Americans and devalue Cosby’s life work.