It is never easy to learn that a long-held belief is incorrect.
Bill Cosby’s trial has forced America into a collective state of cognitive dissonance – the discomfort felt after learning information that is inconsistent with our perception of a situation, an idea, or, in this case, a person. We loved Bill Cosby, and we wanted him to reflect off-screen the ideals he represented on our televisions.
But he doesn’t. And the burden is on us to address this discomfort productively, rather than resolving it through denial. Guess which path Daily News columnist Christine Flowers took in a column on Tuesday.
At the top of Flowers’s piece, before her refusal even to entertain the possibility that Cosby could be guilty of more than what he’s explicitly confessed to, she writes: “Bill Cosby is Cliff Huxtable.” Here’s the thing – he isn’t. Bill Cosby is an extraordinary comedian, a good actor, and a skilled public figure who crafted one of the most beloved celebrity personas of the past 50 years. Cliff Huxtable is simply one of his characters. And it’s no surprise we all fell in love with him – it’s easy for a (fictional) person to walk a moral straight line when an entire team determines every word he utters.
You and I don’t know the Bill Cosby who came home every night after taking off the patterned sweaters. You and I also don’t know Andrea Constand. So approach the evidence and testimonies objectively. You can still name Cliff Huxtable as the man you’d trade your own father in for, and you can still profess love and admiration for Bill Cosby as an actor, a comedian, and an emblem. You can do these things and still admit that you disapprove of the unsavory actions he’s admitted to, that you’re unsure about those he denies or has yet to address.
Flowers’s denial goes a step further, though, when she suggests that the sensationalism surrounding Cosby and his case has both been hardened by “an evolving societal ethic” and – yes, she went here – caused his accusers to make false allegations, blaming the “meanness of the world” and “the Trump effect.”
It is true, sometimes, that the famous and beloved are held to a higher standard than the rest of us. It is true that their misconduct often prompts us to take a deeper look at our culture than we might in a lower-profile case. But let us not forget that people like Cosby have worked hard for fame and status, and that we celebrate their achievements often as ceremoniously as we do their failures. Bill Cosby should be held to a higher standard. Celebrities are America’s role models, and with their fame comes a responsibility that many of them hardly complain about until the tables have turned.
And lastly, Christine Flowers, how dare you paint these women as liars because you don’t know them as well as you think you know Bill Cosby. How dare you suggest that this case is a shock absorber for the intensity of our national sexual assault problem. Perhaps it hasn’t occurred to you that Cosby’s accusers may have only come forward in recent years purely because without the increased gravity we now lend to these cases, they previously had legitimate reason to fear that an accusation would ruin their lives. We’ve seen the lives of young women on our college campuses ruined because they came forward about a criminal who, unluckily for them, happened to be pretty good at sports. Why would anyone have felt like a similar accusation would play out any better aimed at Bill Cosby, of all people?
Whether or not Cosby is guilty of rape is not for you or me to decide. It’s a case for us to think about and grasp the complexity of while we wait for a verdict. Choose to be mature, and let your cognitive dissonance sit with you for a little while.
And if Cosby is taking some extra heat for the 943 rapists out of every 1,000 that are never even arrested? Well, he is America’s dad, after all.
Follow @HaleySWeiss on Twitter.