What now, Bill Cosby? Maybe the more relevant question for the rest of us: What now, Bill Cosby fans?
Well, what now? How should you feel -- feelings, after all, being what Cosby has sold over a 50-year span? Those Cosby books on your shelves, gathering dust, perhaps? The records? Dozens of them, old vinyl treasures from the '60s? What about those?
Don't bother watching "The Cosby Show" on TV Land -- hurriedly pulled in the midst of Wednesday's firestorm. A network can pull episodes -- it can't pull memories though. They remain.
Besides, "Cosby" -- all of it -- is available to stream on Hulu Plus. That pulled NBC sitcom? Believe me, the network wasn't all that high on this project to begin with. Executives knew it would "skew" old anyway, and hadn't even seen a script. And given this network's experience with past stars (Michael J. Fox) it has already learned the hard way that you really can't go back to the future...
Nevertheless, Cosby isn’t just a “TV show” -- those come and go. He’s a reality, an omnipresence, an industry, a part of our collective lives for half a century. What to do with this vast archive of Cosby memorabilia, all firmly tucked away in your mind -- our collective minds -- now uncomfortably burdened with the revelations of half a dozen women who have stepped forward in the past week, offering stories of sexual predation that go beyond shocking, into some emotion that doesn't even have a word yet.
Well, wait, yes there's a word: Horror.
This week has presented cognitive dissonance for many millions, assimilating emotions they can't begin to absorb in the face of allegations that some say appear to be irrefutable.
Tom Scocca -- in a story filed for Gawker last February -- said it much better than I just did. Musing about why stories of Cosby's sexual predations -- which first publicly surfaced in a civil court case in 2005 -- had almost completely disappeared in the years since, he offered this: "Basically nobody wanted to live in a world where Bill Cosby was a sexual predator. It was too much to handle."
Now people have to handle it. I spoke with Howard Bragman, one of the country's leading crisis consultants, on Wednesday, about the future of Cosby's career, which in some measure will have a bearing on how fans process all of this.
"It's over, it's over. It's terminal. There are three things he could do -- one is shut up, which is probably the smartest thing to do, the other is to deny it, which will only make people angrier, and the third is to fall on his sword, and admit that some of this had happened. But that would keep him in depositions for the rest of his natural life."
"There is absolutely no value in him saying anything. I saw someone said somewhere, 'well, he should say that he could have done things differently, or could have handled some things differently.' Well, yes, he could have handled things differently -- I wouldn't have put out the meme [on his website, which sparked the firestorm] out in this environment, or I wouldn't have confirmed any talk show engagements, or done the NPR interview, or let his lawyer make a statement, because I don't think anybody believes lawyer statements anyway. But I don't think any of this would have changed the outcome anyway."
In fact, Cosby's strategy is beginning to finally emerge. He has retained Martin Singer, one of Hollywood's best-known lawyers with a reputation for knife-throwing.
Just last night, Singer sent out this statement to the media, regarding actress Louisa Moritz, who told TMZ Thursday that Cosby had assaulted her in "The Tonight Show" dressing room at 30 Rock back in 1971: "We've reached a point of absurdity. The stories are getting more ridiculous. Now this woman is claiming that something occurred more than 40 years ago and that while she was waiting in the dressing room to appear on the Tonight Show, my client [assaulted her]. I think people are trying to come up with these wild stories in order to justify why they have waited 40 to 50 years to disclose these ridiculous accusations."
Singer's emerging strategy -- which may be the key to answering the questions I began this post with -- appears to be:
1) Ridicule one woman and by association all of the women ("..absurdity..")
2) Suggest that if this is "ridiculous," then what of the others?
3) Indicate that even if it did happen, it occurred so many years ago -- "40-50 years" -- that surely the passage of time makes these accusations null and void, or suspect, given the fallibility of human memory.
Note that none of this amounts to an admission of guilt, but rather a suggestion that famous people like Cosby are victims, too.
Nevertheless, the cognitive dissonance remains, and Scocca's point, too. How to reconcile all this?
Remember: Cosby isn't merely a "TV star," but a cultural icon, who bridged an especially painful divide in American life, between white and black. He wrote a library shelf full of books -- "Fatherhood," "Little Bill: The Meanest Thing to Say," "Didn't Ask to Be Born: Glad I Was," "Come On People," and many more for children -- that were not only best-sellers but embraced an entire life philosophy.
Many of them were sanctified by Cosby pal and Harvard psychiatrist Alvin Poussaint, who essentially offered forwards to each saying "what you are about to read is holy script and believe everything herein.."
"Everything" happened to be about the sanctity of marriage, patience in parenthood, the need for love and to spread love, the necessity of taking responsibility for your life and your actions, the need to accept others, black or white ...
Like Oprah, he was a meta-racial figure, even a post-racial one. His life philosophy wasn't divided between "black" or "white." Cosby was about our common humanity.
His words, many thousands of them, poured out in these books. People studied them, treasured them, obeyed them.
Now what? The tragedy of this week isn't Bill Cosby's reputation -- which took an irreparable blow -- or his career, which will probably recover to some degree, given people's propensity to forgive and forget.
It's not just the tragedy of women forced to reveal assaults that irreparably damaged their lives -- a horrifying but urgent reminder that many thousands of women are sexually assaulted every day.
What of those who esteemed Cosby, lived by his words and his public deeds?
What of those who listened carefully to his words about life, and education, and dignity?
How to reconcile those with this week’s revelations?
I haven’t a clue.