A VIEW FROM THE TOP
Bill of rights till proven guilty
HIS was a face that lit up our tellies during the turbulent decade that was the ’80s. At a time when our television channels were still imaginatively named TV1, TV2, TV3 and – later – TV4 (with equally banal scheduling to boot), often, our only hope of catching a glimpse of quality international programming was through the use of a long pole and a UHF aerial (precariously positioned outside the window) that led us to a snowy screened Bop TV.
But then there was Bill. The loving, laid-back father figure with a mischievous glint in his eye and a grin perpetually playing at his lips, whom we all adored in his quintessential role as Dr Heathcliff Huxtable.
It’s an image that has defined him throughout the years and while logic dictates (and history tells) that an actor can often be miles removed from the roles he portrays, somehow, Cosby the man and Heath the fictitious persona always seemed interchangeable.
Perhaps this explains the many raised eyebrows as allegations regarding his reported sexual improprieties resurfaced recently. Bill Cosby a rapist-cum-sexual predator? The very notion of it sounds like a bad script for a tawdry B-grade movie.
But as is often the case in our newfound digital world where an unsubstantiated Tweet can take on gospel truth status, he has already become the stuff of “Sordid Double Life” headlines, with the accompanying hyperbole around “multiple affairs” (he had one – 23 years ago), an illicit love child (who, gossipmongers may care to know, was jailed for attempting to extort $24 million from Cosby) and drug abuse, all being splashed about for sensational effect.
To the fickle folk quick to play judge and juror that, in 2006, a civil lawsuit brought forward by 13 women accusing Cosby of sexual assault was settled out of court “under sealed terms”, serves as indisputable proof of his culpability.
Never mind that said women were rather questionable characters themselves (one of whom, a lawyer, was later disbarred for malpractice) or that, as Whoopi Goldberg pointed out in an episode of The View that aired earlier this week: “Settlements don’t necessarily mean you’re guilty. You generally settle because you don’t want to put your family through a drawn out legal process…”
All of which (at the risk of being derided as playing devil’s advocate) isn’t to say that Cosby’s innocent either. As the ol’ saying goes, appearances can be deceiving and in the make-believe world of showbiz, this adage is particularly relevant.
(Woody Allen seems about as predatory – or appealing – as a slug, yet ex-flame Mia Farrow’s fears that he was getting a little too close for comfort to her adoptive daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, were validated when Allen stepped out with Previn. Who was all of 19 years old at the time, making him 37 years her senior.)
But before the public and the media set about systematically destroying the life of a 77-year-old beloved actor, activist and grandfather, based purely on conjecture, we would do well to follow Whoopi’s example by “reserving judgement”.