‘Amer­ica’s Dad’ leaves legacy of woe and dam­age

When The Cosby Show beamed into Kiwi lounges in the 1980s it was a source of pride for many Pa­cific Is­lan­ders – now its star’s fall from grace has wiped out those warm, fuzzy feel­ings.

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IN an age when the TV still ruled over the house from a cor­ner of the lounge, a screen­ing of The Cosby Show was a gen­uine fam­ilystop mo­ment.

It pro­vided one of those rare times the box used to throw up oc­ca­sion­ally – the chance to put aside the strains and strug­gles of daily life and gather the whole fam­ily around the TV.

And from its ar­rival in 1984, The Cosby Show reg­u­larly pro­vided those mo­ments, even way down here in the South Pa­cific.

Be­fore there were many Pa­cific Is­land faces on the screen in this part of the world, as a brown kid it would be the African Amer­i­can or His­panic faces and sto­ries that you would en­joy and look for­ward to on the small screen. Peo­ple like Fred­die Prinze from Chico and the Man, and the casts of shows from the 1970s like Good Times and That’s My Mama – or even an­i­mated faces like Fat Al­bert and the Cosby Kids.

Bill Cosby was the real-life adult who would ap­pear at the end of the Fat Al­bert show and mur­mur se­ri­ous stuff about moral lessons in each episode.

But it was The Cosby Show that re­ally made a mega star out of a man who was so loved in the US, he would be known as ‘‘Amer­ica’s Dad’’. Given the his­tory of black peo­ple in the US, it’s some achieve­ment for an AfricanAmer­i­can artist to get that kind of multi-gen­er­a­tional, cross-cul­tural ado­ra­tion.

That first episode from 1984 seemed a cul­tural mile­stone and was all we talked about at school that week. The show would run for eight years, with each sea­son not quite as good as that pioneer­ing first out­ing. They had to keep in­tro­duc­ing new cute kids once the orig­i­nal kids got older, or boyfriends for Cosby’s daugh­ter Denise.

Cosby would wear his big woolly jumpers (way be­fore David Bain wore them) and be good na­tured and charm­ing while his wife Clare stressed out. My favourite char­ac­ter was Theo, the son Cosby al­ways seemed to be lec­tur­ing for be­ing the use­less one in the fam­ily.

Still, The Cosby Show brought the first af­flu­ent black fam­ily on TV to prime-time New Zealand. My fam­ily was not African-Amer­i­can but Samoan in West Auck­land, and even we swelled up with pride at watch­ing it.

But the body of work that led to all those warm fuzzies now seems in tat­ters and Cosby faces up to 30 years in prison af­ter he was con­vinced of three counts of ag­gra­vated in­de­cent as­sault on An­drea Con­stand in Jan­uary 2004.

Con­stand was just one of about 60 women with al­le­ga­tions about the en­ter­tainer span­ning ev­ery decade since the 1960s. All had strik­ingly sim­i­lar sto­ries about Cosby, and some of their cases are still pro­gress­ing.

But th­ese con­vic­tions are now be­ing viewed as a major mile­stone for the MeToo move­ment be­cause they mark the mo­ment that just one of many pow­er­ful men who have been ac­cused of sex­ual as­sault was fi­nally brought to court and his vic­tim’s sto­ries both heard and be­lieved.

The Cosby Show and ev­ery­thing else Cosby made will for­ever be tainted. But as much as for­mer fans are sad about the that, it’s noth­ing com­pared to his true legacy: the dam­age he in­flicted on his many vic­tims and those he left in his wake.

My fam­ily was not AfricanAmer­i­can but Samoan in West Auck­land, and even we swelled up with pride at watch­ing it.’

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