‘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.
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.’