There's what I want to think, and what I think. They're not the same thing.
Like many people, I have watched in morbid fascination over the past few weeks as allegations have multiplied against Bill Cosby. This past week, as they reached a crescendo, it was almost impossible to avoid the rising furor.
Let me say right off the top that I think sexual assualt of any kind is a horrendous, reprehensible crime that should be prosecuted and punished to the maximum extent of the law no matter who the accused party might happen to be. And at the same time, I have no knowledge whether the allegations are true or not. It is not for me to judge.
But it will be impossible to enjoy the comedy the same way ever again, no matter what. And that is what is personally hitting home right now. More than anything else, the Bill Cosby story now makes me sad.
A month of two after his son was shot to death Cosby gave an interview during which he said (and I'm paraphrasing) that people would see him and they would look sad. And that especially bothered him.
Imagine what he's seeing now.
That is not to in any way minimize what it has been said happened to a growing, seemingly large number of women over a very long period of time. If the allegations are true, their suffering is much more serious than anything that happens to fans of a comedian. For those women to find some measure of justice would be far more important.
For me, though, the accusations have damaged, perhaps beyond repair, a mental connection to an influence that helped formed some of the way I think. That's not easy to absorb.
I've posted here before about the way Cosby's stand-up comedy impacted me when I was a child, how it helped form some of the way I use language, which is (let's face it) a large component of what it is I do for a living, and even more, how I express every thought I have. I can't say I don't have some reflexive speech patterns that started when I first heard the man do comedy.
It's not the "America's dad" persona that is most destroyed for me. That was a period after I was an adult, when I could be more critical and had already formed my own personality. I'd seen the other iterations of Cosby before that. And he was one of those entertainers whose work I truly admired, a storyteller and observer with almost no peers at all. I thought Bill Cosby, if we were to meet, would understand me.
Now it would seem I, along with much of the culture, had misjudged him badly. Or that he was remarkably good at projecting an image that was completely contrary to his true character. If that is the case--and maybe even if it transpires that we never know for sure--the damage, on my side, has been done.
Much as I'd like to say that one can separate the art from the artist, I'm not sure I'll be able to listen to "Go-Karts" or "Track and Field" again the way I once could. To admire the way the comedy was constructed like a piece of music, the rhythm and the pitch of it. To immerse myself in the amazing speed with which the comedian could create characters and situations, switch back and forth from one to the other and have them pay off.
If what is being claimed is true, a number of truly awful crimes were committed by a person we thought we knew. It is perhaps that idea--that we thought we knew someone most of us had never met--that is especially hurtful right now. There's a strange trust between an artist and those who connect emotionally with the art. And when that bond is broken, the art can be broken, too.
Selfish as it is, I'll miss the Bill Cosby I once really admired. Too bad he probably wasn't real.