Wednesday , April 17 2024
All the nips and tucks, all the publicists, all the TV and movie studio lot contrivances in the world don’t change the person inside the shell, but we become enamored with that shell anyway.

Bill Cosby – The Warped Cult of TV Personality

cos5 If you have been watching TV or reading daily news stories, it would be almost impossible not to have encountered the ever growing “scandal” connected to TV personality Bill Cosby. My goal here is not to bury Cosby, nor to praise him – as I recall the brilliant oratory of Marc Antony’s eulogy in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Rather, it is to recognize a mistake of which most of us are guilty. We invest too much emotion and interest in personalities (movies and TV), and in doing so we are basically always setting ourselves up for a Humpty Dumpty moment.


cos4There is no way to dispute Cosby’s cultural impact through his various television projects going back to 1965. Appearing as Alexander Scott alongside Robert Culp in I Spy, Cosby burst onto the scene as an equal partner to Culp’s Kelly Robinson in their weekly espionage series. This role as Scotty established Cosby as a bankable star and would lead to his many other successful ventures.




When I was a kid I first knew about Cosby through Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids, a cartoon series that I remember watching every week. Fat Albert came right out of Cosby’s comedy routines, and the funny, affable, and overweight character won the hearts of many kids like me; it also convinced parents, who had been fans of Cosby since I Spy, that his brand was family-friendly. Those Jell-O Pudding commercials did nothing but corroborate what kids and moms already knew – Cosby was an American favorite.


Another TV series would seal the deal – The Cosby Show came into people’s homes from 1984-1992, and it was hard to separate the image of the good doctor and the star. The amiable personality depicted on screen didn’t seem too far removed (if at all) from the one Cosby projected when interviewed on talk shows. He was a loveable father figure, a wise yet funny guy anyone would go to to seek advice or to get a laugh. For all intents and purposes, Bill Cosby and Cliff Huxtable were the same person, and people of all ages loved him.


cos2 If that were not enough, Cosby went out and created another cartoon character that would enhance his standing even further. Targeted for toddlers and their parents, Little Bill premiered in 1999 just in time to capture an entirely different market. Conveniently, all those kids like me who had loved Fat Albert and grew up to love Dr. Huxtable now had kids of their own. Little Bill features the image of Cosby in the opening credits, and that seemed better than the Good Housekeeping seal of approval – if Cosby were attached to something it had to be family friendly, wholesome entertainment.


So forgive us all for feeling like we have been slapped in the face now, but many of us have lots of years invested in old Bill. The problem with him is one we have with all stars that we allow ourselves to fall in love with – we swoon for a media created image, a concocted persona that is as natural as those faces enhanced by Hollywood plastic surgeons. All the nips and tucks, all the publicists, all the TV and movie studio lot contrivances in the world don’t change the person inside the shell, but we become enamored with that shell anyway.

Why do we continue to feel devastated when stars keep falling like dominoes right before our eyes? We hear of marital infidelity, of drug and alcohol abuse, of drunk driving accidents, of spousal abuse, and a litany of other offenses. We have seen the mug shots of everybody from Nick Nolte to Justin Bieber, but we still feel disappointment and disbelief at every new revelation of indecent or illegal behavior.

The truth is that we are too invested in the cult of personality that has been churned out by the media. We are too quick to believe in the persona of the star as it appears to us, rather than realizing that it is all smoke and mirrors. The best example is “reality TV,” which is neither real nor true television. I know it’s difficult to accept that everything from Dance Moms to Cake Boss is scripted, plotted, and edited just as much as your favorite sitcom, but the truth is reality TV is as unreal as it can be.

So now, if all of us who have bought the Cosby image all these years feel burned, we have no one to blame but ourselves. We should realize that TV and movie stars are nothing more than prefabricated packaging. They are like the most beautiful and large present under the Christmas tree. As long as we don’t open it, the possibilities and excitement are endless; unfortunately, when we rip off the fancy bows and pretty wrapping paper and get the box open, sometimes we are disappointed.

When thinking of Cosby let’s go back to Marc Antony talking about his dear murdered friend Julius Caesar. “The evil that men do lives after them; the good is oft interréd with their bones.” In my life and my children’s lives Cosby’s shows have brought a good deal of happiness and laughter, but all that will be forgotten now by most people, and he will be fodder for late night TV hosts and other comics who can poke fun at him. Just one caution to those people who also fall into the personality category – let he without sin cast the first stone.
cos1 One interesting thing to note is that Cosby performed in Florida last night and received a standing ovation. He went about his usual routine, never mentioning the scandal that is in the news. I don’t know what that says about him or the crowd that supported his appearance, but perhaps the cult of personality is more powerful than anything reality can throw at it.

Photo credit: AP ,, tvworthwatching/com,,


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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana's stories, articles, and poems have been published in literary magazines and online. His new novel, 'Unicorn: A Love Story,' is available as an e-book and in print.

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  1. Cosby hasn’t been found guilty of any of the things of which he has been accused. Your goal may not have to bury him, but you seem to have written this piece with the assumption that his accusers are correct.

  2. It’s a mistake to setup humans as personal heroes. Don’t do it.

    It’s a mistake to assume anyone is guilty just because the charges are sensational.

    On the face of it, this looks like a lynch mob. I guess that the vigilantes are looking for new excitement now that the Woody Allen episode has died down. By the way, what did the vigilance committee decide about Woody Allen?

  3. Thank you both for your comments.

    It’s interesting you brought up Woody Allen, Bliffle. They seem like such polar opposites to me (except that they have comedy in common). I don’t think anyone would have ever called Woody “beloved comedian” by any stretch of the imagination, though his films are popular and usually get good reaction from critics. Cosby was definitely someone “beloved” by his fans, and many felt like they knew him (which is part of the “mistake” to which you are referring). Perhaps that is why people are taking this more personally than they did with Woody.

    Both men have not been charged with anything but seem to have been “convicted” in the court of public opinion. We can thank the media for setting these people up – first to put them up on the pedestal and then for being there to be the first to see them fall.

    • What about Stephen Collins, if we’re throwing these kinds of situations around? If you want to talk “beloved,” there’s hardly a show more beloved amongst its fans than 7th Heaven. Plus Collins’ connection to the Star Trek franchise (co-starring in 1979’s The Motion Picture) has thrown an awful lot of fans in that community into a right tizzy.

      The temptation is to draw some kind of moral equivalency between a wide variety of different alleged crimes. Meanwhile, people like Roman Polanski and R. Kelly continue to be beloved and/or revered amongst their fans even in the face of far more damning evidence (in Polanksi’s case, a conviction that caused him to turn yellow and flee – avoiding ever being brought to justice while people still support his often critically-acclaimed films).

  4. Has anyone offered corroborating evidence or testimony?

  5. The only “evidence” I’ve seen is an old photo taken of Cosby in a bathrobe and talking on the phone. Haven’t heard of any forensic evidence and don’t know if there is any. It’s just a series of eerie and very similar stories from what I believe is now 18 women.

    • Looks like “piling on” to me. A couple years ago I watched as the wife of a friend accused him of hitting her after a dinner one night, and then all the wives piled on. She was just looking for a place to flop after she left him, it turned out.

  6. My conclusion is that what we see is a whispering campaign against Cosby. If that damages men in general, then it may suit the defamatory needs of some women.

    Really folks; there’s no reason to think that women are more truthful and less guileful than men. Use your heads.

  7. This article qualifies as yellow journalism, condemning Dr. Cosby on hearsay and as-yet-unfounded accusations. The writer apparently does not believe the man deserves any kind of fair-minded treatment. I’m sickened.

  8. Sylvia, you miss the whole point of this article – which neither supports or condemns Cosby. Its purpose is a warning not to invest so much in celebrities – people we don’t know but mistakenly think that we do.