Bill Cosby's Return to PrimeTime Derailed By Rape Allegations That Won't Go Away

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The unraveling of Bill Cosby has rocked fans of the comic giant as his return to primetime television was officially thwarted this week, presumably the result of a rising pile of rape accusations that currently top out in the double digits. The endearing TV father figure and peddler of pudding pops, Cosby's charm has been lost in a storm of memes and multiplying reports that reinforce the image of a more sinister side as the perpetrator of serial rape - a complaint against the comic that has been lingering for years. With the apparent cancellation of his impending NBC pilot, TV Land's decision to scrap reruns of The Cosby Show and NetFlix's decision to scrap his comedy special, the swift justice meted out via social media and mainstream media combine with the caveats attached to his new television contracts to suggest that there is much more to the story than has been discussed in the past. A report from BUZZFEED outlines the cancellation in brief, describing the penalty NBC would face in the event the show were to be canceled - one that suggests even they feared the worst:

In January, NBC announced with fanfare a plan to bring Bill Cosby back to television. Now, that pilot has been killed as Cosby’s public persona continues to suffer from recent and renewed accusations from multiple accusers that the comedian, now 77, sexually assaulted them. A source told BuzzFeed News, on Wednesday morning, the plug was officially pulled on the show.

After struggling to find success in a broad family comedy, NBC reached into its past in an attempt to fix that problem and made a deal with Cosby around the idea that he would play a patriarchal grandfather. Sony was to be the show’s producer, but in an unusual deal, NBC was paying Cosby directly, with a large financial penalty attached should the project not go forward.

Digging deeper into the touchy subjects of physical assault, rape, shame and responsibility, Ta-Nehisi Coates offers his thoughts on the recklessness of failing to address the allegations against Cosby in the media and as a society for The Atlantic:

Rape constitutes the loss of your body, which is all you are, to someone else. I have never been raped. But I have, several times as a child, been punched/stomped/kicked/bumrushed while walking home from school, and thus lost my body. The worst part for me was not the experience, but the humiliation of being unable to protect my body, which is all I am, from predators. Even now as I sketch this out for you publicly, I am humiliated all again. And this happened when I was a child. If recounting a physical assault causes me humiliation, how might recounting a sexual assault feel? And what would cause me to willingly stand up and relive that humiliation before a national audience? And why would I fake my way through such a thing? Cosby's accusers—who have no hope of criminal charges, nor civil damages—are courting the scrutiny of Cosby-lovers and rape-deniers. To what end?

The heart of the matter is this: A defender of Bill Cosby must, effectively, conjure a vast conspiracy, created to bring down one man, seemingly just out of spite. And people will do this work of conjuration, because it is hard to accept that people we love in one arena can commit great evil in another. It is hard to believe that Bill Cosby is a serial rapist because the belief doesn't just indict Cosby, it indicts us. It damns us for drawing intimate conclusions about people based on pudding-pop commercials and popular TV shows. It destroys our ability to lean on icons for our morality. And it forces us back into a world where seemingly good men do unspeakably evil things, and this is just the chaos of human history.

It hurts to watch the public dismantling of one of America's most beloved figures because it is painful to acknowledge the thought that this is all his fault. That the jolly character we have allowed into our homes for decades could be just that - a character, who has until now managed to play the role without flubbing too many of his lines or losing the respect of his audience. In aging out of the spotlight, Bill Cosby also wore out his welcome in the court of public opinion as allegations of rape persist and his bootstrap scoldings directed at Black America have broken with the trend of fatherly wisdom to fall squarely into the category of self-important and sometimes misguided finger wagging; a decidedly bitter pill for people of color forced to exist outside of Cosby's ivory tower.

While Bill Cosby built a television empire around championing the black family unit, it is all a little bittersweet when you consider how much concern he has proffered his own - both those immediate to him and those parceled out in homes full of fans across the world - when the success of his character, brand and empire allegedly involved the irreversible destruction of others. The crime of rape is one that visits not just the individual who has been physically violated, but those immediate to them. It also facilitates a festering of the family unit as the actions of one individual seep out to color the reputation and self-image of others...sometimes simply for carrying the same last name of the perpetrator. Sometimes just for hoping against all hope, formal reports and other circumstantial evidence that the person you love and respect is incapable of such a heinous act.

The truly unfortunate by-product of the public reckoning Cosby faces is in the possibility that we might continue a culture of shaming victims out of telling their stories because the villains in them are our cultural heroes. That is the same culture of shame and fear that encouraged America to strike out against Anita Hill in the wake of her sexual harassment case against Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas; the same blissfully irresponsible ignorance that encouraged Thomas' wife to suggest Hill apologize to her husband in more recent years. It is probably what kept my grandmother from admitting she had been raped until she was well into her eighties. It is the kind of shame that backs victims into anguish-filled corners and suggests they remain quiet because silence is golden and the experience of rape is one that belongs to the victim alone. It is a shame that does not deserve to exist on our shores.

The politics of accountability suggest that each individual be made responsible for his or her own indiscretions and crimes in accordance with the laws governing them. Just as Bill Cosby should be held accountable for the allegations against him, each of us should be responsible for acknowledging the victims and their claims. If for no other reason than to make it abundantly clear that rape is a crime that money, popularity and public stature should never have the power to silence.