In recent months, comedian Bill Cosby has been the subject of a number of rape allegations. Many find the allegations particularly shocking because Cosby is a beloved comedian, actor and well-known advocate of family values.
Some readers will find it alarming to learn that these are not the first allegations against Cosby. Victims began coming forward in 2005 and 2006 with charges against Cosby, but these allegations were largely ignored by the general public and eventually faded from the limelight. In the last couple months, these charges have resurfaced, along with testimonies from a whole slew of new victims—a total of 17 women.
The large majority of Cosby’s alleged victims state that they were drugged by Cosby and then forcibly raped. Most of the assaults occurred well after Cosby was married with children and had made a name and career for himself in comedy and television.
Why have these allegations flown under the radar until now? Several reasons, most of which have their basis in the fact that as a society we don’t like to see our heroes fall. We don’t want to live in a world where wisecracking sitcom dad Cliff Huxtable is a serial rapist.
As upsetting and painful as it can be to see our heroes go wrong, it’s especially important to pay close attention when this happens (and it will) because this disillusionment often has something to teach us about society, human nature or even ourselves.
Heroes represent an ideal, but it’s easy to forget that the ideal aspects we admire in our heroes can sometimes be representative of only a single facet of their being. As humans, it’s normal for us to exist with aspects of good and bad or even some sort of wishy-washy moral in-between. And as unbelievable as it may seem, it’s very possible for a man who advocated for education, promoted family values, and made significant strides for black Americans in television to be the same man who drugged, coerced and assaulted nearly twenty women.
When Cosby’s actions are condemned, it causes us to question his motives and messages in unrelated areas; in other words, a perfect opportunity to think critically about the lessons he had to teach us. It’s a difficult process and not necessarily a pleasant one, particularly when the man in question is seen as a trusted authority. But in questioning the things we’ve been taught by our heroes, we’re given a chance to prevent the mindless acceptance of messages and foster the independent development of opinions and values.
This sort of situation also gives us an opportunity to evaluate ourselves—for example, what is your reaction to the rape allegations? Do you find yourself trying to defend Cosby or reassuring yourself that it’s totally possible that these women are lying for personal gain? Are you immediately jumping to the defense of the victims or sitting back, simply not sure what to make of the whole thing? Taking a look at your own response is a chance to assess aspects of your personality or internalized values that you might not consciously consider otherwise.
It’s a wonderful thing to look up to others, and we’re fortunate to have people in our society who we deem worthy of admiration. However, in light of recent events, we are reminded that our heroes are only human, and humans are flawed. Rather than be despondent, I suggest that we take these situations as opportunities to make ourselves into intelligent, aware, independently thinking people.