Bill Cosby: an American Mirage

I remember Bill Cosby.

Being the old soul that I am, I spent much of my childhood enraptured by the old-time entertainment that could be found on TV Land. While other kids were watching The Wild Thornberries, I watched shows about the wild West, shows like Bonanza and Gunsmoke, along with a smattering of other series like MacGyver and Hogan's Heroes. These were my favorites,

But I can't forget Cosby.

The Cosby show was ever-present. Like Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show, the Cosby Show formed one of the basic building blocks of a wholesome television diet within the American entertainment pyramid. The show seemed as common as milk but no less nutritious. 

The Huxtable family was America's family. Defying the blizzard of white narratives found on television, the Cosby Show presented an American family that was unique in its ethnicity while universal in its portrayal of the idyllic American family. The gregarious Dr. Cliff Huxtable and the ever, if occasionally over, attendant Clair Huxtable exhibited the characteristics so valued in the American man and wife. They represented balance and produced wholeness; they laid out the American familial dream. 

This is not to say that the show never portrayed flaws; bickering, jealousy, and rebellion were often exhibited. But these tensions were typically glazed over with a touch of humor. Their flaws were flawless to the extent that they were not disastrous. They made the Huxtables real enough that viewers could harbor real hopes of having something like that in their own families. 

While admittedly only an actor, Bill Cosby seemed to incarnate this dream in his actual person. The character Heathcliff Huxtable and the man Bill Cosby seemed interchangeable. This impression was only further solidified by Cosby's public persona. In a speech given in 2004, CNN reports that Cosby offered a blistering critique of parents of young crimininals:

I’m talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit. Where were you when he was two?...Where were you when he was 12? Where were you when he was 18, and how come you don’t know he had a pistol? And where is his father, and why don’t you know where he is? And why doesn’t the father show up to talk to this boy?

It is statements like these that made the television persona concrete. The way of Cosby was not a mere portrayal, but a lived practice, a way of being for all to emulate. 

Yet all of this has crumbled with the latest revelations of Cosby's vices

(CNN)Bill Cosby has admitted to getting prescription Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with, newly released documents show.

This is really nothing new.  Sure, it is new about Cosby, but we have experienced this kind of shock way too many times to feel any sensation; Americans have become numb to disappointment. 

Cosby simply stands as a symbolic disappointment. What all those Americans in TV Land thought was a tangible reality, a real hope, was in fact, nothing but a mirage. This has become so common, that everything appears to be a mirage. Despair has become increasingly more common in this 21st century societal Sahara. We can't believe in anyone or anything. All is mirage. 

This has brought to go the way of Buddhist, to simply remove all sense of desire. If we have no desires and if we have no expectations, we can't be disappointed.

 This kind of thinking is disastrously delusional. The woman in the desert who thirsts for water, might remove all sense of disappointment if she doesn't expect any oasis, but this does nothing for her thirst or despair. Whatever we might expect, our desire for something real remains. 

C.S. Lewis has a different idea about what it might mean when nothing seems to fulfill what ought to be. In his book Mere Christianity, he writes:

The Christian says, ‘Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or to be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage. I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that country and to help others to do the same.
— C.S. Lewis in "Mere Christianity"



This life is full of mirages. It is full of people who fall far short. When we see leaders stumble, when we see societal symbols crumble, we must not take this to be a sign of hopelessness. There is a Hope, but it is not found in ourselves. We might all put on as good of an act as Bill Cosby, but alone, we cannot become the real deal. The wholeness we desire lies outside ourselves; it lies outside of this world. And yet it has entered our world. 

When all other men fail, we are reminded that we can only look to the one man who was the very image of God, the one who is the real deal: Jesus of Nazareth. He is no mirage.