The Very Unfunny Truth Bill Cosby has Taught Us
It seems very likely that Bill Cosby is not the kind of man we thought he was. While he hasn’t been convicted of a crime, and perhaps never will be, there is a growing mountain of accusations, and now sworn court testimony, that reveal a pattern of grave and disgusting abuses on his part against women.
More than anything, this makes me very sad. I have been a Cosby fan for decades. I’ll say it — I love Bill Cosby. At least the public, creative Bill Cosby I’ve known all my life.
As a kid, I remember marveling that Cosby made me laugh and care so much about some cartoon kid named Fat Albert.
I still remember the commercials he made for Jell-O Pudding Pops. The pudding pops were yummy, but Cosby’s charming antics made them just plain awesome. It was the treat to have back then.
I can’t count how many times I listened to his Noah’s Ark routine. We had the LP version (yep, a record player!), and my entire family would stop whatever else they were doing when they heard it playing, and come sit down and laugh. We’d laugh, and laugh, and cry, and hold our aching stomachs, and howl with delight. It was the funniest thing I’d ever heard. In fact, it still is.
Even without the benefit of seeing his hilarious facial expressions, we enjoyed cheek-hurting laughter time and time again. “Noah!” “How long can you tread water? Hahahaha!”
And his parenting routines? Classic. I still remember the one about him feeding his kids chocolate cake for breakfast, patting himself on the back for his ingenious insight: Eggs! And milk! In the chocolate cake!
Not until I became a mother did I fully appreciate the wisdom and accuracy of his repertoire of parenting jokes. Remember when he and his wife brought home their first child, a daughter, and they marveled at the adorable little poopy diapers she made? “Then one day, God put odor in the poo-poo….”
And who can forget Little Tiny Hairs? Simply hilarious.
Cosby’s humor was unique and rare even 40 years ago. It’s practically unheard of today. It was classy, intelligent, clever, truly creative, and clean. He didn’t rely on profanity or R-rated (or worse), crass, derogatory, or sexually explicit material.
He was incredibly funny without ever assaulting my ears or my innocence.
And yes, I know how very ironic that statement is now. That’s why it makes me so very sad. A brilliant and happy legacy is now forever tarnished and left in ruins. A man with rare talent, beloved by so many for so many years, now will be remembered as a lecher and possibly a rapist.
I wish it weren’t so because I would have loved to share Cosby’s humor with my own children. Mostly, I wish it weren’t so because my heart aches for the women he has hurt, especially his wife. It seems clear that if nothing else, he’s guilty of serial adultery.
We are in dire need of learning the lesson his wreckage has to teach us about ourselves and our self-indulgent, debauched culture.
He was a master on the comedy stage and yet a slave to his own passions in real life. Those passions weren’t impressed by his accomplishments or his fame. They just took him down.
It may be unfashionable these days to speak of virtue, and positively appalling to speak of chastity, but such are precisely the remedies that would have saved Cosby’s life and legacy. They’ll save us, too, if we’re smart.
It’s a simple as this: work continually toward self-mastery and be happy, in the proper sense, or live as a slave to destructive passions and be miserable and hurt other people. That truth runs completely counter to the directive of our culture, but with such a stunning exhibit of the culture’s handiwork, let’s have a good look at it, shall we?
What’s the key to self-mastery? Virtue. Here’s how the Catechism of the Catholic Church describes that virtue:
Human virtues are firm attitudes, stable dispositions, habitual perfections of intellect and will that govern our actions, order our passions, and guide our conduct according to reason and faith. They make possible ease, self-mastery, and joy in leading a morally good life. The virtuous man is he who freely practices the good. The moral virtues are acquired by human effort. They are the fruit and seed of morally good acts; they dispose all the powers of the human being for communion with divine love (CCC 1804).
Which virtue in particular will help us learn self-mastery? Chastity. Here’s the Catechism again:
Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom. The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy. Man’s dignity therefore requires him to act out of conscious and free choice, as moved and drawn in a personal way from within, and not by blind impulses in himself or by mere external constraint. Man gains such dignity when, ridding himself of all slavery to the passions, he presses forward to his goal by freely choosing what is good and, by his diligence and skill, effectively secures for himself the means suited to this end (CCC 2339).
The virtue of chastity comes under the cardinal virtue of temperance, which seeks to permeate the passions and appetites of the senses with reason (CCC 2341).
Self-mastery is a long and exacting work. One can never consider it acquired once and for all. It presupposes renewed effort at all stages of life (CCC 2342).
It’s a terrible shame that Bill Cosby’s remarkable genius was sullied by destructive passions. But we should all remember that the potential for such disaster is not outside our doors, not just out there in the fallen world, but within our own selves. No one is immune to temptation or struggle in this life.
Still, each one of us is charged with the task of mastering those passions which will otherwise destroy us and those around us. The good news is that we’ve been given the means to do it. Pray for supernatural strength and practice virtue, particularly chastity, every day. Flee from the devil, resist temptation, and if you fail, don’t give up the long and exacting work of self-mastery. Start again. Exercise freedom properly, and choose what is good and honorable. We each have everything to gain if we do, and everything to lose if we don’t.