Sometimes the greatness of a man is measured by the outlandishness of the conspiracy theories that pop up to explain his sudden downfall.
So many wild conspiracy theories have popped up on Twitter and in YouTube videos to explain Cosby’s prosecution on aggravated indecent assault charges that entertainment writer Stereo Williams at The Daily Beast calls them “Cosby Truthers.”
“It’s a conspiracy,” they’ll tell you. What they can’t tell you is who would want to do this to Cosby at this time in his life — or why.
The Cosby Truthers appear to include Bill Cosby’s television wife, Phylicia Rashad, who played Clair Huxtable to Cosby’s Dr. Cliff Huxtable on the smash hit “The Cosby Show,” which ran from 1984 to 1992.
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“What you’re seeing is the destruction of a legacy,” she told Showbiz 411 blogger Roger Friedman two years ago. “And I think it’s orchestrated.”
She didn’t know “why or who’s doing it,” she said, but, “Someone is determined to keep Bill Cosby off TV. And it’s worked. All his contracts have been canceled.”
Why would anyone want to destroy Cosby? Asked during a later appearance on ABC’s “World News Tonight,” she responded, “That’s my question too.”
Rashad was by no means alone in her suspicions. After typing “Cosby conspiracy theory” into a YouTube search, I found myself scrolling through page after page of videos speculating on anti-Cosby conspiracies.
I found one video featuring activist-comedian Dick Gregory, a Cosby contemporary who has become a famous conspiracist in his own right. Gregory describes what appears to be the most popular theory for Cosby’s prosecution: punishment by the powers-that-be for Cosby’s attempts to buy NBC in the 1990s.
Why would the conspirators wait all this time before unleashing the allegations, long after Cosby gave up his attempted purchase? Ah, don’t expect perfect explanations in conspiracy theories. Conspiracists, in my experience, tend to connect their dots with dotted lines.
No, the NBC theory sounds like the sort of scenarios that are dreamed up by people like me, people who are looking for a good excuse to treat Cosby as a victim, despite mounting testimony describing him as a callous, self-centered victimizer.
Cosby’s trial in Philadelphia ended in a hung jury Saturday. Prosecutors say they will try him again. More than 40 women have accused Cosby of sexually assaulting them in dozens of episodes dating as far back to the mid-1960s. But statutes of limitation allowed him to be tried only for allegedly drugging and assaulting Andrea Constand in 2004. Only one of the other women who accused him of similar deeds was allowed to testify.
The jury was probably as divided as I and countless other long-time Cosby fans feel about his life’s tragic turn. After decades of delighting us as an entertainer — and provoking us as a promoter of self-help values in low-income black communities — it is painfully sad to see him at age 79 waddling unsteadily in and out of a criminal court, a shell of his former stardom.
Philosopher Georg Hegel’s definition of tragedy, I am told, was a moral conflict not between good and evil but between legitimate yet conflicting rights. The tragedy of the Cosby case is that both sides — the plaintiffs and the defendant — have rights and seek justice. That’s never easy to deliver, but it is particularly hard in a he-said/she-said case that also involves a very popular celebrity.
After a career that spans more than 50 years, Cosby’s supporters and critics run along generational lines. We older folks remember his breakthroughs as an actor and comedian in the 1960s. We remember him and his wife, Camille, as philanthropists, particularly in the fields of African-American arts and education.
But a younger generation has produced Hannibal Buress, 34, a rising Chicago comedian who received a big publicity boost when a cellphone camera caught him during a nightclub set in 2014. He mocked Cosby as a hypocritical “rapist” and the video went viral.
Our older generation remembers Cosby as a cultural pioneer. Buress’ generation is more familiar with the older, scolding Cosby, telling black youths to “pull up their pants,” get proper schooling and take care of their families.
Comedian Michael Che of “Saturday Night Live” turned that back on Cosby during a Weekend Update segment in 2014, saying, “Hey, Bill Cosby, pull your damn pants up.” This time the laughter was coming at Cosby’s expense. Whether he beats his criminal charges or not, his glory days as a family values role model are over.
Reach Clarence Page at firstname.lastname@example.org.