What would Cliff Huxtable do?
Thursday night was Cosby night. Growing up as an '80's kid, I looked forward to watching the life of the Huxtable family on Thursdays.
TV Guide wrote that "Cosby" was "TV's biggest hit in the 1980s, and almost single handedly revived the sitcom genre." They ranked TCS as #28 in the top 50 Television Shows of All Time and Cliff Huxtable #1 in their top 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.
My family enjoys watching TCS on DVD. Watching as an adult, I see the show through a lens that I missed in the 1980's. "Cosby" is a remarkable work of art - an incredible effort of Bill Cosby and company to present a healthy, happy, successful African-American family. This is not Sanford and Son, Good Times, or The Jeffersons. "Cosby" is The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie set in modern times as a black family living the American Dream.
Cliff, a doctor, and Clair, a lawyer, afford an upper-middle class lifestyle to their children. This “Renaissance couple” enjoy everything from participatory sports, Jazz music, art museums, and junk food. NBC displayed Bill Cosby's collection of fine, African-American artwork through the series, decorating the walls of the New York townhouse. The show made a subtle, but firm, cultural statement. “Cosby” celebrated a healthy, wise, and positive black American family.
At the heart of the show is the love and respect of family members. Cliff and Clair wisely shepherd their children, administering proper authority, discipline, affirmation, correction, and warmth. They challenge their children to excel. They require their kids to face consequences. And they shower affection on each other, like the famous "zerberts" that the show made into a cultural phenomenon. A zerbert, or ZRBTT, is a sloppy kiss, when you blow air out and make a loud sound.
I’m glad my children watch the positive show. My sixteen year-old recently commented, "It is so nice to see a strong, good dad on tv." Good old Cliff Huxtable.
In recent days, my heart aches when I see daily headlines regarding the ongoing trial of Bill Cosby. The reason for the trial does not need repeating. As of the writing of this column, a verdict has not been issued. However, as Samuel Jackson said, when there is that much smoke, there has been a fire.
Regardless of whether Bill Cosby actually drugged and raped these women, he has admitted to having sex with various females to whom he was not married. The Bible has some words for that behavior - fornication, sexual immorality, and adultery. We have heard in recent years of Cosby's numerous trips to hang out with his buddy Hugh Heffner at the Playboy mansion. The Bible has a word for that too - stupid.
Though I know it’s not fair to expect an actor to mirror the person he plays, I do believe anyone in the public eye has responsibility to set a good example. And the greater your place of influence, the greater your responsibility of setting that example.
I cannot get out of my head the image of Cliff Huxtable. Would Cliff walk away from his love affair with Clair to chase after numerous women? Would Cliff, who enjoyed friendships with influential and exciting people, run out on weekends to check out the Playboy mansion?
Pastor Jack Hayford shares in his book "Fatal Attractions: Why Sex Sins are Worse than Others" that though certainly forgivable, sins of a sexual nature carry long-term consequences physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Their affects far outlive the passing pleasures.
I believe there is still cultural value in The Cosby Show. Art can stand alone in spite of its artist. However, regardless of the outcome of a trial, Bill Cosby’s legacy remains tainted.
The Greeks used masks in their dramatic performances. These masks hid the faces and expressions of the real people. The root of the biblical Greek word for hypocrite means stage actor, pretender, or dissembler. The Lord Jesus rebuked the Pharisees because of their hypocrisy. They claimed great piety outwardly, yet they were "white-washed tombs." Their inner life did not match their outward claims.
Growing up, my mother occasionally warned me from the Old Testament book of Numbers. I still can hear her say, "Son, you may be sure that your sin will find you out" (32:23). In other words, don't be a fool. You can only hide dirty laundry for so long. If you choose to continue in wrong behavior, it will catch up with you, and it will often become public information. That is the nature of sin.
That can keep us humble, motivating us to keep short accounts with the Lord.
If I could ask Bill Cosby just one thing, it might be, "What would Cliff do?"
(Rhett Wilson is an award-winning freelance writer and editor. He teaches as an Adjunct Professor of Christianity at Anderson University and blogs at www.rhettwilson.blogspot.com.)