by Ted Kluck
One of the funnest things about the Happy Rant Podcast is verbally sparring with Stephen. Stephen is opinionated and a little socially awkward which makes him really fun to do this with. He also occasionally helps me to care about things that I’m naturally a little too jaded to care about.
In his Bill Cosby piece, which was very good, Stephen engaged in the time-tested Reformed tradition of helping you know “what to do” with something or someone. We all (writers of a Reformed persuasion) do it. I’ve done it a bunch, and it’s not necessarily wrong though it can sometimes be annoying because it presupposes that we know what to “do” (meaning, in reality, think/blog about) and are telling you. We somehow know how you should think about everything from Ferguson to whether or not Pete Rose should be in the Hall of Fame (he should…see, I can’t help it).
What’s important is that Stephen said all of the right, hopeful things about the Gospel as it pertains to Cosby, and I really mean that. That’s the best and most important thing about Stephen’s piece. I’ve written many of the same sorts of things about Mike Tyson over the years and have meant every one of them. Stephen did an especially good job of describing the heart-hardening slide of sin and presenting Christ as the only answer to that slide.
But a headline suggesting that we have to “do something” with the Cosby situation, and the implication that we in fact know what to do is probably one reason why Reformed people come off as a little smug, condescending and know-it-all-ish. Unless we’re Cosby’s pastor, we’re not actually going to do anything. We may say that we’ll pray for Cosby and the women (and we should), but we probably won’t (truth be told). Specifically, I don’t think Stephen has to avoid showing The Cosby Show to his kids because it wasn’t Cliff Huxtable who did those things to those women – rather, it was the guy portraying the fictional, loveable, semi-perfect writer’s-room creation that was Cliff Huxtable, whose only vice was trying to sneak junk food past Claire and occasionally getting caught.
By the “can’t watch Cosby” line of logic I wouldn’t be able to watch Jerry Maguire because Tom Cruise is in a wacky God-hating cult, wouldn’t be able to appreciate an Adrian Peterson highlight, and wouldn’t be able to enjoy watching a Tyson fight because of what he did. To be clear, all of these men did or do things are truly sad. However, I also acknowledge that these men have talent that I appreciate in a way that is (right or wrong) compartmentalized from their personal lives. In the same way, I don’t have to see a police record or theological white paper from my plumber before he fixes my toilet.
What makes the Cosby thing slightly more complicated is the fact that he made is living doing the “good, wholesome guy” schtick for so many years…and because of this we feel betrayed or let down by him. He literally made his living by playing a perfect father. He was the comedian about whom we said things like, “I just appreciate him because he so clean and he doesn’t have to swear to be funny!” (see also: Regan, Brian) Because of this, and because of the Cliff charm, we may have just assumed he was a Christian.
Our kids don’t need us to “do anything” with Cosby, because they have no idea, really, who he is. Nor do they care. And unless we know Cosby personally, Cosby doesn’t need us to “do anything” with Cosby. And God certainly doesn’t need us to “do anything” with Bill Cosby…because God IS the perfect father that not even Cliff Huxtable could be.
If anything, Stephen should avoid watching The Cosby Show because it creates a completely unrealistic and unattainable picture of family that makes it look too perfect and easy. A family where dad works like three hours a week from a doctor’s office in his basement, and the only vestige of mom being a lawyer is the abundance of money and sweet 80s pantsuits. The big Cosby Show “conflicts” included Rudy learning how to make her bed and Theo finding out he was dyslexic, which is to say that nobody really got hurt in The Cosby Show making it completely unlike a real family.