The tragedy of Bill Cosby is that he’s now a memory of what never was.
Bill Cosby is dead. He’s as dead as Tyler Durden – and he has many more deaths to endure.
The Tyler Durden Complex
Fight Club is a dark comedy about a nameless narrator who became addicted to the fellowship he discovered in varied support groups, to the point of fabricating imaginary personas so he could build deeper connections with strangers. Eventually, the Narrator developed a dissociated personality, named Tyler Durden, through which he unknowingly built his own support group, initially named Fight Club.
This new support group, a haven for therapeutic violence, then evolved into an aggressive, all-consuming anarchist organization called Project Mayhem. When the Narrator realized that Tyler Durden was merely a manifestation of his need to feel relevant, he shot himself in the mouth to destroy his alternate personality, literally burrowing a hole into his cheek and metaphorically burrowing a hole through Tyler’s skull.
Richard Pryor’s life was a dark comedy where he devoted himself to the fellowship he discovered in comedy clubs, to the point of fabricating an imaginary persona so he could enjoy success. “It’s uncanny. You sound just like Bill Cosby,” Don Rickles, one of Pryor’s contemporaries in the 60s, said.
Pryor’s onstage presence as a Cosby zombie developed into a career and then evolved into an aggressive, all-consuming phenomenon called fame. When Pryor realized that his Cosby zombie was merely a manifestation of his need to feel relevant, Pryor shot his mouth off on stage one night and said “What the fuck am I doing here,” literally destroying what made him a celebrity and metaphorically burrowing a hole through the Cosby zombie’s skull.
It’s Difficult Finding Yourself When Distracted by More Interesting People
Initially, all that I thought I shared with the Narrator was the experience of being in a fight club. I don’t know what kind of unproductive childhoods other people have had but elementary school taught me the therapeutic value of throwing knuckles in between a stranger’s ribs. But, as Richard Pryor shared with the Narrator the experience of hiding behind someone else to build a life, I share with Richard Pryor the vanquished desire to be like Bill Cosby, though not for the sake of being funny. I only wanted to be seen as respectable.
Unlike the Narrator, I’ve never dipped my penis inside someone else’s soup and urinated. Unlike Richard Pryor, I’ve never pistol whipped my manager. But like both, and Cosby, I’ve certainly wanted to be seen as “one of the good ones,” if not for profit then at least for pride. My father loved Bill Cosby’s work. The last night we shared was spent watching him and Sidney Poitier outfox gangsters in Uptown Saturday Night.
I’ve always wanted to give my father the kind of joy that Cosby did.
However, like the Narrator and Pryor, I also exhausted my ability to live in someone else’s skin and learned that the process of building a genuine life is byzantine and involves untying knots. In Fight Club — novel, not movie — the Narrator lands in a mental institution after shooting himself, only to learn that the hospital had been infiltrated by members of Project Mayhem who were keeping the organization alive and awaiting the return of Tyler Durden. For Pryor, years passed after his pivotal What the fuck am I doing here? moment before he could successfully climb his way out of the hole he blasted into the Cosby zombie’s skull.
I don’t know if I’m yet authentic, but my pursuit of authenticity is. And to sustain my perseverance, sometimes I pause to consider the weakness that drove me to once want to be like Bill Cosby, and even Richard Pryor to once wanting to be like Bill Cosby. But now I can also ponder how William Henry Cosby Jr. apparently wanted to be like “Bill Cosby” as well.
Who wouldn’t want that?
The Cosby Phenomenon
“Cosby” was never a rape suspect, even when evidence to the contrary existed for years. Instead, he was a comedic genius and philanthropist who charmed white people into calling him America’s dad. An advocate for education, intelligent, and even cool in the 60s and 70s, “Cosby” experienced the kind of success that had black people peaking from behind their curtains to make sure they were still in America. He was also a symbol of hope, a forecast into what life might more commonly become for black America’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren if racism continues to recede.
The tragedy of Bill Cosby is that he is now a memory of what never was.
But the most tragic circumstance surrounding Bill Cosby’s success may have been best expressed by the man himself: “If a white man falls off a chair drunk, it’s just a drunk. If a Negro does, it’s the whole damn Negro race.”
“Telling my story wouldn’t only help bring down Cosby; I feared it would undermine the entire African-American community,” said one of Cosby’s victims, Jewel Allison, in the Washington Post.
Just Squeeze the Trigger. Don’t Pull.
The calamity is shrapnel, attacking from manifold angles. Some people can bounce back from sexual assault relatively quickly. Others, like myself, take umbrage at the healing process being compared to climbing a mountain when it feels more like climbing a wall. Additionally, there are people who know Bill Cosby as a person — or thought they did — intimately or just as a fan, and now face the prospect of gripping a pistol like it was a remote control and murdering the fantasy out of respect for reality’s providence, and the women he raped. And then there’s black America, a community starving to feel loved by its nation and now bracing for a fresh onslaught of racist barbs from the dark corners of internet comment sections and the hearts of passive-aggressive commentary from well-intentioned allies.
“The barrel of the gun tucked in my surviving cheek … I pull the trigger … The bullet out of Tyler’s gun, it tore out my other cheek to give me a jagged smile from ear to ear. Yeah, just like an angry Halloween pumpkin. Japanese demon. Dragon of Avarice,” said the Narrator.
Bill Cosby also said “the past is a ghost, the future a dream, and all we ever have is now.”
Today, “now” is obscured by the clouds from fired guns, and hums with the anticipation of what the future will show once the smoke’s milky tendrils have curled into oblivion. “Now” is a moment of languishing in the damp realization that sometimes fantasies are only good for murdering.