In almost the past few years, a number of well-known personalities — Bill Cosby included — whose careers and reputations have already suffered greatly mostly because what they did in private was viewed as both politically incorrect and morally wrong. In Cosby’s case, decades of sexually abusing various women in private which have been hidden from the general public until a few years ago resulted in him being found guilty in Norristown, Pennsylvania yesterday, and slapped with a thirty-year prison sentence — which might have been unthinkable even a decade ago. Then again, many personalities in the past — including those in show business — have been involved in scandals which threatened their careers, with most of them hidden from the general public.
But this is the 21st Century, not the distant past, when the Internet and social media didn’t yet exist. It’s technological advances which have, in no small measure, brought about the Me Too movement which emerged from film producer Harvey Weinstein’s secret abuse of women becoming public last year — and which have since tarnished (and, more often than not, ended) the careers of Weinstein, Matt Lauer, etc. And now, Bill Cosby’s career is now in tatters — a major disappointment to just about everybody, including his long-time fans who’ve enjoyed his work since the early-1960’s.
There’s no doubt that the Me Too movement has already changed the world — mainly because the present female generation was — to paraphrase Howard Beale from Network (1976) — “mad as hell, and weren’t going to take it anymore.” Which is definitely a great thing, given what all women have had to endure throughout history — as well as the accomplishments of many women who’ve helped to move the world forward.
However, there’s a downside to all this that we shouldn’t forget and ignore. Decades after Bill Cosby’s death, will we remember him more for what he did wrong in private than for his many show business accomplishments which captured the world’s attention — or will he fade into permanent obscurity?
It’s important to remember that we look up to celebrities as role models, and believe that they can do no wrong. That belief has never always been 100% correct, and ceased to be so, especially in the past few centuries, as technology helped to shape the world we now live in — and most of us have come to realize that personalities like Bill Cosby aren’t perfect and that they can and do make serious mistakes, and not just from a personal perspective. But then, the general public has never been 100% perfect either — and almost all of us are painfully aware of that fact.
It’s also important to remember that other major personalities throughout history have been vilified throughout their careers, partly because of their mistakes — Charlie Chaplin and Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle being two examples. Yet today, both Chaplin and Arbuckle’s careers have been redeemed by their career accomplishments which new generations have discovered and viewed, thanks in part to the technology which has helped make today’s entertainment industry possible. Whether or not that’ll hold true for Bill Cosby, Garrison Keillor, and other personalities whose futures are already bleak decades from now — will be decided, in part, by how we and future generations decide both the present and the future. That is, unless the end of the world that we live in comes sooner than we think — and that might be far more tragic than seeing the fall of a beloved icon.