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Cosby at Frederick Douglass High School in Atlanta, Georgia, in 2006/United States Navy photo by Mr. Scott King

Bill Cosby: Were the warning signs there all along?

By Jim Downard

Bill Cosby has just been convicted of drugging and raping women, and some have speculated he may die in jail, as he is in his 80s and in apparently failing health.

All the talent, the humor, the acting career, the good vibes and inspiration that had been the Cosby brand over decades were now dissolved in a rancid revelation of the most sordid and sad kind.

The question naturally arises how many of the warning signs of a troubled personality were present all along.  Some have noted how the drug and sex themes occurred all the way back in his 1960s comedy routines, but something much more recent has stuck in my mind, something not directly related to sex or drugs at all.

In his later years, when Cosby appeared as a guest on talk shows (which he only did rarely) something about his behavior struck me at the time as decidedly odd.  He would come out and quickly object to something the host had said in their introduction or opening remarks, often the most trivial thing, matters of manner or rhetoric, taking issue with them in a way that immediately put the host on the defensive.

Cosby was not merely acting as the imperious professor, but as someone anxious to pick a fight, and thereby achieve dominance over the host, putting them in a subordinate and supplicant position.

Yes, it got laughs, but perhaps a little too nervously.  Was it just an act, a way of taking command of the stage?  Possibly.  That’s what I thought at the time.  But it may also have reflected a personality that always had to be in control, one that could never be honestly and equally vulnerable, on equal terms, but always had to present the persona of dominance and superiority.

The control freak on display with male talk show hosts … how might that dynamic play out with women, alone, with just a drink away from his being the dominant once again, with no emotional attachment, no honesty or vulnerability on his part?

Perhaps I’m reading too much into Cosby’s later stage behavior.  Perhaps he was just being boorish.  Or perhaps not.

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About Jim Downard

Jim Downard is a Spokane native (with a sojourn in Southern California back in the early 1960s) who was raised in a secular family, so says had no personal faith to lose.

He's always been a history and science buff (getting a bachelor's in the former area at what was then Eastern Washington University in the early 1970s).

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One comment

  1. Neal Schindler

    I heard one commentator compare Cosby’s victim-blaming of black communities in poverty — saying black people who were struggling were doing so not due to systemic injustice going back to slavery but due to their own character flaws — to the kind of gaslighting and victim-blaming abusers, including sexual predators, often engage in.

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