Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Why I Never Want to Meet Bill Cosby...

Contrary to the title of this entry, I love Bill Cosby. Not in the biblical sense, more like admire him with a vengeance.

My grandparents, parents, my extended family, their friends, their peers and pretty much every human being I had contact with, from 1978 (the year I actually recall being alive although I was born in 1974) until around 1992, were huge fans of Cosby.

He is a treasure, a comedic genius, a incredibly talented creative personality driven by a desire for educational excellence and social justice for African-American people. He's made no apology for that and has generated tons of controversy for his statements about lower-class Black folks.

I won't get into a debate over whether his comments are right or wrong, although I do have my own issues with the ghetto mentality that has plagued our community for the last 20 years.

The reason that I don't wish to meet Bill Cosby is because I've been severely let down by the "heroes" I've met recently and I don't know if I could handle the realization that yet another person I admire turns out to be utterly human, flawed and a total jerk to his fans.

For example, when I was living in NYC, I went to the National Black Writer's Conference at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn. I went two years in a row and met two Black male writers whose work deeply inspired my own.

Since I'd been accused of "gushing" when I met people I admired, I decided to play it safe, hang back and watch how they interacted with their fan base.

Author #1 was the type who'd shake your hand but turn away from you while doing it. Unless you were an attractive White woman. In which case you'd have his full attention. For a guy that talked so much about Black liberation, the only thing he seemed to be interested in liberating was his belt buckle.

Author #2 was a big talker. That's what he's known for... talking about anything and everything. He also had a propensity to hit on women even when they were with their boyfriend or husband or father, etc.. Things got a little heated when he flirted with a gorgeous dark-skinned sista who was standing next to her boyfriend. The boyfriend apparently wasn't impressed with the author's pedigree and told him what he could do with his books. The situation got nasty quick, but was defused just as fast when the author profusely apologized once the festival organizer stepped in.

When you see either of these gentlemen on CNN or MSNBC or PBS or BET (back when BET actually covered Black issues) you'd assume they were genteel statesmen with dignity, self-respect and grace - not personality-challenged adolescents barely in control of their hormonal directives.

Then there are my experiences with the science-fiction/comic book/animation/creative-type crowd.

I could fill a 15,000-page book about my negative experiences in the sci-fi genre world. The crazy thing is that none of those affected me as much as when I met the cast of one of the most popular shows of all time at San Diego Comic Con a few years ago.

I won't reveal too much except to say that I truly admired the characters as well as the actors for their contributions outside of the world of entertainment. Which is why it cut like a knife to meet them and realize that most of the cast was just a bunch of sourpusses who really didn't like the fans and only showed up to collect money for photos and autographs.

This year at San Diego Comic Con I met a foreign-born actress from a very influential 1990s sci-fi series whose work I've respected forever. She played a very interesting character who could have been a joke, but her performance brought a level of sophistication, intelligence and wit to the screen and she's been repeatedly recognized for that. I'd been looking forward to meeting her for years, just to tell her that I enjoyed her work on the show and congratulate her on her recent success.

I was careful not to "gush," I didn't get excited, I didn't raise my voice, I just clearly, calmly, but with a firm, genuine kindness told her that I appreciated what she had done on the series.

She replied with the standard empty-faced grin that all actors/actresses give when confronted with fans who congratulate them for their success. As I walked away I turned my head slightly to see her reaction and she had a very heavy frown on her face, like someone just killed her pet cat or something.

Because of my Catholic upbringing I immediately felt guilty, thinking that I had done something to offend her but as I ran the interaction through my head again, I realized that the only thing I had done was politely give my thanks and appreciation for her talents on that great TV series.

This made me wonder if creative people have a core of fierce insecurity inside of them that's so profound that they see any legitimate praise as a form of sycophancy? As a creative professional, I am wracked with various insecurities but they've never spilled over into a belief that people "want" something from me if they tell me they like my work.

Maybe it's because I'm still "new" to the game and haven't had larger-scale success to the point where I grow weary of people telling me my stuff is good - but I can't imagine a time when I'll be so blinded by cynicism that I can't tell the difference between someone buttering me up for personal gain and someone who truly respects me.

I haven't had this experience so much with writers (about 7 in 10 have been cool), mainly actors, actresses and comic book illustrators. Is there something about acting or drawing that makes a person insufferable and mean-spirited to their fans? Hell, I've met extremely successful authors like Michael Stackpole, Nnedi Okorafor, N.K. Jemisin, Charlaine Harris, Tobias Buckell and even STEPHEN KING and none of them ever remotely behaved like spoiled children. Stephen King turned out to be one of the nicest creators I've ever met - he was a bit weird - but he was genuine, funny and took time to speak to me about writing.

In any case, I don't know if I will ever meet Bill Cosby. Chances are that I won't, and chances are he'll be nothing like the genial Dr. Huxtable I grew up with and I'm okay with never having that illusion shattered.

The only real question is whether or not I should continue to tell folks I respect how much I've enjoyed their creative contributions? Or should I just ignore them completely; keeping my praise to myself hoping I won't be seen as one of the slovenly masses hoping to vicariously taste a tiny bit of their "magnificence?"