I could feel the sense of judgement drip off her tongue, as she uttered the words, “How can you still watch that show knowing what he did?” I looked up at her unfamiliar face as she walked by shaking her head in disgust. “New York is a strange place,” I thought to myself.
I was sitting on the steps of the NJ Transit wing of New York Penn Station, waiting for my train, as I watched an episode of the Bill Cosby original series, "A Different World." As the young lady, who I had never met, walked by, she noticed Bill Cosby on my screen for a brief second and decided to shame me for it. Although I had no idea who this woman was or why she decided to blurt something out to a complete stranger, I thought about what she said, on my train ride home. “Should I feel bad about watching 'The Cosby Show' or 'A Different World' in the aftermath of what has happened to Cosby?,” I asked myself. Is there a way to differentiate Bill Cosby from Cliff Huxtable or are they the same person? Can I, as the consumer, distinguish the art from the artist?
I have spent my whole life distinguishing art from artists. As 10-year-old, I mimicked Chris Brown's voice as I danced across my bedroom. As an 11-year-old, I watched dozens of boxing documentaries on ESPN Classic and identified Floyd Mayweather Jr. as my favorite fighter of the modern era. As a 12-year-old, I attempted watching women's soccer for the first time and ended up admiring Hope Solo. As a 20-year-old, I no longer admire these people for their integrity or morals, but I do appreciate their skill and talent. Brown isn't the person I would want my son looking up to, but if he wanted to become a performer like Brown, I wouldn't mind it. If my future daughter resorted to violence like Solo does, I'd be terrified, but if she wanted to play soccer like Solo, I'd be okay with that. When analyzing the public image of Bill Cosby, I use the same logic: I separate the artist from the art. Bill Cosby is an accused rapist, who has made several insensitive and ignorant comments about sexual assault. However, Cliff Huxtable is a role model for African-American men, and the Huxtable family served as a positive image for African Americans to the world. The Huxtable family brought us Rudy, Claire, Theo and so many other stars that continue to entertain us today. Furthermore, shows like "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World" inspired viewers to pursue a college education, a medical career, etc. For those reasons and so many more, I can't look at Cliff Huxtable and Bill Cosby as the same person.
I will never think of Bill Cosby as a role model again. I will never view him as someone I want my kids to look up to. However, I will never support networks taking "The Cosby Show" and "A Different World" off the air. I will continue to watch "A Different World" on the way to and from work. The art remains powerful, regardless of the artist. This is the reason many continue to listen to Michael Jackson, dance to R. Kelly's music and buy Ronda Rousey fights on pay per view. I can only speak for myself, but in my opinion, the art and the artist are and always will be, two separate entities.