It is official: Bill Cosby will go to trial for assault charges. For those of you who are unaware, America’s favorite father has been accused by nearly 60 women of some form of sexual assault, whether it was rape, child sexual abuse, drug facilitated sexual assault, sexual battery or another type of sexual misconduct. While these allegations have apparently been pending for many years, it was comedian Hannibal Buress who brought renewed interest in these accusations during a performance in October 2014 which went viral. Now like most people in America, I was deeply saddened and shocked to hear about the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby. I found it difficult to accept that someone I had idolized had committed such reprehensible crimes. There is an argument that during the time he allegedly committed these assaults (using date rape drugs) that the concept and definition of consent was not as hyped up or defined the way it is now. I do understand this idea, and I even feel that there is merit to it. But that still does not excuse his actions because sexual assault has zero excuses in my book.
In the aftermath of the allegations, many educational institutions, theme parks, and other companies severed ties with him, and most broadcast networks pulled reruns of The Cosby Show from their network. While I do understand and even agree with these actions on the part of these companies, what I do take issue with is the idea that continuing to watch his programs and enjoy his comedy is wrong or immoral and that it condones or overlooks his actions. The idea that enjoying someone’s work because it resonates with us on a personal level is wrong because of the unrelated actions that they committed is something I have never been able to understand. Bill Cosby the comedian and Bill Cosby the man are two different people from two different worlds. And I hope that Bill Cosby the man is brought to justice for his alleged crimes because it sends the message that no one is immune from paying their debt to society and answering for their wrongdoings. But for me saying that we must boycott his work is something that has no relation to these actions. The Cosby Show is not representative of Bill Cosby the man who allegedly committed these crimes.
One of the reasons I have always loved The Cosby Show is because of its good and clean humor, something which in today’s comedies and sitcoms is virtually nonexistent. During a time when most comedy is littered with adult jokes and sexual references (some more blatant than others), it is nice to see a program that, for the most part, shows that it is possible for successful comedy to be clean and enjoyable without resorting to cheap jokes and vulgarity. It was one of those programs that you could watch as a family (how many mainstream and popular sitcoms are there nowadays that are family friendly?) and have a good laugh. The show had excellent comic timing and jokes, which were often characterized by Cosby’s facial expressions and perfect delivery.In some ways, I am glad that this scandal woke me up, because until now, I revered Bill Cosby. I thought he was a great man. But it made me realize that when it comes to celebrities and icons we can only comment on their work, not necessarily on their personalities as a whole because we never know what they are truly like on a personal one-to-one basis. It is true, celebrities can do lots of great philanthropic work outside their professions but again it doesn’t necessarily reveal the person on the inside, what their personality is truly like. In many ways it is a front put up for the media. This has made me realize that I only idolize Heathcliff Huxtable, the father whose antics and quirks make me laugh until my sides hurt, whose character has managed to make me smile on my worst days. This program always brought me a sense of comfort and familiarity. Bill Cosby was the man behind Heathcliff Huxtable, the puppet master behind the strings. The master is not someone I idolize as a human being anymore, but I will always enjoy and appreciate his comedy work. Likewise if you happen to be flipping through channels and see a Cosby Show rerun (although I’ve heard most channels have pulled them, but still) don’t feel guilty for sitting there and laughing at Cliff’s attempts to repair the shower, or his competitiveness when he plays petanque with his friends. You don’t always have to look behind the curtain to see who is entertaining you. Sometimes it is okay to just enjoy the show. Hate the artist, not the art.