Erasing Cosby

There is no doubt that the sexual assault allegations against Bill Cosby are horrible. There is no denying that many who grew up with his work from Fat Albert to The Cosby Show will no doubt never watch re-runs of his show ever again. For those who understand how to separate the artist from the man, there is a simple truth; you cannot erase the artistic legacy of Bill Cosby.

Bill Cosby single-handedly sold American television the concept of a stable, upper middle-class African-American family. They didn’t live in the hood, they acted normal (most of the time) and they made you wish to have that kind of family when you got older. The sexual allegations toppled with the forever and a day debate over whether the show was the most authentic when it came to the African-American experience make it hard to defend in more recent times.

Except when you consider that the top number one program for African-Americans is a show called “Empire”, a show where a family spends less of its time making music and more time finding ways to destroy each other. I feel that when this point is made, the immediate reaction is that is a shot at The Cosby Show; while Bill Cosby fought against an over reliance on dysfunction, Empire shares no such qualms and is therefore more “authentic”. Malcolm Jamal Warner, who stared as Theo Huxstable on the series, made a good point about the allegations tarnishing the show:

“My biggest concern is when it comes to images of people of color on television and film, no matter what … negative stereotypes of people of color, we’ve always had ‘The Cosby Show’ to hold up against that.

“And the fact that we no longer have that, that’s the thing that saddens me the most because in a few generations the Huxtables will have been just a fairy tale,” said Warner, who starred as Cosby’s son, Theo Huxtable, on the long-running NBC sitcom.

I’d like to turn this over to The Beatles for a minute; they are considered the world’s greatest rock band and yet can be, by the standard we hold to Bill Cosby, easy to place in the queue for erasing. An easy reference? John Lennon’s hitting of women:

Speaking in an interview with Playboy magazine in 1980, John Lennon addressed the lyrics of the song ‘Getting Better,’ saying: “It is a diary form of writing. All that “I used to be cruel to my woman, I beat her and kept her apart from the things that she loved” was me. I used to be cruel to my woman, and physically — any woman. I was a hitter. I couldn’t express myself and I hit. I fought men and I hit women. That is why I am always on about peace, you see. It is the most violent people who go for love and peace.” Lennon expressed remorse in the same interview, adding: “I am not a violent man who has learned not to be violent and regrets his violence. I will have to be a lot older before I can face in public how I treated women as a youngster.” 

By the standard we are holding Bill Cosby and as mentioned in the linked article from Crave Online, Chris Brown, John Lennon should be constantly persecuted for his crimes against women. We can point to his race (being white and English), we can point to his fame (being part of a world famous band) and we can point to the fact that he died tragically (shot and killed by a nut in 1980) as the reason that, unlike Bill Cosby, we don’t put the fryer to the frying pan with the heat on full blast with his legacy and his legacy with The Beatles.

You can put the argument together that if Cosby, Brown or even Lennon himself weren’t famous, they would be drawn and quartered for their actions. You can argue that their fame is a shield. You can argue that taking down these celebrities is showing they are no different than regular people. Let’s get entirely the fuck real – these are real people.

Bill Cosby, John Lennon and Chris Brown all come from backgrounds they were trying to escape. As Carrie Fisher pointed out constantly in her life, fame doesn’t fix your issues. The demons that haunted Chris Brown, Bill Cosby and John Lennon were always there and would have stayed hidden had they never got famous in the first place. I mean, if you think more attention will remove you from your sins – you gotta be stupid.

If we allow ourselves to consider erasing an artist due to their personal beliefs, political beliefs or criminal actions, we might as well put every artist on trial and burn them at the stake like the Salem Witch trials.