"I never met Bill Cosby. But I knew Cliff Huxtable."
February 2, 2016 12:23 PM   Subscribe

Trying to Separate Bill Cosby From Cliff Huxtable by Rachel L. Swarns [The New York Times]
"It was hard then to know where Dr. Huxtable ended and Mr. Cosby began. Mr. Cosby inhabited the role so completely that for a long time I thought character and creator were pretty much one and the same, at least until the allegations of rape began surfacing with increasing frequency. Then I went from feeling certain that Mr. Cosby was just like Dr. Huxtable, to wondering whether Mr. Cosby was like Dr. Huxtable, to desperately hoping that Mr. Cosby was the devoted family man I once thought he had been."
posted by Fizz (104 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
 
Reminds me of the remark in the recently posted 100 Jokes link that, despite the rape, he was undeniably one of the best and most influential stand-up comics of his day. On the one hand, saying "despite the rape" sounds and feels awful. On the other hand, it's true.
posted by timdiggerm at 12:32 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


I never got into The Cosby Show (I'm not a sitcom fan, as a rule) but I used to love the stand-up routines Cosby recorded long before I was born.

I can't listen to them anymore.
posted by Faint of Butt at 12:34 PM on February 2, 2016 [26 favorites]


My default in situations like this, as came up in the heavy metal and racism thread the other day, is to treat art from terrible people as poisoned. Saying, "yeah he's a rapist but he's also a great artist and I can separate the art from the man" feels dangerously close to apologizing for him, or at least trying to protect his legacy.

To be fair though, it's usually easy to feel this way. Deciding to stop listening to Pantera because the lead singer is a literal nazi is very low stakes. There is so much more good metal out there that I will never miss Pantera from my playlist. Similarly, I don't feel like I'm missing out on much by refusing to watch Roman Polanski's films.

In this case though, it's a lot harder. The Cosby Show was hugely culturally important. There is nothing else like it simply because there was nothing else that was doing what it was doing at that point in time. I can see how, especially for a person of colour who came of age during the original run, turning your back on The Cosby Show could be very difficult. I certainly wouldn't judge anyone who decided they weren't ready to give it up.
posted by 256 at 12:35 PM on February 2, 2016 [30 favorites]


The Cosby Show was hugely culturally important. There is nothing else like it simply because there was nothing else that was doing what it was doing at that point in time.

Not trying to derail but if you're not watching Black•ish, you're missing out, please do yourself a favour and tune in. It mirrors the Cosby show in many ways (though more up to date and relevant). I cannot watch The Cosby Show anymore (forever tainted), but Black•ish a culturally relevant, humorous and intelligent show that fills that void.
posted by Fizz at 12:39 PM on February 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


The Cosby Show was hugely culturally important.

Not only The Cosby Show, but also his enormously influential (and hilarious) 1960's stand up routines, not to mention Fat Albert (say what you will about how it has aged, but the content -- particularly the idea of this group of urban, black kids were shown every Saturday morning and they were educational and EVERYONE watched them -- was pretty groundbreaking).

All utterly tainted now. My husband and his brother (who is not the most, uh, let's say progressive guy) used to quote long stretches of Cosby routines (that they'd memorized as their dad listened to them on 8 track during long car trips). The brother confided me over the holidays that parts of the routines still spring to mind in certain situations, but he now always feel nauseated when it happens.

I don't think it will ever be possible (or desirable) to separate the two.
posted by anastasiav at 12:48 PM on February 2, 2016 [13 favorites]


I can't listen to them anymore.

I consider myself pretty lucky that this miserable business only really broke after I had bought and watched the box set of the complete Electric Company (which I really, really enjoyed revisiting), and before I forked out a fair bit of cash to see Cosby live (which I came close to doing, and what would I have done with those tickets then?).
posted by Capt. Renault at 12:48 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


Similarly, I don't feel like I'm missing out on much by refusing to watch Roman Polanski's films.

In this case though, it's a lot harder. The Cosby Show was hugely culturally important. There is nothing else like it simply because there was nothing else that was doing what it was doing at that point in time.


Switch Polanski with the Cosby Show and I'd agree with you. Not that I'm looking for an argument. I just feel that this points to how our regard for an artist's work informs the degree to which we can just remove it from our purview.
posted by philip-random at 12:49 PM on February 2, 2016 [11 favorites]


I don't find it hard to give up The Cosby Show (I watched it, like everybody else, but I actually have fonder memories of some of his stand-up albums, like I Started Out As A Child), but I can certainly understand why a black person, for whom The Cosby Show may have been the first longstanding thoroughly positive portrayal of their community on mainstream TV, would find it much harder. Someone like Polanski (however highly you regard his work) really isn't in the same position. It's not really a question of artistic merit, but of cultural value.
posted by praemunire at 12:58 PM on February 2, 2016


I used to love the stand-up routines Cosby recorded long before I was born.

I can't listen to them anymore.


Oh god yes. Noah. The karate sketch. Same Thing Happens Every Night... so much comedy gold. And now I can't even think about them without my skin crawling.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:06 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


No group should be judged solely by its worst members. It's better to consider them as a spectrum of individuals, whether they are minorities, evangelicals, bikers, the 1%, or what have you. That doesn't excuse the worst of them, but it shouldn't tarnish the best either.

I don't judge myself solely by my worst actions. I judge myself by the sum of all my actions, with a spectrum of sin and virtue. That doesn't excuse my sins, but it doesn't tarnish my better accomplishments either.

Unfortunately, that kind of perspective requires a bit of emotional energy, which we don't always have, so we tend to lump. But in lumping we throw away a lot of information. That's the source of the difference in opinions in this thread. But if sins diminish virtues, isn't the opposite also true?
posted by BentFranklin at 1:16 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is a great article, and I feel similarly to the author, although I am younger and white. I particularly feel for the rest of the actors, who through no actions of their own have their work tarnished.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 1:18 PM on February 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


I had an interesting and uncomfortable exchange with a black coworker on the day that Cosby was charged in which he asserted that the charges were baseless and without evidence and referred to the OJ trial indirectly. It hadn't occurred to me that he would see it though that lens, although I certainly should have anticipated it as a possibility before opening my mouth. I had just mentioned the arraignment in passing when someone had made a joke about Jello pudding. Given that there's a high-profile fictionalization of the OJ trial about to premiere, I would guess that viewpoint is going to get further exposure over the next few weeks.
posted by mwhybark at 1:26 PM on February 2, 2016


But if sins diminish virtues, isn't the opposite also true?

That depends on the sin, to some extent, and the depth and length of said sinning. Cosby has been drugging and raping women for half a century.

There's nothing, nothing that ameliorates that. (I say that as a white man. People of colour may well have different opinions in that regard, given the weight of his impression on the cultural landscape.)
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:32 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


All of it. The Cosby show, his many, many standup sets that I own on CD and have mp3s of, Fat Albert, classic skits like "Chicken Heart" - all of it destroyed by the man himself. The many, many clips of cosby in songs in popular and underground rap - all of it destroyed. The BDP sample in Illegal Business, Nastee sampling Cosby, some local artists I know who sampled him, up to DOOM making reference to the well known 'cosby sweater'.

All those memories, all the jokes with others, all the "pudding" jokes and Eddie Murphy impressions. I hate you Bill Cosby. I am so mad. I hope you get convicted for something, because it's obvious you did something. Even his Black History videos that almost nobody seems to remember that I made an FPP of 5 years ago. Destroyed.

So much of those jokes became a part of me. So many quotes and clips that I'd use as responses. Gone. Because I can't do it. What he did is just too horrific. And he hasn't gotten convicted of a single thing, but if I have to choose between the word of those women, and a guy I grew up idolizing alongside Rakim as classic masters at what they did without having to use cursewords, I'm believing the women. I hate that he has turned from someone we held up, to someone I wouldn't sit next to on a bus.
posted by cashman at 1:49 PM on February 2, 2016 [29 favorites]


A whole lot of his victims were black, though. The black women I follow on Twitter are certainly unsparing in their opinion of him, especially given his respectability/no saggy pants schtick in later years.

I can't watch him or listen to him or even look at him anymore. It's all poisoned. Whole big chunk of my childhood. Now when I think about some of the sexy jokes, or comments about his daughters, etc. that were in those Cosby Show episodes, there's a real revulsion. Any woman I might see who wasn't a regular cast member, who was playing a teacher or a friend of the kids or a neighbor, I would have to wonder: did he attack her too? The odds seem pretty good that he did.

I actually wonder about the women in the cast themselves; maybe he was smart enough never to do that to them. I haven't heard that he did. But lots of victims never come forward.

His work was really good, from a comedy standpoint, sure. But you know, we can do without it. If that's what it takes to shun a rapist, we can do without it. There's lots of other funny people out there.
posted by emjaybee at 1:50 PM on February 2, 2016 [13 favorites]


> No group should be judged solely by its worst members.

What group are you talking about that people are "lumping" here? Comedians? Artists? Actors? Serial rapists who also make art? I don't understand what point you're trying to make.
posted by rtha at 1:54 PM on February 2, 2016 [26 favorites]


The last performance I saw of Cosby was when he was tapped in to take over for Letterman during one of Letterman's emergency illnesses. The producers seemed to be scrambling with a big gap in the show that's generally filled with Dave and Paul. So on the plus side, the episode got an extended performance by Toots Thielemans who owned the studio. On the other side, Cosby took the dirty old man act that both Letterman and Leno loved and cranked it well beyond 11 in the interview portion. For a variety of reasons, my biggest impressions were shaped by his comedy records and that moment where he out-letched Letterman. (I just wasn't into family sitcoms when The Cosby Show aired.)
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:06 PM on February 2, 2016


256: “The Cosby Show was hugely culturally important. There is nothing else like it simply because there was nothing else that was doing what it was doing at that point in time.”

I actually don't know about this – maybe Cosby's downfall is an opportune moment for re-considering The Cosby Show's legacy. The article says that it "introduced white audiences to one of the first black middle-class families to appear on prime-time TV;" it says "middle-class" because there were numerous black sitcoms on television in the 1970s, but with (as far as I know) one major exception they were working class family sitcoms. As Jeet Heer put it recently, "That working class culture moment came to an end with Reagan & the crushing of the union. Sanford & Son gave way to The Cosby Show." There was something different, aspirationally, about Cosby. I'm not sure how I feel about it, looking back.

But then – it's very difficult to argue with the things that were formative to people in their childhoods, and the 1980s were a very different time. Just something that's worth thinking about.
posted by koeselitz at 2:10 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


Saying, "yeah he's a rapist but he's also a great artist and I can separate the art from the man" feels dangerously close to apologizing for him, or at least trying to protect his legacy.

I strongly disagree with this, and I dispute that admiring a work of art is in any way apologizing for whatever the artist has done or endorsing or protecting them.

They are separate. The work doesn't magically change because we find out something terrible about the artist. Beethoven's symphonies will still be beautiful even if we learn he was a monster. I'm repulsed by how many self-proclaimed liberals go to bat for Polanski despite his (self-admitted) crimes, but that doesn't change that Polanski's films are great. Woody Allen's films are funny. I'm a Jew, but Wagner, perhaps the 19th century's supreme public anti-Semite, made great music even if he would have considered me a sub-human.

I can understand you personally choosing not to deal with an artist's works due to his actions, but I absolutely reject the idea that doing so is in any way an apology or endorsement.

It's not about protecting the artist's legacy, it's about preserving a valuable piece of culture that remains valuable no matter what the person who made it is like.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:12 PM on February 2, 2016 [21 favorites]


Well I guess I'll be counted for one of the people whose enjoyment of a work isn't much affected by whoever authored it - I normally enjoy (or don't enjoy) a work done by criminal or hero based (almost) entirely on the merits of the work. The criminal/hero author can sometimes have influence in whether I'm interested in their perspective enough to seek it out, but normally it's not a factor.

However I do like that he is at least being socially penalized if his crimes have managed to move beyond the reach of the law.
posted by anonymisc at 2:13 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


"I can understand you personally choosing not to deal with an artist's works due to his actions, but I absolutely reject the idea that doing so is in any way an apology or endorsement."

On the flip side, Cosby gets residuals when you watch. To pay his lawyers. To smear the women in court and weasel out of admitting to his crimes.

It's easier to separate the art from the artist when the artist is dead, and I'm not saying that to be flippant; it's a lot easier to say "yes, but" about Wagner than about a man who is actively earning money off reruns of his art and using that money to pay his lawyers to fight criminal and civil charges against him right this minute.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 2:15 PM on February 2, 2016 [57 favorites]


The thing about continuing to enjoy/consume works by monsters is that we are then implicitly saying "well, it's okay to be a serial rapist for fifty years as long as you tell good jokes," which enables other monsters to keep on monstering. It's rape culture, pure and simple--that goes for Cosby, Polanski, Michael Jackson, etc.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:16 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


That depends on the sin, to some extent, and the depth and length of said sinning. Cosby has been drugging and raping women for half a century.

Also, at least one of the attacks came after the first court case, which was itself apparently an open secret in the entertainment industry for years. He had also been making stand-up routines about date rape before that, and made a name for himself in the 2000s scolding African-American men for supposedly promoting images of themselves as sexually voracious criminals.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:17 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


Look, I still love me some Miles Davis. But if Miles had sung songs about beating women, I don't think I'd be able to stomach him at all.

Similarly, given that Cosby had a stand-up bit that literally talked about drugging and raping women, I'm done with him.

I can separate the art from the artist, but the moment an artist brings his crimes into his art, his art too becomes repugnant (e.g. Woody Allen).
posted by el io at 2:18 PM on February 2, 2016 [15 favorites]


The work doesn't magically change because we find out something terrible about the artist. Beethoven's symphonies will still be beautiful even if we learn he was a monster. I'm repulsed by how many self-proclaimed liberals go to bat for Polanski despite his (self-admitted) crimes, but that doesn't change that Polanski's films are great. Woody Allen's films are funny. I'm a Jew, but Wagner, perhaps the 19th century's supreme public anti-Semite, made great music.

I think there's a line to be drawn somewhere between Beethoven/Wagner (who made music that is fairly easy to separate from the artist) and Cosby/Allen (whose work is often intensely personal and cannot as easily be separated from the artist). I'm not sure where I'd put Polanski along that spectrum, as his direction of a film doesn't mean we have to be confronted by him, but I certainly won't spend a penny that might eventually go to him.
posted by Etrigan at 2:21 PM on February 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


It's not about protecting the artist's legacy, it's about preserving a valuable piece of culture that remains valuable no matter what the person who made it is like.

Yes,but that part of culture is inextricable from his actions. He's the one that used his reputation to browbeat others, and it's 100% reasonable to see anyone making excuses as an apology or endorsement.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:22 PM on February 2, 2016


I had never spent any time watching that show...it bored me. But from what I recall, he and his family portrayed a middle class family. Look! we too are middle class and just like you. But then there was the Cosby before the rape charges who went public telling blacks to stop using the gangsta stuff, to emulate middle class habits and manners, what in the black community many years ago was called being "dicty." This calling out of Blacks to be educated, well read, mannered, etc. got many black notables to jump all over him and tell Cosby to stop telling blacks to act more white,to stop being who they were and how they lived. He was liked by whites for this. And then...well...I imagine many in the black community view him as a hypocrite getting his comeuppance.
posted by Postroad at 2:23 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Like... we're saying that you can get a pass on monstrous behaviour, that somehow the behaviour can be excused, if you've contributed enough culturally. I don't think that's an effective way to curtail rape culture or create a society where women (yes ok let's head this off quickly: yes men are sexually abused by those in power as well, see boy bands for example, and as with all sexual assault it's a drop in the bucket compared to how many women are abused every day so moving on) are safe and treated like people instead of things when we continue to allow these assholes to make money and leave legacies.

The more we consign them to the dustbin of history, the more we are telling people now and in the future that nope, doesn't matter how funny you are or how well you sing or cook or throw a football, you do this shit and your name is mud forever. We will no longer listen to your music, we will no longer laugh at your jokes, we will no longer buy tickets to your games. We will shun you, we will ignore you, and we will punish you to the full extent of the law. We will not allow you to be described as "well yeah he raped dozens of women but wow, he was funny!"
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:23 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


The thing about continuing to enjoy/consume works by monsters is that we are then implicitly saying "well, it's okay to be a serial rapist for fifty years as long as you tell good jokes,"

No, it absolutely isn't. Consumption of a work says nothing at all about the artist's behavior one way or the other, and if you're going to make that claim you're going to have to explain how it does

Cosby should have been arrested and charged long ago. Watching his show, or consuming any art from a criminal artist, is not saying what they did was okay.

Yes,but that part of culture is inextricable from his actions. He's the one that used his reputation to browbeat others, and it's 100% reasonable to see anyone making excuses as an apology or endorsement.

But that's the problem: just saying "Cosby was a talented comedian" isn't "making excuses" for his actions.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:24 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


The thing about continuing to enjoy/consume works by monsters is that we are then implicitly saying "well, it's okay to be a serial rapist for fifty years as long as you tell good jokes,"

No it isn't.

which enables other monsters to keep on monstering.

No it doesn't.

Pretty much any work from over a hundred years ago was made by monsters, because normal social mores were monstrous.

Giving your money to monsters (buying their wares while knowing they are monstering) is, I think, in line with what you are saying, but suggesting it is morally dangerous to enjoy a work based on the merits of the work itself, that way lies madness (if it doesn't get Orwellian first.)
posted by anonymisc at 2:27 PM on February 2, 2016 [14 favorites]


Pearl Cleage's 1990 essay on Miles Davis introduced me to the dilemma of separating the art or the work from the human who created it. It made a lasting impression even before I knew who Miles Davis was and what he did. The question came up over and over again, for Bill Clinton, Steve Jobs, Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, and any other well-regarded figure whose work started looking suspect the better we got to know them. Does the good you do in your career balance the bad things you do?
posted by olopua at 2:29 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


No, it absolutely isn't. Consumption of a work says nothing at all about the artist's behavior one way or the other, and if you're going to make that claim you're going to have to explain how it does

Yes, it absolutely is. It is financially or morally supporting someone who is doing terrible things. This whole notion of separating the art from the artist is fucking absurd, because all art is personal.

which enables other monsters to keep on monstering.

No it doesn't.


Yes, actually, it does. It is directly telling people that they too can keep on raping and leave behind a cultural legacy. That they can be viewed as Great Men because of what they have contributed.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:29 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


I mean – to get into the problematic social aspects of The Cosby Show a tiny bit more:

The thing that I think made Cosby so hugely popular with white audiences was the fact that it stood as a tacit testament to the reality of meritocracy. On the one hand, there was this progressive veneer on the whole thing – 'see, a black family can be upper-middle-class, too!' – but beneath that veneer was the meat of the issue – '... because, in the end, our society is a fair one, hard workers get rewarded, and classism and racism are concerns of the past that truly enlightened liberals don't worry themselves with.' This was, as Jeet Heer was alluding in the tweet I linked above, the Reagan era, and the core of the Reagan era was an incessant and unswerving insistence that everything is all right, that the middle class is the heart of this country, and that there is not nor has there ever been a class conflict in this country. The Cosby Show made white people feel good because it soothed their fears about institutional injustice, and (unlike many 70s sitcoms, black and white) it never confronted them with the very real fact that the systems we've built and the people who maintain them are racist and classist and inevitably drag down the disadvantaged.

This would be a much more subtle point to make, and require a lot more backing up, I think, if Bill Cosby hadn't spent decades shouting it from the rooftops. Bill Cosby doesn't believe in classism, and he doesn't believe racism really keeps people down anymore in our society; those are just excuses for black and brown and poor people to use when they want to get out of doing hard work and making something of themselves. History has, I think, shown what a hideous sham that is.

If there's something I regret most about all this, in fact, it's that although Bill Cosby has "gotten his comeuppance," it came long before white people were forced to realize that Bill Cosby has made a career of making them feel good at the expense of the disadvantaged.
posted by koeselitz at 2:30 PM on February 2, 2016 [30 favorites]


This whole notion of separating the art from the artist is fucking absurd, because all art is personal.

The notion that an artwork cannot stand on its own merits is fucking absurd.
posted by anonymisc at 2:32 PM on February 2, 2016 [17 favorites]


Think of it this way: say you had never heard of Chuck Berry or any of his music. I sit you down and playing "Johnny B. Goode". You say it's a great song. I then tell you that Chuck Berry was arrested in 1962 for sex with a 14 year old girl and ask you what you thought of "Johnny B. Goode" now.

If you replied it was still a great song, it's ludicrous to think that you are now implicitly or explicitly saying what Berry did was okay, or that sex with minors is okay. You're just saying the song is a great song, as it was before you knew what Berry did.

You may now choose not to pay money to hear that song, or to promote it, but listening to it or liking it is in no possible way any sort of endorsement or apology.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:33 PM on February 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


Sangermaine: “Consumption of a work says nothing at all about the artist's behavior one way or the other, and if you're going to make that claim you're going to have to explain how it does.”

The core of artistic expression is the conveyance of ideas, concepts, or credos. The artist's beliefs about the world are the substance of art. When it turns out that an artist has corrupt ideas about the world, it must trigger a reconsideration of their work. You can't just divorce artist and art by default; it takes some doing, because the default is actually the assumption that art is in its essence an expression of the artist's being.
posted by koeselitz at 2:33 PM on February 2, 2016 [12 favorites]


The core of artistic expression is the conveyance of ideas, concepts, or credos.

Which are not identical to the person. The ideas, concepts, or credos stand or fall on their own, whether the artist is a sinner or a saint. Bad artist doesn't mean bad art and good artist doesn't mean good art. Art is art.

The expression is put into the world and is a separate thing from the person who made it. This is blatantly obvious because under your interpretation it would not be possible to appreciate or consume art without knowledge of the artist but this is simply not so.

Someone with no knowledge of an artist can appreciate or consume a work. Therefore, the art must be separate from the artist themself or else it would be impossible.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:36 PM on February 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


There were a lot of good things about The Cosby Show, and I get it when people mourn that such a groundbreaking show and Cosby's impressive and extensive body of work is so irreparably poisoned by the criminal history of its star, but at the same time I think, it's a TV show, and no TV show, however unique or enjoyable or seminal, can ever weigh against the damage done to the possibly thousands of women Cosby has hurt.

I also think the revelations about Cosby casts a new light on some of the problematic aspects of the show, because there certainly were some. Koselitz's comment about Cosby's respectability politics was one, and something else I noticed even as a young girl was the disturbing extent to which Cliff and Claire thought they were entitled to control their nearly grown or even adult children. I remember one scene in particular in which Cliff sits down at the Huxtable kitchen table with Denise's new husband, gets him to admit that Denise was a virgin until their wedding night, and then does a little happy dance over the revelation. I was perhaps 17 or 18 when I saw that, and I remember being so utterly disgusted by the idea that Cliff thought he had the right to pry into and approve or disapprove of his grown daughter's sexual behaviour that I wanted to vomit. These aspects of his work are Bill Cosby's legacy too. Good as his work was, it was always veined with misogyny and other issues, and we need to be careful that we don't wax too nostalgic about it.
posted by orange swan at 2:37 PM on February 2, 2016 [35 favorites]


But that's the problem: just saying "Cosby was a talented comedian" isn't "making excuses" for his actions.

His comedy involved joking about date rape while he was a serial date rapist. His show about morality and "family values" was made while he was breaking several of society's oldest codes.

If you replied it was still a great song, it's ludicrous to think that you are now implicitly or explicitly saying what Berry did was okay, or that sex with minors is okay. You're just saying the song is a great song, as it was before you knew what Berry did.

Not the same at all. If "Johnny B. Goode" was a moral tale that was clearly about being an upstanding citizen who wouldn't do anything like commit statutory rape, then it would be relevant.
posted by zombieflanders at 2:37 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


You may now choose not to pay money to hear that song, or to promote it, but listening to it or liking it is in no possible way any sort of endorsement or apology.

You're incredibly wrong, sorry. I get that we all tell ourselves these justifications to ignore the seriously problematic behaviours of our cultural touchstones, and that doesn't change the truth: consuming stuff made by monsters is an endorsement, even if it's only in our own heads, of that monster. It is saying "well you may be a rapist but the stuff you made is so good!" It is absolutely excusing the actions. It is the very definition of rape culture that we pretend there's some kind of separation, and that there is no endorsement or excuse when listening to Michael Jackson or watching the latest major league sports rapist of the week do his thing.

There are only two ways to eradicate rape culture, and one of them is to stop lionizing rapists. Period.

Beyond that, there's zero point in continuing this particular thread of conversation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:40 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


(Quick aside: The Huxtables were not middle-class.

They were a doctor with a private practice and a senior partner in a law firm. They owned a brownstone townhouse in Brooklyn Heights. They were both legacies at a top HBCU.

The Huxtables are about as pure a depiction of the black upper class as has ever been shown on television.)
posted by box at 2:41 PM on February 2, 2016 [16 favorites]


Another dimension of this is a chunk of Cosby's semi-autobiographical persona (I'm thinking more "I Started Out as a Child" and "Parenthood") was built around being the ordinary guy, growing up in a bunch of gendered relationships to become a somewhat bewildered parent himself. It's very "boys will be boys" stuff, but still in the vein of that's the way the world works and we might as well have fun and be kind with it. He put this in contrast with other comics who positioned themselves as foul-mouthed prophets exposing the ridiculousness of American conventions through taboo-breaking. He's playing on gender roles, and largely supporting them. For those idealized gender roles to include rape begs for a consideration of what's going on there.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 2:43 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


You're incredibly wrong, sorry.

No, you are! See, I can do that too.

Beyond that, there's zero point in continuing this particular thread of conversation.

You're right, because it seems like it's just going to be endless "you're wrong" "no, you're wrong!"

Your position is not correct just because you say so, no matter how forcefully or self-righteously done. It's this refusal to even attempt to address why liking the art of a problematic artist is an endorsement beyond "it just is!" that makes me curious.
posted by Sangermaine at 2:44 PM on February 2, 2016 [13 favorites]


Sangermaine: “The expression is put into the world and is a separate thing from the person who made it.”

This is really a huge derail, so I'm not sure it should be indulged, but:

If you're sincerely asking everyone to ignore everything Chuck Berry, or Woody Allen, or Bill Cosby ever does or says, and to pretend that the words and deeds of artists absolutely do not contextualize art, then you're asking too much. Of course you can like a Chuck Berry song without knowing anything about him, but that doesn't mean Chuck Berry's music as a whole is good for the world, and it doesn't mean that we flat-out must ignore his life and statements just because you want us to. That's never going to be the way people people watch television or read books or listen to music. Even if it made any sense at heart – honestly, I don't think it does, not least because interviews and personal statements are also art – but even if it made sense, people wouldn't be willing to do that. We're still going to listen to the things Bill Cosby says in interviews, going to compare one of Chuck Berry's songs with another, going to notice that Woody Allen's personal life bears some uncomfortable resemblances to his movie Manhattan. Because art doesn't exist in a vacuum. It happens in the world, where there is context, and where its relation to its environment matters.
posted by koeselitz at 2:48 PM on February 2, 2016 [8 favorites]


I did address the why, very clearly. Go read it again.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 2:48 PM on February 2, 2016


the default is actally the assumption that art is in its essence an expression of the artist's being.


I'm not sure that has to be the default, though - with due respect to the Romantic movement, I don't think we have to believe that great art is all about the personality of the artist, no more and no less. I don't think the art and the artist are disconnected from each other, but there's an argument for saying that really good art transcends its maker and becomes something more and other than the artist's own personality writ large. One of my favourite paintings is Caravaggio's Calling of St Matthew. Maybe a murderer painted that; maybe his being a murderer even matters to the painting, somehow. But I don't think my admiration for the painting means I'm excusing a murder. If Caravaggio was alive now, and my googling the painting gave him money for evading justice somehow, I'd have a moral obligation to stop googling the painting. But that's not because it's suddenly become a bad painting. It's because my moral obligation to ensure justice is done trumps my right to enjoy great art. That's a separate question completely from whether the art is or isn't any good.

I have no idea if The Cosby Show is so great that it transcends the artist in the same way - I doubt it, but I don't know the show at all well. And it may be good art and we may still all be obliged not to watch it or feel gross about watching it. But I don't think we can have a general rule that the value of art depends on the moral worth of the artist - that just seems like a confusion of categories.
posted by Aravis76 at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2016 [17 favorites]


I have a friend who's a kind, generous, altogether wonderful person, but try as he may, he rather sucks at his chosen art (fiction). It just doesn't click. I could go into depth as to why, but that's beside the point. The point being that his art is not the best part of him.

Another guy comes to mind who I'd not call a friend (he's got too much cruelty in him for that), but I'm continually rather floored by the power of his chosen art (music). It's the best part of him (as far as I can see -- I don't really know him that well).
posted by philip-random at 2:52 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


box: “The Huxtables are about as pure a depiction of the black upper class as has ever been shown on television.”

Indeed. And isn't that a questionable thing?

We could mention, in this respect, The Jeffersons, who were at least as wealthy, but who made their money because George Jefferson was a successful businessman who started a chain of dry cleaners. That's not quite the same social status, though – being a doctor is a scholarly and "posh" profession, whereas being a businessman at least has the taint of the bourgeoisie – and what's more, the Jeffersons initially and perhaps always existed as a "fuck you" to Archie Bunker and his ilk. They were a pointed statement about the malleability of class and the class- and race-based tensions inherent in the modern world.

The Cosby Show was insulated and isolated from any such tensions; they were a flat-out upper-class black family who made it on their own, with the implication being that anybody can make it if they really try because our society is a meritocracy and class tensions are a thing of the past.

It's hard not to have some problems with that. It's understandable that that notion was very comfortable for a lot of people in the 1980s. It certainly wasn't true, though.
posted by koeselitz at 2:55 PM on February 2, 2016 [12 favorites]


Judge the art and not the artist. Ezra Pound a nut, antisemite, fascist, and a great artist. But Cosby for me not a notable artist, but then reading comments, clearly he appeals or did appeal to many tv fans.
posted by Postroad at 3:03 PM on February 2, 2016


Because art doesn't exist in a vacuum. It happens in the world, where there is context, and where its relation to its environment matters.

Absolutely but everybody is part of that context, not just the artist.
posted by atoxyl at 3:11 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


Or, you can just not consume Bill Cosby's media out of respect for the women who were drugged and raped.
posted by cashman at 3:15 PM on February 2, 2016 [13 favorites]


if someone only cares about the art and never engages with the artist, i don't understand why they show up in threads like these that are about how that engagement happens. it seems to me you'd be too busy enjoying the art unfettered by these types of conversations. i also admit that i don't understand what sort of art someone is engaging with when it comes to cosby if they aren't also engaging with the artist himself. his work is all deeply personal, based upon his place in the family, his place as a patriarch, his place as a moral leader. he joked about date rape, he built his celebrity on his strong marriage and family, and the entire time he was drugging and raping women.

there is nothing to engage with in cosby's art, besides "haha funny" if you take the man out of it. and if you feel so attached to "haha funny" that fight with other people who are engaging with the art as it relates to the artist, well, that's certainly one thing you can do with your time. it might be also good for brave defenders of art to consider that survivors hear these defenses of a rapist's artistic output and make decisions about who to be friends with, who to trust, who to partner with.
posted by nadawi at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2016 [32 favorites]


Pretty much any work from over a hundred years ago was made by monsters, because normal social mores were monstrous.

This. I make no ex cathedra statements about how other folks relate to the problem, but I've learned too much from reading, listening to and looking at literature, music and art created by people who would find what Cosby did absolutely unproblematic if not in some poisonously patriarchal way admirable. Who would be far more horrified that he, a black man, is treated as a social equal of white men, or that the women he assaulted were out without permission from their husbands or fathers.

This is, I feel, an entirely separate issue from how Cosby and his activities should be treated in the public sphere or in the courtroom. No one in this thread, as far as I can tell, is suggesting that Cosby should be given a free pass legally or that his critics should be silenced, which are the only ways to my mind that separating art and artist could be construed as giving him a "pass." And if people want to show their support for the victims by refusing to pay for or consume media he's had a hand in creating, more power to them.
posted by AdamCSnider at 3:20 PM on February 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


he is actively still victimizing these women. he is slandering them. he is still working to fix his image. the comparisons to long dead artists are not germane.
posted by nadawi at 3:22 PM on February 2, 2016 [26 favorites]


I liked Cosby's old standup routines from the 60s and 70s, never got into his show, busy raising kids at the time it was on. I can see how the author as a young Black woman was inspired and comforted by it, and how hard it is to give up the genial dad image of Cosby.

I admit to having trouble continuing to love the work of artists who turn out to be rapists, pedophiles, or virulent racists or anti-semites. Could not watch a Woody Allen movie after he took up with his teenage adopted step daughter, same with Polanski. I have have mixed feelings about Ezra Pound, and Allen Ginzburg whose work I loved and saw him read several times, after hearing he was involved in NAMBLA. Please tell me that was not true! Sometimes it becomes impossible to separate the art from the person when the person has lived in a way that was deeply harmful and hateful to others.
posted by mermayd at 3:28 PM on February 2, 2016


I think the point of the comparison is to say that the author of the article is grieving for something real - she's had to give up on art that meant something to her, good art (to her), because of her obligation to come to terms with what Cosby has done. The problem of separating the art from the artist arises precisely because the art has value - and she's sad to give it up - even when the artist turns out to be horrible. That's what I read the article to be saying anyway.
posted by Aravis76 at 3:29 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


It is very hard to separate the art from the artist. I find it easier to do this with artists who are now dead and can no longer profit from their work.

That said, because Cosby's work is so tied up with his persona, I think this separation will be impossible for me. Easier to separate Miles Davis's actions (great link, olopua!) from his music--he's gone but his music remains. However, it will be forever colored by the knowledge that he was abusive. Sadly, Blue in Green just took on a whole new association...
posted by smirkette at 3:36 PM on February 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


Yeah, the thing about the whole "separate the artist from the art" thing is that it's easier where the artist's problematic behavior isn't actually directly represented in his art. Chuck Berry wrong songs about being with 16-year-olds, though. Woody Allen made movies about it. There's not much space there, and the behavior of the artist colors the art. Art has context, and it's particularly hard to ignore when that context is really a part of how the art works.
posted by koeselitz at 3:42 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


Good read, thank you, Fizz. It echoes a lot of my feelings on the subject.

And when his mug shot flashed across my screen, I felt a sharp stab of grief.

Not for Mr. Cosby, who was charged with sexual assault, and returns to court for a hearing this week. But for the genial father and devoted husband who once filled my television set, the funny man who felt like family.


It's interesting that the author positions these two men as opposites throughout the article, but are they really? It's not like fathers, even genial ones, can't be rapists. Cosby had kids. Dr. Huxtable didn't seem like a rapist to the public, but neither did Cosby. You can't really count on rapists to come off as monsters.
posted by ODiV at 3:43 PM on February 2, 2016 [7 favorites]


I think the fear is that we can love nothing, because no artist (or almost no artist) can pass the purity test of being a good person.

Cosby had an impact on comedy. That is not going to change even if no one else ever listens to him again, because those who were influenced by him are making their own comedy now. So he gets his legacy, he made his mark.

But he also smeared over that legacy with his crimes.

To see his art/legacy, you also have to see the smear. Whether or not it makes it impossible to enjoy the art is a personal question. The writer is saying she can't see past it. In 50 years, will people feel the same? Who can say?

With that in mind, it's important not to erase or ignore the smear. It's there; it's part of his legacy too. The problem with our perceptions of great artists who were terrible people is that the terrible things they did have often been either erased or excused as part of their creativity.

What we need to do with Cosby, as with them, is to say "Here is what this person created. It was very influential. However, this person also did terrible things."
posted by emjaybee at 3:44 PM on February 2, 2016 [11 favorites]


I'm broadly okay with the concept of appreciating art for its own sake, but not to the complete exclusion of context. My capacity for abstract artistic appreciation flakes right out when I can currently see the artist off to one side still kicking his victims.
posted by SometimeNextMonth at 3:48 PM on February 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


"It's not like fathers, even genial ones, can't be rapists. Cosby had kids. Dr. Huxtable didn't seem like a rapist to the public, but neither did Cosby."

Yeah, but that's not really a plot point for a show watched by children. That's the sort of horrible complexity of the world that we hope children don't have to learn about until they're much, much older. And you don't stop loving the things and people you loved as a child just because it turns out they are HORRIBLE, and it is a special kind of pain -- you can read memoirs by children of serial killers or Nazi camp guards, for example, and there's a vivid, excruciating pain born of coming to terms with the parent you love (or loved) also being a monster. I think having a childhood idol fall is a shadow of that pain, because children love uncritically.

Like, I'm pretty grossed out and disappointed by Mark Salling (Glee actor now accused of child pornography) because I liked him a lot -- but I was already an adult fully aware of the ways people can disappoint us and the secret people can keep. I know better than to "fall in love" with a celebrity with feet of clay (as we all have). It's disappointing, but not devastating. The loss of Cosby, who was part of my childhood, feels far more profound and painful, and like a much greater betrayal. Because when I was a little kid I didn't KNOW you could be a man like Bill Cosby, and I didn't KNOW he was anyone other than Dr. Huxtable.

I think if you watched The Cosby Show as an adult, that's an interesting tension, but if you watched it as a child, that's demanding way too much of the child-you-were, to NOT set Cosby against Dr. Huxtable.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:56 PM on February 2, 2016 [14 favorites]


I can't separate people from the things they create. I see Dr. Huxtable and Bill Cosby as the same person---part of those "he didn't seem like the kind of guy who would do xyz." And then you realize that that's how it is; the guys will always seem like they wouldn't or couldn't, but you just never know. And it's scary and disappointing that there are these people who don't own up to the crimes they commit and the hurt they cause other people. The show is tainted. I can't watch Cosby pretending to be a good man when he could switch it off and drug and assault other human beings.

I don't understand the mindset. He doesn't feel any guilt or shame or remorse. I get this sense he blames the women.

I can't watch Stephen Collins on Seventh Heaven without seeing a really gross molester. Roman Polanski---I could give a rat's ass about his artistry or anyone's artistry when they lack a basic sense of humanity.
posted by discopolo at 4:03 PM on February 2, 2016 [3 favorites]


yeah another reason i can't separate the art and artist at all in this case is there's not a show he created that i love that he wasn't using to find women to rape.
posted by nadawi at 4:05 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


I guess where I was going with my earlier comment (had to catch a bus) is that at one point in my life, Cosby was held up as a masculine exemplar. And now the somewhat radical feminist criticism that stories of "boys will be boys, men will be men," childhood horseplay and baffled husbands are part of rape culture have a lot more weight.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 4:06 PM on February 2, 2016 [2 favorites]


The striving for greatness that a piece of art inspires in its fans is far more important than whatever flawed vessel brought that art into the world.

Spoiler for Galaxy Quest
posted by otherchaz at 4:15 PM on February 2, 2016


Reminds me of the remark in the recently posted 100 Jokes link that, despite the rape, he was undeniably one of the best and most influential stand-up comics of his day. On the one hand, saying "despite the rape" sounds and feels awful. On the other hand, it's true.

Or partially true. The context of this jokes radically shift when it sinks in that how we interpreted them was largely based on who we thought was he was. Once the spell is broken, you go back and realize things weren't the way we first thought and the meaning completely shifts.

I suddenly don't find the old routines funny anymore. I watched Fat Albert, I Spy, the Cosby Show et al and truly loved it. Knowing what I know now, I genuinely wished my support went to someone else whose message was in tune with who they really were.
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 4:17 PM on February 2, 2016 [6 favorites]


This thread has really made me think. I want to enjoy the work and separate the perps, but somehow some of them disgust me more than others. How far should it go or not go? I think this is such an important conversation.

There are plenty of contemporary musicians who have very popular songs about rape, beating women, killing their enemies etc. that haven't hurt their careers, if anything the violent imagery has increased that popularity. Glorifying violence seems to be a a pretty popular theme in our culture in general. In some ways it's a little weird to get all bent about it in one context but not another. Bill Cosby is being vilified now, people are taking his awards away and not going to his shows but Chris Brown seems to be doing ok, he is somehow reformed. Maybe he just needs a few more years to ripen, rack up a few more victims.

I'm reading the debate on this page and feel like something is missing. I feel like I am flailing about, I don't have the firm views one way or the other that some here do.
posted by Belle O'Cosity at 4:32 PM on February 2, 2016


I have a hard time with this argument of separating the art from the artist in this particular case. Bill Cosby the person didn't create art, he created a product. That product was "Bill Cosby." There's nothing about his work that you can separate from the man, because his work was all about the man. The product. They are inseparable, in my mind. Laboring to divorce the two does sound like laboring to find an apology for the awful things that the man did while trying to protect the product -- which, again, was himself.

Then again, it's the end of the day and my blood sugar is low and I'm not sure that made any sense.
posted by mudpuppie at 4:38 PM on February 2, 2016 [14 favorites]


Belle O'Cosity, it seems pretty important to draw a distinction between having songs about certain things and not actually doing them, and actually doing certain things while condemning them. Society glorifies violence, but there's definitely a performative aspect to that. Re: Chris Brown, I think that's... a very different case, and not a great point for comparison.
posted by sagc at 4:40 PM on February 2, 2016


I can't stand Chris Brown either. Zayn Malik's popular new song made my hair stand on end initially because I thought it was Chris Brown. I'm not the biggest r&b fan in the world so I'm not really struggling with the decision, but any song he's involved with, I turn off.

I'm not a fan of the slippery slope argument stuff. I feel like if you (general you) have been around this place long enough to witness the nuances and care with which the moderation team operates, you know each case has its elements and you make decisions based on them. There doesn't need to be some kind of imposition that if you refuse to listen to Cosby stuff any more all of a sudden you can't listen to Anita Baker because she once scolded a puppy.
posted by cashman at 4:40 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


My default in situations like this, as came up in the heavy metal and racism thread the other day, is to treat art from terrible people as poisoned. Saying, "yeah he's a rapist but he's also a great artist and I can separate the art from the man" feels dangerously close to apologizing for him, or at least trying to protect his legacy.


I feel like the art and the behavior of the artist ought to be kept separate. Must we hate John Lennon's music because he abandoned his first son? Dick move, but doesn't change how good the music is. And do we ever do the reverse -- support the art more just because the artist is a particularly nice guy in person?

Cosby's case is also kind of an interesting example of changes in popular ethics during his lifetime. The reason so many of those women didn't come forward is that 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago he'd have likely been viewed more sympathetically, and they more demonized, than the current culture would allow.
posted by Peregrine Pickle at 5:22 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel like one of the problems with the "separate the artist from the art" argument in today's world is how much "art" is viewed hand in hand with success, fame, and the mechanisms with which that fame is communicated to us. Being rich, famous, and on TV also implies this higher level of societal acceptance and endorsement. This is a by-product of the Art, but not really a function of the art itself.

When it comes to Cosby, right now, because of the severity of the crimes, and the timeliness of it all, it's hard to view his work without thinking of the context of what he's done. "Bill Cosby, Himself" is ruined as a piece of entertainment, but to me it's still valid as art. If you want an example of the art of storytelling, the skill of comedic timing, and the power of a charismatic stage presence all working together in a virtuosic performance, those things are not stripped because of his crimes. Would I go to that piece for a fun night of viewing? No. Would I still place it on a list of top 10 standup performances? Yes.

In the specific case of The Cosby Show, it's a tough one. Viewed through the lens of today's media landscape it's hard to really fathom what a big deal that show was in the cultural landscape of Black America at the time. I'm sure it's easy for some to dismiss as just a TV show, no big deal. My Mother grew up in the days of Amos N' Andy, and pretty much hated television her entire life*, because of how it portrayed Blacks. She let us watch TV, but was always in our ears about what to look out for, and quick to turn it off if she saw something she felt was problematic. She didn't even like Roots. But she loved gathering the whole family together to watch The Cosby Show every week. It mattered.

*Interesting aside, Netflix came along and , she watches so much TV now . I think it's the feeling of choice and control over what she gets to watch.
posted by billyfleetwood at 5:27 PM on February 2, 2016 [9 favorites]


he is actively still victimizing these women. he is slandering them. he is still working to fix his image. the comparisons to long dead artists are not germane.
posted by nadawi


this is a good point. Beethoven, it seems, was rather monstrous in his personal life. Wagner's antisemitism will always be revolting. But they're long gone. Any "fixing" of their images is necessarily way more abstracted than what Cosby's currently up to.
posted by philip-random at 5:29 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


john lennon sang about beating his first wife. i listen to the beatles, i like the beatles, but i can't separate john lennon from his art, i have to confront john lennon to continue enjoying his art.

i'm also unsettled with comparing, say, the absolutely awful beating of rihanna by chris brown to what cosby did - is there no scale? no proportion? i wish chris brown wasn't still famous. i wish he had actually taken help for his obvious anger issues that extend outside of that night. i wish people didn't attack rihanna for not being a "perfect victim." it's still so completely different than what cosby is accused of. cosby is in jimmy savile territory. he is a full on sexual predator and comparing him to songs with violent themes seems off base to me.
posted by nadawi at 5:38 PM on February 2, 2016 [12 favorites]


And do we ever do the reverse -- support the art more just because the artist is a particularly nice guy in person?

Some artists are marketed as such, and I think there's a case to be made which could include Cosby in that set. I think that if it did not work as a commercial appeal we would not see it. So, yes, it appears that's true, for some people and some artists.

Certainly some segments of American pop culture also formalize this - in country music, for example, even formerly 'outlaw' artists such as Willie are expected to have and do actively maintain a generous social discourse with fans, which is inevitably described as 'being a nice guy.'
posted by mwhybark at 5:40 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I feel like a lot of people want some hard and fast rule system for determining just how Problematic your Fave has to be before you disown all their works and obliterate them from your personal artistic pantheon, and there's not really any such thing. A good baseline is probably "don't support an artist who is actively engaged in harming others, or who has harmed others in living memory." There's also the simple cause and effect of "your art now reminds me of that loathsome thing you did and I can't derive joy from it any more." Beyond that, it's wildly personal and contextual, with any number of factors involved.

That said, we can scream the author is dead all we want, but in a world where capital and art and celebrity are so thoroughly intertwined, there's no real easy way to separate the art from the artist. Do you have to dig into every artist you're a fan of, looking for skeletons in the closet or beating hearts under the floorboard? Do the artists you love have to pass some moral purity test? No, of course not. But when the skeleton falls out, or the beating heart makes its voice heard, it behooves us to listen and to consider the new relationship we will necessarily have with the art on learning about this new thing. That new relationship doesn't erase the old relationship, it can't. We just have to acknowledge both.
posted by yasaman at 6:01 PM on February 2, 2016 [10 favorites]


These conversations always include the implied threat that if you stop consuming media that involved everyone who raped and/or beat women you wouldn't have enough cultural material somehow

The response to that isn't "wow, what the fuck, why is violence against women so common?"

It's "but what about the ART, all the ART I'd be missing!"

that's rape culture. In a nutshell. Treating rape as a given, and demanding that the conversation be about how everyone needs to make sure their dislike of rape doesn't, idk, inconvenience anyone
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:02 PM on February 2, 2016 [42 favorites]


I never liked Cosby much, but as a middle class black kid in the 80s, the Cosby Show and A Different World were EVERYTHING to me. They looked like me & talked like me & wore clothes I coveted & listened to the same music. I think it can be really hard for some white people to understand and perhaps even more white men, but being represented as more than just a single token is so fucking important. And Cosbys daughters on the show were perhaps the only time I was able to see a range of people I could literally grow up to be. So I mourn how Cosby has tarnished that with his evil. Because in ignorance it was one of the most important things that ever happened in my world.
posted by dame at 6:03 PM on February 2, 2016 [26 favorites]


Also a big THANK YOU to all the POC sharing their perspectives.
posted by mwhybark at 6:06 PM on February 2, 2016


A timely piece from The Reductress.com:

How to See The Charm that Everyone Else Sees in Your Harasser


It gets increasingly relevant to this thread as it goes along.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 6:07 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


For me, the inability to separate artist from art was Orson Scott Card. Ever since going from a Card fan to being unable to read his work without cringing, Wagner isn't even on my list as an issue because, let's face it, he died long before any associations with Nazism or other negative connotations were established. Polanski, I am ambivalent about: I love his films, but the negative associations are compelling; still, it's hard to give up the enjoyment of his work because of an unassociated character flaw. Cosby is hard; I last really consumed his oeuvre as a child watching Fat Albert; still it was a shock to discover someone I had admired since I was a child was so . . . off. But that doesn't really diminish the impact he had on my whitebread cracker upbringing in a wealthy suburb of NYC: realization that not everyone had it as good as I did, and that even though there were no blacks in my school system, just a few miles away was a different, but quite interesting world.
posted by Blackanvil at 6:20 PM on February 2, 2016


When my kids were little we listened to the old stand up routines in the car and we're still tempted to quote them but it just feels gross.

My library has an ongoing book sale and this month's theme is romance. I shit you not, Cosby's "love and marriage" book was on display. It's in the recycling now.
posted by Biblio at 7:38 PM on February 2, 2016


The Cosby Show made white people feel good because it soothed their fears about institutional injustice, and (unlike many 70s sitcoms, black and white) it never confronted them with the very real fact that the systems we've built and the people who maintain them are racist and classist and inevitably drag down the disadvantaged.

Respectability politics are real and harmful, and certainly given Cosby's later proclamations it's legitimate to read them into The Cosby Show.

Nonetheless, to be a well-educated, prosperous, loving family respected in one's community is good, and not because these characteristics are arbitrary markers of bourgeois assimilation. If you've never really gotten to see people with your skin color depicted in that way in a certain form of media, that could be immensely valuable to you. Preferably there would be a multitude of varied images for you to choose from, but if you're looking otherwise at freakin' "Dy-no-mite!" or "Wha'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?", you're probably going to appreciate the option.

I find it fairly straightforward to choose not to provide my personal financial support to people, artists or otherwise, who I think have behaved monstrously. There's so much art in the world. I can live without putting money into Polanski's pockets. Buying a dead artist's work, on the other hand, doesn't subsidize bad behavior. (The Wagner furor always strikes me as odd, as he was anti-Semitic, certainly, but I don't think exceptionally so for his time--if you're going to object to him, consistency demands that you object to a vast swath of his peers, and most people don't--and he died well prior to Nazi Germany. I rarely hear people articulating the same concerns about Strauss, who was far more compromised by that regime.)
posted by praemunire at 7:58 PM on February 2, 2016 [5 favorites]


I was a teen when the Cosby Show and Different World came out and in a way in introduced me to an African American world which while heavily fictionalized seemed just as real as the poor minority neighborhoods where my magnet school was located. This was a narrative that black people could be proud of where they came from and where they were going and that this narrative was different than the dominant one where blacks were a drain on society. For that reason I think I will always be grateful for the Cosby Show as it was and it's place in society.

However my personal revulsion for Bill Cosby as a man pretty much means that I will never really go back and watch old episodes of that show ever because the man has forever tainted the art.

Personally I think of that with great sorrow because it was transformative storytelling and there are other actors associated with the Cosby Show that presented much more compelling narratives (in particular Phylicia Rashad as Claire Huxtable) that I am concerned that the demon that is Bill Cosby the man will forever taint not just his work but the brilliant work of his coworkers. That is deeply unfortunate but honestly I don't see any way around it.
posted by vuron at 9:16 PM on February 2, 2016 [4 favorites]


The Cosby Show was insulated and isolated from any such tensions; they were a flat-out upper-class black family who made it on their own, with the implication being that anybody can make it if they really try because our society is a meritocracy and class tensions are a thing of the past.

I disagree that the show's themes implied American meritocracy... Even as a pre-teen at the time, it was clear to me that both Cliff and Claire benefitted greatly from being born to educated, upwardly mobile parents. They were not the first their family to attend college, in fact, if I recall correctly, believe that Cliff was a legacy at his fictitious HBCU, making Denise a 3rd generation Hillman student. I immediately recognized many of the benefits that generational advantage afforded the Huxtables.

This was a show about educated, professional upper-middle class Blacks that didn't "come from nothing"... They weren't singing soulful blues about movin' on up to the East Side and finally getting a piece of the pie. They've been at that level for a while, riding out the bad old days of civil rights movement, redlining and blatant government sanctioned discrimination. They were the opposite of the cycle of poverty that plagued many families that shared their skin tone; Claire was the antithesis to Regan's hypothetical "Welfare Queen". The Huxtables weren't just anybody who made it because they tried hard enough... and I think many people recognized that.
posted by Stu-Pendous at 11:20 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


I disagree that the show's themes implied American meritocracy... Even as a pre-teen at the time, it was clear to me that both Cliff and Claire benefitted greatly from being born to educated, upwardly mobile parents. They were not the first their family to attend college, in fact, if I recall correctly, believe that Cliff was a legacy at his fictitious HBCU, making Denise a 3rd generation Hillman student. I immediately recognized many of the benefits that generational advantage afforded the Huxtables.

The inability of privilege to recognize privilege doesn't negate it. That is to say, yes, that may have been including in the backstory of the show, but that doesn't mean the writers analyzed the privileges it entails in any real way, or did so by design to set this narrative apart. Especially in light of Cosby's later decades of shaming and blaming the black community for being disenfranchised, it's hard to deny the significance in the Cosby Show of that framework, even though at the time, without that context, it didn't seem like a thing.
posted by kafziel at 11:58 PM on February 2, 2016 [1 favorite]


These conversations always include the implied threat that if you stop consuming media that involved everyone who raped and/or beat women you wouldn't have enough cultural material somehow

These conversations also always imply that people who refuse to trash their favorite art/media because the artist turned out to be horrible, are themselves despicable ("promoting rape culture" etc.). So it's hardly surprising there's always a lot of pushback.
posted by rifflesby at 12:54 AM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


It's not clear to me that one should feel revulsion toward Cosby in such a fashion that one can't enjoy his work. But I certainly do.
posted by persona au gratin at 1:56 AM on February 3, 2016


Well, it's a classic example of white privilege, isn't it? "Feh, just IGNORE it, there's so much good culture out there you don't NEED it." Which is true if you're a white person where every show revolves around you and your interests, so of course you think it's true for everyone. In terms of upper class black people, there's been what, Cosby and Fresh Prince? As opposed to any given night of sitcoms where basically everyone is a well off white person, even the "poor" ones that still have an enormous two story house for sitcom antics
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 2:15 AM on February 3, 2016 [11 favorites]


I get that it's important but the rhetoric is much broader than just this performer/product. I mean why else are we talking about motherfucking Wagner? It is the immediate turn from "this is valuable" to a slippery slope argument in which we're two seconds away from the complete cultural wasteland that will inevitably result from caring about rape
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:50 AM on February 3, 2016 [6 favorites]


what this whole situation teaches me is that the world is not simple

people who make/do wonderful things can also make/do horrific things - and even as the wonderful thing doesn't make up for the horrific thing, the horrific thing cannot erase the wonderful thing. the two just exist in tension, forever.
posted by jb at 8:03 AM on February 3, 2016 [5 favorites]


And I do have a lot of tension about this issue: I was never much of a Cosby Show fan, but I've been a Bill Cosby fan since childhood. I loved his stand-up ("Riiiggggght..."), I admired his advocacy for education and campaign against racism. I thought I knew who the man was.

But it has reinforced to me that I certainly did not know who he was. But even though he dehumanised the women he raped, I will be the better person and continue to see him as a human, a complex being. I hope that he does pay for his crimes -- and I will likely never play those beloved comedy albums for my children. But I can't deny in my heart that they are still funny, that he was a human capable of good (both in creating art and in his advocacy) as well as great evil.

This doesn't make me happy. For my own peace of mind, it would be so much easier to just dismiss him as simply evil. Instead, it pains me, just as it would pain me (in a much greater degree but similar manner) if I discovered that someone I loved - my mother, my father, my grandfather - had committed horrific acts that I had never known about.
posted by jb at 8:14 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


This week I'm not seeing that big of a contrast between his comedic masculinity and his apparently criminal masculinity. But I'm feeling a bit cisphobic this week so that's likely my baggage.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 8:55 AM on February 3, 2016


The only Cosby I can abide now is House of Cosbys.
posted by Bob Regular at 11:40 AM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Very late to the table here, and excellent points have been made all-round.

I would like to offer my thought that taking scorched-earth positions on appreciating art made by people revealed to have done terrible things - while perfectly understandable - may contribute to a cultural sluggishness to act on allegations against artists and celebrities in the future.

If you can't stomach an artists work after learning new details of their life, certainly abstain!

And I would agree that continuing to patronize artists that (may) continue to act in a vile fashion has serious moral implications.

But to demand that people fully disengage with the problematic, or even atrocious people that make art sets up an equation every time rumors or allegations start to swirl:

If the truth of this means losing this art and/or person forever, can I afford this to be true?

I think that even really ethical, survivor-supporting people risk some version of this, even if subconsciously.

The more balanced approach (advocated by Nadawi among others) of having a dialogue about the bad people that make great work, doesn't let artists off the hook, while allowing people as audience to hold on to things that may be formative or essential parts of their character.
posted by AAALASTAIR at 12:54 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


for what it's worth, i advocate not having a broad brush reaction to every problematic thing an artist might have done and instead look at things on a case by case basis. if someone is as big of a predator as bill cosby, scorched earth is entirely appropriate especially as he's still walking around contributing to harm against his victims. i also still fail to understand what art is left if people separate cosby out of it since his art is himself. i don't demand anyone else approach things in the way that i do, but i do watch how people react and discuss these things to make my own calculations about if i feel safe around them.
posted by nadawi at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


I would suggest that historical distance makes a big difference, especially when the person in question is currently facing criminal charges and civil liability that may very well be decided on the basis of public perception of whether he's a nice guy or not.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 1:15 PM on February 3, 2016


It's funny. I mostly watched The Cosby Show on reruns in middle school, at a time when my household was very chaotic and my homelife at its traumatic peak. I'd rush home to watch it--there were two reruns aired on UPN right after school got out. What I liked about it was that this was a family with rules and reasonable expectations for behavior. Sometime around the time my mother kicked my out for the first time, I remember following her around the house begging me for rules. A curfew. A bedtime. Instead, she'd just suddenly get angry about behavior that had been tolerated ten minutes before.

When I was pregnant with my daughter, I rewatched The Cosby Show expecting to be comforted in the same way. And on the one hand, it was familiar, and that was good. But I was thinking so much about the parent I wanted to be that watching huge chunks of the show revealed . . . well, kind of horrific elements. Theo's struggles in school before it's revealed he has a learning disability. The strict rules about the girls' dress and make-up and dating, in contrast to the way Theo was treated. The weird mounting abuse of Vanessa by Clair. As an adult, the Huxtable household didn't seem nearly as utopian as I'd believed as a tween.

So I guess I'd mourned the Huxtable family already by the time I'd heard the news about Bill Cosby. In a way . . . it almost fit. Which made me sad, but makes sense. The things we don't see as kids who are desperate for narratives of normalcy. Maybe normalcy doesn't exist, even in fiction.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 1:17 PM on February 3, 2016 [8 favorites]


As I’ve said before, I strongly suspect that this is a decision we each make based on emotion and then try to buttress with words. That doesn't make the decision suspect, of course, but it does mean that we're not likely to get very far arguing with one another about it.

I don’t, for instance, think that the “you enrich this person by supporting their art” thing helps me refine my normative ethics. It's useful as a practical rule; I definitely don’t want to end up directing money to Cosby that he can use to fight his accusers, so that’s a good enough reason for me not to buy any DVDs of his shows, or for BET to decide they don’t want to air his show anymore.

But if we make that the moral rubric, one could argue that (e.g.) listening to Rock and Roll, Part 2 is an act of varying morality based on exactly when you listened to it: totally OK when we had no idea about Gary Glitter's crimes, totally OK in the future after he's dead, and reprehensible during the years that we knew he was an at-large sexual abuser of children. Right now he's in prison, hence in little position to be enriched — but I doubt that changes how anyone feels about the song, and if he dies in prison I doubt I'll start hearing the song again in football stadiums.

(Again, totally on board with not giving money to Gary Glitter or Bill Cosby — just saying that's an obvious make-the-present-better thing that is separate from the larger moral question.)

I almost wish that it worked this way — an awful person dies and we get to celebrate the unchaining of the art they made. There's an odd poetry in that. But if Bill Cosby were to die tomorrow I doubt many people in these threads would change their minds on his art.
posted by savetheclocktower at 2:27 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


I think the ethics of this were made clear to me on the drive home. Right now, today, Cosby's lawyer argued that he's such a nice guy that a DA verbally gave him immunity from prosecution in perpetuity. Right now, today, Cosby's lawyer is using his standing as an artist in the community to legally bully witnesses and victims.

If, and hopefully when those questions are decisively settled, I think it might be reasonable to judge the distance between artist and art. But not while Cosby's artistic persona is central to legal action happening right now, today.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:44 PM on February 3, 2016 [3 favorites]


"for what it's worth, i advocate not having a broad brush reaction to every problematic thing an artist might have done and instead look at things on a case by case basis. if someone is as big of a predator as bill cosby, scorched earth is entirely appropriate especially as he's still walking around contributing to harm against his victims."

Fair enough. I certainly don't mean to put words in your mouth.

As the Jian Ghomeshi trial starts, this topic has come up a lot lately, and I've seen people hesitant to fully turn their backs on something or someone meaningful to them "before all the facts are out" - when I wonder if they could be more quickly supportive of victims if we were broadly comfortable having complex cultural relationships with famous people, rather than something closer to a 'heroes and villains' dichotemy.

I agree that there is no 'right' response to these types of situations, particularly at an individual level.
posted by AAALASTAIR at 4:02 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


people wanting to maintain their relationships with abusers is why victims aren't believed. i don't think they need more space for that. there's this very untrue trope that as soon as someone is accused of rape their lives are ruined. it almost never goes that way. it's almost always the victims that lose out on friends, family, opportunities, prestige, and the rest of what makes up living. cosby is one of the best proofs we've ever had for that.
posted by nadawi at 8:34 PM on February 3, 2016 [2 favorites]


Dee Lockett: Bill Cosby Sues Andrea Constand for Breach of Contract (emphasis mine)
The newly redacted lawsuit says Cosby is suing Constand, her mother, her lawyer, and the Enquirer's publisher for breach of contract regarding "disclosed information that they promised to keep secret," dating back to Constand's 2005 civil suit against Cosby, which was settled in 2006 under terms of confidentiality. He is seeking return of the funds he paid to Constand in the settlement due to her alleged cooperation with police regarding his criminal charges. Cosby argues that, because Constand and her mother are Canadian citizens, they "were under no legal obligation" to participate with the reinvestigation and, along with Constand's attorney, Dolores Troiani, are in breach of the settlement agreement. Cosby's suing American Media, Inc., for allegedly breaking contractual obligations with him by covering the dozens of allegations against him.
posted by zombieflanders at 11:34 AM on February 18, 2016 [1 favorite]


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