I’ve been pondering a question for some time now and I’m not sure where I’m going to land on it. I’m not sure that I’m the person to answer the question, but more importantly there may not be a right answer. Recently I went down a YouTube rabbit hole of BB King videos. BB King is my favorite guitar player and the reason that 19 year old me bought a guitar. I came across the video of his appearance on The Cosby Show and remembered it fondly and started watching it. It was great and BB was great in it, obviously he is a guitar legend, and while watching it I was reminded of how perfect this episode was for the 80’s. This was based around a family and a style of music that wasn’t normal for broadcast television at the time. I loved it at the time and still love it now. My guitar hero was killing it and it made me so very happy.
Cut to a few seconds later and the fond reminiscence of that clip turned to sadness. Not for BB King, he’ll forever be my favorite, but for allowing myself to enjoy the context of that video. Was it OK for me to smile at that clip when I now have the current knowledge that while it was being filmed, the main character of the show it was on was committing sexual assault and using his platform to treat women horribly. Over 50 women came forward telling us that Bill Cosby was a terrible human being and a predator to women. I didn’t have that information then, but I very much have it now, so should that change my memories? It’s hard to compartmentalize, but is that missing the point of the enjoyment of art? Because of one man? I completely see the point of view, it’s hard to miss…..Bill Cosby is a terrible person and everything that he played a part in will forever be tainted and fuck him for life.
I get that and it is an excellent point. Maybe the only point, but for the sake of discussion, can I ask a follow up question?
The Cosby Show was on for 8 seasons and had a cast and crew of over 500 people working full time. A cast and crew and writing staff and directors that were working full time in an industry that was not treating them equally. It’s not secret that minorities having that kind of platform was not common, so on that information alone, this show made history. So if person 501 was Bill Cosby doing the things he was doing to women, then does that make the other 500 now historically meaningless? That is the thought I am left with. I tried to watch an entire episode to see where I landed. I turned on the episode where the entire family is lip syncing to Ray Charles for their Grandparents anniversary. I’m positive you have seen it and prior to finding out about Cosby, was included in some of the most memorable moments in TV history.
So I sat and watched as some of my favorite characters from the show are putting on a masterful performance. People that I grew up with and adored. People that had nothing to do with anything Bill Cosby has ever done or been accused of. The problem was that in the middle of all of this was Bill Cosby. I mean it is The Cosby Show, so he’s going to be there in every episode. His presence ruined it. All I could think of was these beautiful people that had no idea (hopefully) that the man they adored and the reason they were employed was a complete monster in private. A man they revered and thought of as a leader in their life and in the charity community was doing things to women that is unforgivable and that he should have been in prison that entire time. I couldn’t separate that fact and probably never will.
That is the case for many of the recent men in the TV and film industry that now have no career for similar reasons. Cosby was the touchstone for me, but I can’t enjoy one second of a Louis CK stand up bit now because of what he did. I am not watching Kevin Spacey movies anymore. I can’t separate it. I shouldn’t have to, but that is where we are and we are here for excellent reasons and reasons that shouldn’t have taken as long as they did. People like Louis are going to be back eventually. He will be forgiven, I’m certain of it, but after he is forgiven and goes on all of the talk shows and has his career back, it will always be in my mind that he used a position of power to treat women in an unspeakable way.
If he is truly sorry and has truly changed, then let him back on stage. I’m not saying he should be outcast for the rest of this life. People can change and people deserve forgiveness, I’m not saying he doesn’t. What I think I am saying is that I can’t separate it. Maybe others can and I just don’t want to and that is fine too. I grew up in a house with my mom and two sisters. I grew up in a family of strong women. I have a wife and a daughter and a baby girl on the way, so women have and will continue to have an influence on how I think, in the best of ways, and that is where I land. I can’t separate life and art when the life we speak of is such heinous acts of cruelty.
Stephen Balding is the founder of Cinema Soapbox. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org