I, like millions of people, have a large stock of “Cosby Show” DVDs in my house. Who wasn’t enamored with the charming Huxtables? I bought them several years ago to watch with my kids, and we all laughed along and enjoyed the ride tremendously.
Now with more than twenty women alleging sexual abuse at the hands of Cosby, dating back to the 1970s and continuing on through his entertainment career, we all have a different look at the man – perhaps one of the great con-men of our generation. While the luster on the Cosby veneer has certainly diminished recently, what about his body of work? What are we to do with his entertainment legacy?
This is a difficult question. Some may not think so and will quickly destroy every thought or whisper of Cosby’s entertainment career from their psyche. That is certainly their right, and certainly not without some merit.
But is it possible to separate a performer’s work from his or her private life?
This is a question with which we need to tread lightly. Let’s pose some theoretical circumstances and see where it takes us.
What about an evangelist who preaches moral perfection, but is discovered with a prostitute. (I believe this happened at one point.) He would certainly be labeled as a hypocrite. But let’s say that his preaching encouraged someone to make radical, positive changes in their life that saved their marriage or changed their family dynamics for the better. Is that positive teaching invalidated by the action of the teacher?
Here’s a completely different scenario. Let’s say that a paroled, convicted sexual predator gets a job in a bakery, making all the bakery’s cinnamon rolls. An undercover journalist exposes the man as a convicted sexual predator who had done hard time in the past, does that mean that we shouldn’t eat the cinnamon rolls he makes?
One more. Let’s say that someone uncovers a hidden diary by an old Hollywood Legend – Jimmy Stewart, for argument’s sake – and this diary details all of his “hidden sins” about which the public never knew. Does that mean we shouldn’t watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” anymore?
Does a good message become negated by the bad actions of the person who gave the good message in the first place?
I think that answering that question in the affirmative is a dangerous way to think because all human’s are flawed. This is not in any way to excuse illegal, degrading, and illicit behavior. Any person who uses their celebrity status to get away with evil certainly deserves the scorn and legal procedures that comes back upon him or her.
But again, what about the videos? Well, here’s a few ideas.
For those who can’t stomach the sight of him anymore, throw them in the trash.
For those who can focus on the story and not the man, use them as an object lesson for your kids (when their age is appropriate.) Show the shallow facade behind celebrity. Help your kids to understand the difference between real-life and fictional drama. Show kids how to not put people on pedestals, because that is a recipe for disappointment. Teach kids how to understand the message, but not to be sucked in to the glamour and hero-worship which our media constantly gives to Hollywood.
Someone might argue that by purchases the DVDs by a disgraced celebrity is in fact putting money into his pockets. Yes, that is true, and if you don’t want to do that, don’t buy the DVDs.
But the reality is, this happens everyday when we buy pretty much anything at any store. Our money is continually flowing through corporations and financial institutions to any number of despicable people of whose individual actions we would not support. In our homogenized and globalized society, if we wanted to cut ourselves off from everyone we disagree with or everyone we think is a bad person, then we would indeed be very lonely people.
If you can, keep the message, while not supporting the faulty messenger. There’s no reason to say, “You know all those wholesome lessons from the Cosby Show? Well they were all a bunch of crap because we now know that Cosby is a bunch of crap? So forget all of those lessons and do whatever you like!”
Can we keep the message and use the circumstances as a lesson for our kids?
If yes, great. If not, then burn those DVDs.