Bill Cosby: Separating the Message from the Man

Television columnist Brian Lowry has a great piece over at Variety articulating the complicated emotional response fans of Bill Cosby are having to “snowballing” accusations of sexual assault. He writes:

Beyond working clean, Cosby tapped into these universal themes in a way that almost literally guided young men from seeing through the lens of a child to early (and eventually, older) adulthood. His transition to television, moreover, yielded a historic breakthrough with his three consecutive Emmy wins, the first for an African-American lead actor, for the 1960s series “I Spy.” If “The Cosby Show” broke across lines of race in spectacular fashion two decades later, Cosby’s ability to do that as a performer had long been established on stage, screen and vinyl.

Stripped of any context, the comedy routines still hold up, but there’s no way now to separate them from their author. As new details emerge from his extended deposition, the charges of hypocrisy alone would be damning – given his Jell-O-pitching image and lectures about personal responsibility – even without the alleged criminality, rendered moot only by the statute of limitations…

In theory, it should be possible to separate who people are from what they do – but not unconditionally, especially when victims are involved. What those who once embraced Bill Cosby’s work should be allowed is grief – not for him, but for themselves, since they have experienced a kind of loss.

The Cosby scandal reveals a truth about humanity which proves uncomfortable for many of us. While it may be tempting to believe that good people do bad things, the truth is that bad people do good things.

Cosby presents a particularly stunning example. However, none of us live up to the principles we espouse, and we should not abandon principles on account of flawed spokesmen.