Prior to the announcement of the verdict yesterday, I had been engaged in an existential conflict about whether to own up to watching snippets of old Cosby Show episodes in spite of my past declaration that I would not. I had not yet resolved that dilemma because I was not expecting such a quick conviction...but life comes at you fast. And while it doesn't matter to a single person other than my own judgmental conscience, I have made my decision. I will reveal it after you read parts of the earlier version of this piece:
Every now and then the Hub sneaks up on me when I'm channel surfing. And what tends to happen is that I land on the Cosby Show and linger there while I surf, or sometimes, I sit there and watch a few minutes before he ridicules my weak resolve not to watch.
I loved that show. I still love that show. And I want to watch when my favorite episodes air, but I know that I resolved not to watch just last year when I said that I was not ready for reruns. So here we are again, ready to sit through another trial that will reveal more sordid details of Mr. Cosby's sexual proclivities. And I'm still not ready.
I am not ready to see him found guilty, which makes me feel the same uneasiness I felt years ago when I made the same declaration with respect to Michael Jackson. I resolved that MJ dilemma for myself in what I would call a convenient manner...I chose not to believe any of the more serious allegations. I still don't, yet I accept that one of my favorite pop idols was a troubled and complicated man. And I admit that my choice was made a lot easier by MJ's tragic and sad death a few years after his last trial.
What I am ready to admit is that I expect a similar personal resolution of this Cosby matter. Not that I will choose to believe in his innocence (because I don't). Not that I will eventually allow my sympathies for his family and their suffering to soften my heart (although I have nothing but sadness for the trauma this family has endured, in the past and most recently). Not because I expect for him to die a broken man with a very complicated legacy (which will likely happen). Not because I think Tom Mesereau is some special kind of jury whisperer (even if this track record suggests that might be so).
I will resolve this by focusing on my affection for the show. I will try to pretend that I am not disgusted by the thought that somewhere behind the scenes, there was an unsuspecting aspiring actress who was promised a cameo under some elaborate pretense. I will remember how much I related to Denise, Theo, and Vanessa as peers and will try not to think about what their Dad might have been doing all those years in that basement gynecologist office. I will focus on the fact that my model of Busy Black Womanhood was Claire Huxtable, who was based on Camille Olivia Hanks...
I did indulge in one entire episode a few months ago, and I even
tweeted/posted about it because of its utility to my #HBCUJustGive campaign. I know that reads exactly like an excuse instead of an admission that I just wanted to watch that entire episode (even if it was one of my least favorites in the past). However, the Hub has not 'caught' me again as I have managed to 'remember' that the show airs on a certain channel every morning right around the same time the Hub is about to jump into the shower.
And that was the last thing I wrote before I put this piece aside. I made only slight edits to the draft, which included posting a link to the episode I referenced and adding the gif. I suspect that I will eventually resolve the dilemma of separating the actor from the character he created. The verdict hasn't changed my opinion of the show, which I still love and acknowledge for its historic and cultural significance.
However, there are other artists who can create meaningful work that deserve our support. We can always look back with fondness on the Cosby Show for what it meant, just as we can look back on other old TV shows that were products of their time (even if they are politically incorrect and culturally problematic now). I have often heard it suggested that if we were to judge every artist for their human frailties we would have no one left to admire.
Well, I reject that. I don't demand that our artists be perfect, I just expect for them to show some modicum of human decency towards others. Sexual violence towards women is not the same as being a serial philanderer. So I am under no obligation to honor Bill Cosby by continuing to support his work or defend his legacy. If I choose to watch the show, I will acknowledge that is a controversial and problematic choice given what I know about his predatory behavior towards 60 or more women. And if I'm honest, the fact that I was ever ashamed to be caught says more about my conflicted feelings and why it is much easier not to watch.