Shaming Bill Cosby: Separating the Human from the Celebrity

Photo courtesy of Shawn, Flickr Creative Commons

In lieu of the brave women who have recently reported their horrifying stories of sexual assault, drugs and a memory-addled night with Bill Cosby, I am obliged as a college student to wonder how our generation can reckon with this information since we dotingly name our giant, bizarre sweaters after the perpetually wrinkled comedian.

When shocking allegations against a celebrity occur, as they so often do, we as the general public, who have the power to build or break a celebrity, will undermine the significance of our responses.

I watched the clip of comic Hannibal Buress and his chilling intention provoked me to think about celebrities on a grander scale: “I want to just at least make it weird for you to watch Cosby Show reruns.”

Countless times, the media will expose the globally renowned celebrities who have also just happened to commit heinous offenses: Terry Richardson, Woody Allen, O.J. Simpson, Mike Tyson, R. Kelly, CeeLo Green and even Sean Kingston. Half of these situations were so unfamiliar to me, yet could everyone else be in the dark about them too?

The point is, should society remove these figures from the level of idolization that we have placed them?

In high school, I discovered my love for Woody Allen films and I could spend entireweekends watching one film after another. Allen’s thought-provoking themes asked me to reflect on the meaning of my life through a comedic lens.

When Mia Farrow’s daughter wrote a letter to the media, recounting the traumatic memory in which she blatantly accuses Allen of assaulting her as a child, I was quick to mentally dismiss it and pretend it did not exist. I did not want to bear the reminder every time I watched  Annie Hall that he was also the same man that violated a child’s body.

So when Buress urges the audience to be conscious of Cosby’s reputation while simultaneously watching his family-friendly show, I suppose he wants every person to be inflicted with the same reminder. I can relate to the difficulty of it. When the person who has impacted us the most is held accountable for violating the values they have been advocating, how do we reckon with this?

I have had countless arguments with people about the topic and the question comes down to: should we divorce the individual from the body of work they have created? Can we separate their individual actions from their moments of success?

You absolutely cannot.

The thing is, celebrities have attained their power through our glamorization of their lifestyles. Allen’s films may combine Groucho Marx one-liners and cultural facets to diversify his film, but he is still the man who does not understand the boundary between authority and those who entrust him with power.

Therefore, a creator of any art does not transcend the moral laws that we hold ourselves to, and once these human beings use their celebrity privilege to slip under the radar, allowing the law to somehow protect them, their bodies of work become entrenched with this surfacing information.

If Mark Twain was a racist, we must work that information into our history of him, or else we are being dishonest to all the underrepresented individuals that have been subjected to his elitist attitude. The same applies for Cosby, Allen, Green and the rest of the list. The 15 (and counting) survivors of Cosby’s sexual exploits have to reopen their wounds every time the public rejects their story.

I think it is our obligation, if we honor ourselves with the humanity we believe to have, to heal the survivors—not Cosby’s reputation.