Can We Still Laugh At The Cosby Show?

I LOVE TV. I do. I’ve pointed it out here may times and if you read my bio here, you’ll even see I was a member of the Broadcast Television Journalists Association for a while.

Growing up, I loved TV too. Like many of you Modern Men, TGIF was a staple in our home. Family comedies would get us all around the television on weeknights.

This week, Bill Cosby was sentenced to 3-10 years in jail for unspeakable acts towards unwilling women. One of a growing number of our former favorites in the entertainment world being shown for the creeps they really are. Watching a childhood ‘hero’ being led away in in suspenders and handcuffs was a surreal moment for me.

Bill Cosby is taken away in handcuffs after he was sentenced to three-to 10-years for felony sexual assault on Tuesday, Sept. 25, 2018, in Norristown, Pa. (Mark Makela/Pool Photo via AP)

I got to thinking about the show – The Cosby Show was known as one of the best family sitcoms in the history of television. It was a shining light for race, family and love. It was one of my family favorites. The performances by Phylicia Rashad, Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Lisa Bonet, Tempestt Bledsoe, Keshia Knight Pulliam, Sabrina Le Beauf, Earle Hyman, Deon Richmond (BUD!) and so many others were amazing to watch.

From the opening credit dance sequences to the way the kids were taught lessons to the way Cliff and Claire loved each other… the show made us filled with glee. (Well, maybe not the later seasons – or as I call them, the Raven Symone and random cousin seasons.)

But now, as the man in the funky sweater is led away in irons, what happens to the legacy of the show? Are we able to separate the man and his deeds from the entertainment we all enjoyed?

I’m torn on where I stand on the question. Part of me still wants to watch and enjoy the show, but so much of me is upset for the women that this man abused.

I went to social media and asked the ‘hive’ what they thought and got back some interesting opinions.

Many feel they cannot separate the man from the character:

“The Cosby Show is a hard watch now because the show was positioned as wholesome, and the star turned out to be a monster.”

“I’ve caught a few reruns since this all broke & I have to admit I found it harder to laugh.”

“While I am always suspicious of public persona (Cosby was never Cliff Huxtable, he was an actor playing a part) because I know the difference between reality and fiction, Cosby allowed the role to merge with his personality, making the show a nonstarter anymore. There’s not enough distance between the artist and the work to make it viable.”

I asked one of our Facebook followers how this may be different that still loving Glengarry Glen Ross or The Usual Suspects with Kevin Spacey. Or Braveheart after all the accusations about Mel Gibson.

“That’s a little different. In that case, they are very clearly actors and their roles and their personas are different. That’s not so true with Cosby – he linked it all together in a way he can’t get away from now.”

Cobsy, of course, is known for more than the show – his stand-up comedy was renown as some of the best ever. But that too, is now in the shadow of who he truly is.

“Bill Cosby’s albums were staples of my childhood. The comedy is so indelibly linked to the personality, though, that I haven’t been able to bring myself to listen to them since the many allegations came to light.”

“I also tried to watch Himself fairly recently when it was on. It used to be, hands down, my favorite comedy special & I just couldn’t get past this to enjoy it. I think I’m done trying to find the funny in his work.”

But, does this mean the whole show is now unwatchable? I’m not sure. I can still fondly think of so many scenes from the show that doesn’t necessarily have Cosby’s footprint on it. The kids, the songs, Bud not liking croutons. Theo and his Gordon Gartrell shirt. Or, do we owe it to ourselves to just shut it all off?

“I still love the scenes with the kids, but I just didn’t enjoy seeing him on screen.”

One follower thinks we must cut off the whole thing:

“They enjoyed their time in the sun and most have moved on to new projects. His shows should be pulled off the air.”

On Instagram, a follower wonders if we should feel bad about enjoying it:

“I think it can be hard to separate the art from the artist. While the Cosby Show and his standup material are undoubtedly tainted, I don’t think we should feel guilty for enjoying them.”

One voice in the Social Media crowd is perfectly at peace with separating the man from the characters:

“It hasn’t stopped me from watching The Cosby Show. It is just as funny as it was when it originally aired.”

In the end, it’s our own inner work to figure out where we stand. One Facebook follower summed it up perfectly:

“I think that it is up to everyone to decide what their own tolerance is. I would completely understand if people walked away from any work made by people they find objectionable. What’s great about America is that we have the freedom to engage (or not engage) however we like.”

As for me, the man deserves to rot in jail for what he did. I am not conflicted on that point, in the least.

As for the show – I still don’t know. I think it’s still too fresh. Maybe in time, but I just don’t know.

What about you? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Thanks,
Keith

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