Bill Cosby, better known to you as Cliff Huxtable from the Cosby Show has literally inspired two generations of black people across the world. He is as instantly recognisable in Lagos, Nigeria as he is New York, United States of America. The good will he enjoyed from the relatable and non-threatening characters he played in his career as an actor and comic have helped him enter some very high places and shielded him from public scrutiny. This inscrutability, we are now discovering, helped him hide nearly thirty years of sexual assault on more than 50 women. After several high profile women came out to publicly accuse him in 2014 of rape, the world was torn between believing the women or believing Cosby who at first insisted that all the women were trying to tarnish his image after the fact.
After evidence came forward that proved he had at least assaulted some of the women who had accused him, a legal suit was brought against him, seeking a conviction and damages. The case dragged for years, and was finally brought to courts in 2017. On Saturday, the case came to an end, and was adjudged a ‘Mistrial’. A mistrial is when a case is either contaminated by bad evidence or by a jury that is equally divided between acquitting or convicting the accused. Even though Cosby refused to give testimony or call any witnesses and his team admitted he did drug and rape women, but he only did so because it was ‘fashionable’ to do so in the 80’s, the jury assembled to judge his case couldn’t agree that Cosby was a rapist. And they couldn’t do this, because they couldn’t separate the man from his work as an artist.
As people, we strongly identify with the people whose work we relate to deeply. We identify with them even more when they reinforce our beliefs and biases. This act of equating the work of an artist as synonymous with the artist as a person is why many people cannot separate Cliff Huxtable, the soft spoken, lovable patriarch who was also a medical doctor from Bill Cosby, comic and rapist. It is also why we continue to forgive Chris Brown, even after he has repeatedly shown signs of rapist behaviour, even after he physically assaulted Rihanna, and threatened the life of his then girlfriend Karreuche. It is why we side with TeeBillz over Tiwa Savage even though we know literally nothing about his private life, and excuse the blatant sexism of AY.
An artist’s work is just that, their work. Art and the fame it brings confers on to many artists an inflated sense of self and unwelcome entitlement. Entitlement that leads of misogyny and rapey behaviour. We have to learn to hold our artists and celebrities to a higher standard, to ask more of them, especially that they be decent human beings in their private lives. And sometimes this might mean taking away our support for their work. They might not listen to us, but all artists, no matter how entitled, listen to our money and our wallets. We have to use that, otherwise we will continue to have Bill Cosby’s and Chris Brown’s get away with hitting, drugging and raping women.