THAT’S The Concept I Was Looking For—“Cultural Vandalism”!

Does he still seem like God to you?

“Cultural vandalism”!

Perfect! That’s the ideal description of what artists, especially performing artists, do when they engage in such revolting conduct that it becomes difficult or impossible for us to enjoy their work the way we could before we knew they were disgusting human beings.

We owe Vulture writer a debt of gratitude, not only for identifying the conduct as cultural vandalism (a term usually reserved for acts like stealing the Elgin Marbles), but also for explaining, in his article The Cultural Vandalism of Jeffrey Tambor, clearly and powerfully, why it is a serious ethical breach beyond the misconduct itself.

He writes in part,

Once I know something like this, it makes it impossible for me to look at the actor and not think of the horrible things they’ve allegedly done. I don’t care to argue whether this is rational or not (I think it is), or whether I hold inconsistent opinions of works that are problematic for whatever reason (everyone does). The repulsed feeling is still there, and it makes a difference in how I react as a spectator…This sort of thing seems categorically different from, say, watching a film starring an actor whose political beliefs are different from yours (though there, too, a line could be irrevocably crossed). Once you believe that a particular actor or filmmaker or screenwriter is a predator or abuser, you’re aware that the environment that produced your entertainment — the film set — was engaged in a conscious or reflexive cover-up, in the name of protecting an investment. You can still be passionately interested in the thing as a historical or aesthetic document — seeing it through the eyes of, say, an art historian who can contextualize Paul Gauguin within the totality of 19th-century painting, or an African-American studies professor who’s fascinated by Gone With the Wind — but you can’t lose yourself in it anymore. You can’t be in love with it. You can’t really enjoy it in the most basic sense, not without playing dumb.

You didn’t do that to the artist. The artist did that to himself…

And it’s awful. People’s lives get ruined, their careers get interrupted or destroyed. The emotional, physical, and financial damage that problematic artists inflict on people in their orbit should always be the first and main subject of discussion…On top of all that, we also have the collateral damage of cultural vandalism. Fun, meaningful, even great works that dozens or hundreds of people labored over, that built careers and fortunes and whole industries, become emotionally contaminated to the point where you can’t watch them anymore…. in recent years, an entire wing of African-American cultural history has been vaporized by the Bill Cosby allegations and his recent felony sexual-assault trial, including the most popular sitcom of the ’80s (The Cosby Show), some of the top-selling comedy albums of all time, the precursor to the R-rated buddy comedy genre (Uptown Saturday Night and its sequels), and the first Saturday morning cartoon with a predominantly black cast (Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids). Predators’ careers are getting raptured, as well they should be. But unfortunately — perhaps inevitably — their work is getting raptured along with it, imploding into dust as the culture moves on to things that aren’t as problematic (or that might have skeezy stuff going on behind the scenes that we don’t know about yet)….

…Nobody is stopping anyone from watching these works (though they’re no longer as easy to find, and you probably have to own a DVD player). We can still talk about them, study them, write about them, contextualize them. But the emotional connection has been severed. The work becomes archival. It loses its present-tense potency, something that significant or great works have always had the privilege of claiming in the past.

That’s all on the predators. It’s not on you. None of us asked for this.

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Cognitive Dissonance Chronicles: Now “The Cosby Show” Is Suddenly Racist And Part Of A Conservative Plot

THE COSBY SHOW -- Season 3 -- Pictured: (front row l-r) Keshia Knight Pulliam as Rudy Huxtable, Bill Cosby as Dr. Heathcliff 'Cliff' Huxtable, Tempestt Bledsoe as Vanessa Huxtable (back row l-r) Lisa Bonet as Denise Huxtable Kendall, Malcolm-Jamal Warner as Theodore 'Theo' Huxtable, Phylicia Rashad as Clair Hanks Huxtable, Sabrina Le Beauf as Sondra Huxtable Tibideaux  (Photo by Alan Singer/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

When “The Cosby Show” was on the air on CBS from 1984 to 1992, it was unanimously praised—except by a few grumps and crackpots, for there are always grumps and crackpots—for being an unequivocally positive influence on racial understanding and the culture. Finally African American characters were on television every week who were not inner city criminals, hucksters, drug dealers or pimps. Finally, after dozens of white “Father Knows Best” style sitcoms, there was a comedy about black professionals heading a family with kids that used good grammar, didn’t skip school and were never in trouble with the law. “The Cosby Show” won awards and plaudits from educators and civil rights groups. It provided a positive model for an attainable future for black children, and an image of black Americans that combated racism by making it seem as illogical as it is. These were good people, good parents, good citizens, with the same values, hopes and dreams as everyone else.

The insidious power of cognitive dissonance is that it allows strong feelings about anyone or anything to unfairly and irrationally carry over to anything or anyone else that the object of those feelings touches. Today, as the fact that the creative force leading “The Cosby Show” had a hypocritical and despicable secret life as a sexual predator becomes undeniable, this process is triggering dangerous and ugly shifts in attitudes and advocacy. A confluence of events has resulted in Bill Cosby being teamed with the Confederate flag (remarkably, it murdered nine African American church members in Charleston! ) to trigger a troubling wave of attempted cultural and historical purges—and where it stops, nobody knows. Some progressives want to wipe all memory of Bill Cosby’s achievements from the nation’s consciousness, just as they want to  tear down every statue of a Confederate military hero and wipe the name of Robert E. Lee off hundreds of schools, streets and parks.

[Aside: Stations are now pulling The Cosby Show, once one of the most syndicated and ubiquitous of all sitcoms, from their schedules. This is just a reasonable business decision. The stations reasonably assume that the show will not be as entertaining or popular once it is impossible to watch Bill Cosby as Dr. Cliff without thinking about Dr. Cliff secretly drugging and raping his female patients. That’s not cognitive dissonance. That’s just reality. Actor Gig Young made some of the best romantic comedies of the Sixties with Doris Day and others. He was a skilled comic actor, but he murdered his wife and killed himself in a drunken rage, and it’s hard to laugh at Gig any more. Those movies are virtually never broadcast, and it is hard to find them on DVD. Among Bill’s victims are the member so of his cast, including the kids he professed to love like a father, who will lose millions in residuals because he couldn’t control his demons.]

A time machine is helpful in these matters, so Salon, the left-wing blog that is so predictable it sometimes catches me by surprise, since it is hard to believe that any publication will willfully rush into self parody, has suddenly decided that “The Cosby Show” was “based on a distorted and inaccurate presentation of the black community, one that has enabled a pernicious type of right-wing “colorblind” racism to flourish.”

Ah. Cosby is bad, so everything he did before we found out that he was bad was bad too. We weren’t just duped about him. We were duped about the values he stood for!

The author of the article is Chauncey De Vega, an African American journalist who doesn’t even try to hide one of his motives: he’s still steamed that Cosby dared to urge African American families to be responsible, and pointed out that wearing one’s pants like they do in prison wasn’t the way to get respect from employers and potential associates not recently out of prison.  Mostly, however, he is determined to re-cast “The Cosby Show” as complicit in embedding racism in U.S. society. He writes in part: Continue reading