Separating the art from artist: Watching “The Cosby Show” now.

I’ve gone on before about separating the art from the artist before, and I’ve resolved that issue in my head a long time ago. If I wasn’t able to do it I would be able to listen to some of my favorite bands, after all. So I have no qualms at this point about watching The Cosby Show at home on my own time. But it did feel weird, however, to buy a few seasons of the show on DVD without knowing that the next day Bill Cosby would be found guilty of sexual assault.

I’m not going to spend my time writing this blog post trying to justify his behavior, nor any of such abhorrent behavior at large. In fact, beyond this point I’m not even going to address it. It’s out there, I don’t need to rehash it. What I am going to write about is how weird it feels to watch the show at this point.

I may have been ignorant of when the day as to when the verdict would be delivered but I wasn’t ignorant of the allegations when I bought the DVDs. I knew that it would be awkward buying them at this point but the store had them for cheap. And besides, they were used—it wasn’t like any money from my purchase would go to him even indirectly. Still, I noticed that the cashier gave a weird look when she was what I was buying. Granted, she had a general look of disinterest of being at work in general and wasn’t really interacting with customers very well in the first place. What matters is that it felt like he gave me a dirty look, probably stemming from my feelings about making the purchase in the first place.

Yet I still made the purchase, didn’t I? For all of the misconduct perpetrated by the show’s star it’s still a show that I watched obsessively throughout my childhood. For the better part of the nineties its reruns were on my local NBC affiliate when I came home from school. On top of that, it’s a quality show. I remember hearing that a good portion of each episode was improvised by the cast, using the scripts as guidelines. This meant the dialogue usually felt very natural as we followed this realistic family throughout it’s eight season-long slice of life.

Yet I wasn’t always in love with Cosby himself. Even before the allegations came to light (at least in my personal, sometimes sheltered world) I disagreed with a lot of his political and religious views, some of which even made their way into the show. I came to find him a grumpy old man, even when I went to see him live a few years ago in Portland. And I can take or leave his stand-up—he was a great storyteller, but not a great comic.

Still, he was part of some good work over the years, with this one show in particular serving as part of my upbringing. I’m not going to try justifying my love of the show as I don’t really think I need to (and why would you want me to?). I understand why some networks and online services would pull the show from their line-up/selection. It certainly makes a reasonable public relations move on their part. I can even agree with it to a point, especially so soon after the conviction. But for my own viewing (or by this point as I’ve seen each episode two dozen times or more, background noise) pleasure, The Cosby Show is not Bill Cosby. I can’t let one employee’s misconduct affect my enjoyment of the work as a whole.

I did have one uncomfortable moment, however, when binge-watching the show so soon after the conviction. The DVD releases I got contained the original, uncut episodes before they went into syndication. This meant that there was a lot of material that I have never seen before. This included an anti-drug PSA that aired before the title sequence of the ninth episode of Season 3. Considering that several of the allegations involved drugs, it’s hard to not cringe at the first seven seconds:

 

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