When asked whether Bill Cosby’s U.S. Medal of Freedom ought to be revoked in light of the funnyman’s latterly somewhat depreciated status as a national role model, President Obama replied that there existed no known mechanism for such a revoker, but added in general terms that “this country, any civilized country, should have no tolerance for rape.”
There are, of course, different types of rape, the surreptitious admixture of a soporific agent to a victim’s beverage for the express purpose of undermining her or his capacity for resistance to the subsequent come-hithers by the avocational apothecary being but one.
Another type would be statutory rape, such as having sexual relations with minors, regardless of whether or not the minors involved gave that which would be considered consent if they were of age.
A Florida teacher has just been sentenced to 22 years behind bars for having gotten it on, in her mid to late twenties at the time of these transgressions, with three 17-year-old male students. (Whatever happened to the constitutional prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment?)
So at age 17, you’re an innocent child that cannot yet give consent to hooking up. Then, at age 18—i.e., overnight—you’re suddenly deemed mature enough to consent to your heart’s (or whatever else’s) content and join the armed forces to boot. Makes sense?
While the definition of rape, obviously, poses some difficulties in terms of demarcating the crime thus denoted from lesser kinds of carnal improprieties, such as a youngish teacher taking the sex ed on more-or-less grown-up students one practical step too far, a man in his early thirties bedding a 14-year-old seems a much graver offense than a lady in her twenties doing 17-year-olds.
And yet Mr Chuck “Sweet Little Sixteen” Berry not only served many fewer than 22 years in the pokey for precisely that (granted, at a different time and in a different state) but was later afforded Kennedy Centers Honors in 2000, with the full knowledge by the nominating committee of the legendary rock’n’roller’s status as a convicted rapist.
Unlike the U.S. Medal of Freedom, Kennedy Center Honors are awarded, I suppose, solely for artistic achievements, not for personal probity and the leading of an exemplary life, as goes for sidewalk stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Some have called for Cosby’s star to be removed, a request that has been declined by the officials in charge of these asteroid inlays. Understandably so, for if a precedent were to be set of such star removal following revelations of private misconduct by a celebrity, a whole slew of stars would likely have to be ripped out eventually, as evolving standards of decency steadily narrow our margin of tolerance for a variety of formerly connived-at attitudes and behaviors.
So how do we—and to what extent should we—separate the artist from their work?
Imagine you owned an anonymous painting you loved that’s been hanging above the mantelpiece in your living room for years. Then one day you learn it was painted by Adolf Hitler. Oops. Now what? The painting is still the same, yet your most likely natural reaction will be to light a fire in the fireplace, don a pair of rubber gloves, take the now highly disagreeable item off your wall and transfer it from above to beneath the mantelpiece for its immediate incineration.
Folks like Hitler, of course, inhabit a category by themselves. But how about those guilty of lesser offenses than masterminding a holocaust?
Should we stop listening to Chuck Berry tunes because their creator knew (in the OT sense of “to know”) a 14-year-old Apache girl? What exactly does “no tolerance for rape” entail?
What if it were revealed that the relationship between Elvis and underage Priscilla hadn’t been quite as platonic as previously reported, which would render the king of rock a child rapist? (What’s with a grown man inviting a beautiful teenage girl to come live at his house anyway? He only liked her “as a person.” Sure. And I’m Elvis.)
And should we withhold our support or patronage from every outlet that continues to sell or air the Beatles version of “Long and Winding Road” because it was produced by Phil Spector, who is currently serving 19 to life for, of all things, murder?
Aside from the fact that we’re punishing not only Bill Cosby but every one of his innocent co-stars (including Geoffrey Owens, whose Shakespeare script analysis class I used to take at HB Studio in NYC—who knew that off-cam Elvin was a Shakespeare whiz?), not to mention all those that worked behind the scenes, by blacklisting The Cosby Show from here on out, the show itself hasn’t changed. The skeletons in the protagonist’s home closet may lend a more complex—you might say creepy—dimension to the product, but they cannot retroactively turn a good show into a bad show that deserves to be shunned indefinitely as if it were a painting by the Führer.
Look at it this way:
In the Christian spirit of redemption, the least Bill Cosby can do to make amends for his wrongdoing is to continue to make us laugh through his work.
Other than that, to the extent to which his unsavory antics can be proven, let the legal system rearrange the guy’s teeth in whatever manner the law provides.
Related Post: The Cosby Raped Me Show