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Earlier this year, I admitted that the moral quandary many face about recognizing R. Kelly’s misdeeds and being fans of his music has never been an issue for me. Not because I’m any more or less moral than those struggling with — or just straight not caring about — his history with young girls, but because R. Kelly has never been essential for me. A silent boycott of his work takes no effort. I don’t need to hear “Ignition” or “Bump & Grind” ever again. And, I already sit during step songs, so there’s no hesitation about using “Step in the Name of Love” as an opportunity to refill my drink. Plus, the type of music R. Kelly is famous for doesn’t allow for much cognitive dissonance. As I said in the piece,”…he makes crazy, nasty, deviant sex music because he’s a crazy, nasty sex deviant. These are not two separate parts of him.“
But, if Ghostface or Kanye were facing those types of allegations, I can’t definitely say I’d be able to be as righteous. Let me put it this way: Of the 1500 songs currently stored in my iPhone, maybe 300 of them are Wu or Kanye-related. I hope I’d be able to make the right the decision and cut them out the way I have with R. Kelly, but I can’t say with complete confidence that I would.
This brings us to Bill Cosby. If these multiple allegations are true — and there’s no doubt in my mind that they are — you could argue that The Cosby Show and every iconic character from The Cosby Show, including Clair Huxtable — the patron saint emeritus of Bougie Black Girls — should be considered the way we consider R. Kelly’s work now.
Others have made this point. From Salon’s Brittney Cooper:
Meanwhile, Cosby has lived a lie. He has asked us to invest not only in the lie of his own life, but in the larger lies of black respectability and patriarchy. His own crimes demonstrate in black-and-white the diseased, misogynistic, violent thinking at the heart of patriarchy. And as much as I might love “The Cosby Show,” we should perhaps consider it “fruit of the poisonous tree.”
When you consider, as Maya Francis also did several months ago, that Cosby presenting himself as the epitome of a family man on screen while slipping drugs in women’s drinks off screen makes him the epitome of hypocrisy, it’s really not too difficult to see The Cosby Show in a different light today. I mean, could you even watch Cliff Huxtable make one of his trademark faces now without thinking about the memes generated last week?
But, what about A Different World?
No other piece of pop culture — no book, no Michael Jackson album, no season of The Wire, not even The Cosby Show itself-– has been as much of an influence on and essential to contemporary Black life; particularly for those who grew up in the 90s. There are people reading this — hundreds, likely — whose choice to attend an HBCU was in some part influenced by the trails and tribulations of the Hillman College students and staff. It, not The Cosby Show, is the most sacred of our sacred cows.
And yes, Cosby was just the creator of the show, not an actual character on it. And Debbie Allen had just as much of a hand in its creative direction. But the shadow of hypocrisy looming over The Cosby Show shades A Different World too, as Lisa Bonet’s pregnancy in 1988 upset him so much that he took her off of the show, fearing that having a single mother on the show would ruin its ratings. In a vacuum, this could just be considered an overly paternalistic but ultimately pragmatic concern. But knowing what we know about Cosby now, it’s just another example of him publicly enacting a moral authority while drowning in private immorality. His hypocrisy literally changed the entire direction of the show.
So, does this mean we’re supposed to boycott all things connected to Bill Cosby? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer to that. You have to make that choice. All I know is that, when you put A Different World in there, the question is quite a bit harder than it was before.