Is Canceling “The Cosby Show” Right?

The image above is an Ansel Adams photograph. We will not feature the image of a rapist, alleged or otherwise, when it adds a celebrity factor which is inappropriate for the discussion at hand. We instead chose the most calming photo at hand to accompany this post.

by Gabriel Valdez

Fifteen women have accused comedian and actor Bill Cosby of rape. NBC and Netflix have pulled current projects involving the comedian.

When NBC and Netflix, supposedly forward-thinking and progressive networks, first began developing those new projects, the number stood at 13. At least now we know how many women both those companies will tolerate being raped before they have second thoughts.

TV Land, which relies on syndicated programming popular in prior decades, has canceled reruns of The Cosby Show.

First off, let’s get one contention out of the way. Bill Cosby is African-American, and many have complained this sort of treatment is not shown to white TV stars. TV has a lot of issues to account for when it comes to racial fairness and diversity. This is not one of them. Networks similarly pulled reruns of 7th Heaven when lead actor Stephen Collins was accused of child molestation. The idiot network (their name is such an oxymoron I refuse to repeat it) that ran Here Comes Honey Boo Boo pulled current production on a new season when similar accusations plagued their show.

The other contention is that Cosby hasn’t been found guilty by any court of law. Many of these acts happened 30 years ago. The statute of limitations has run out. Evidence of rape that women hid because of Cosby’s fame won’t have lasted three decades. Cosby’s been accused by, what, 15 women now? What’s the magic number we have to reach before people finally admit, yeah, he’s likely guilty even if our court system isn’t built to handle this situation?

As much as I’d like to suggest it, we’re not talking about sending him to jail. We’re talking about whether a TV show should be canceled or not. Legal arguments have no ramification on this discussion.

As for canceling reruns of The Cosby Show, I’m of two minds about it. Part of me says pull it from rotation. His name’s in the damn title and it communicates his celebrity overrides such a heinous crime as rape.

The other part says it’s not as if fellow actors, such as Phylicia Rashad or Malcolm Jamal Warner, ever did anything wrong. It’s not just Cosby’s show; it belongs to other cast and crew, too. Yet they’re having their biggest claims to fame pulled from syndication.

I don’t know that there is a blanket right or wrong answer for what TV Land – or any network – should do in this situation. When there is no right or wrong answer, I tend to ask myself, what makes the most difference now? What helps the most?

The Cosby Show was important to racial politics in the United States. It helped change how African-Americans and their families were perceived by white America, particularly among middle class and suburban households. Those same households engaged in discussions about race and prejudice in a way they might not have without The Cosby Show. It also gave African-Americans positive, non-stereotypical role models on television. There is no denying that and there is no overstating the difference that it made.

There’s a key word in there, however. It “was” important. It still is to some extent, but it’s had 30 years to make its difference and communicate its message. One of TV Land’s roles is to act as a museum, yes, but the role of museums is to use their function to help shape and educate the culture of tomorrow. Is the role of The Cosby Show today more important than the act of canceling it can be?

In light of how our society dismisses women in situations of rape by ignoring and discrediting them, I think The Cosby Show can play just as important a role today as it once did. It can be sacrificed. It can carry a second message forward, one holding perpetrators of sexual violence more accountable for their actions no matter their stature, wealth, or position of power. The Cosby Show can now help change perceptions in male America. It can start discussions about gender equality and sexual violence in households that otherwise might not have them.

Whether it’s their intent or not (and they certainly kept The Cosby Show running when the number was at 13), TV Land is sending a message by canceling The Cosby Show now. That message is one of greater accountability. It is not the end of a conversation, nor the beginning of it, but it will include more people in that conversation.

Going forward, TV Land should replace The Cosby Show with a show that stars an African-American cast and communicates similar messages of racial equality. The Cosby Show has engendered many worthy successors in communicating acceptance. It would be a shame if it were to be replaced by, say, reruns of Friends. I won’t pretend to be an expert on African-American roles on television. If I were to make suggestions for replacement shows, it would be from a more limited scope of knowledge than someone who is. TV Land should communicate with African-American men and women who are experts in order to decide on a worthy replacement.

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