Wow, this is really something. The AP has released a video of Bill Cosby being interviewed on November 6th and asked, by a clearly nervous journalist (his voice shakes), about the rape allegations.
“No, no, we don’t answer that,” Cosby said when the reporter asked him to respond to Hannibal Buress doing a bit about how Cosby is a hypocrite because he lectures people on morality while being accused of rape himself. The “we” isn’t him being pompous by using the royal “we”. His wife is being interviewed with him. That said, he’s Bill Cosby, so you can imagine the level of intimidating authority he is capable of bringing to the situation, which clearly works, since the reporter is flustered. But when he pushes, Cosby, with a kind of remarkable assurance that he has control over this situation says, “There is no comment about that and I’ll tell you why. I think you were told, I don’t want to compromise your integrity, but I don’t talk about it.”
At the end of the interview, Cosby returns to the question, framing it the same way, as if he’s the arbiter of morals keeping this young journalist in line:
I know I didn’t say anything, but I’m asking your integrity that since I didn’t want to say anything, but I did answer you in terms of I didn’t want to say anything, what value would it have? I would appreciate it if it was scuttled. I think if you want to consider yourself to be serious, that it will not appear anywhere.
Say it with me now:
Bill Cosby probably disapproves of video games, but he does share with Gamergaters this belief that “ethics” or perhaps “integrity” means refusing to investigate injustice or unfairness, at least to women.
I will say that this whole thing should be, if they were capable of it, a learning moment for Gamergaters about how to handle learning about how sexism has affected some entertainment product that matters to you. While it’s never fun to hear credible rape allegations about someone—after all, rape is always sad—I think I’m speaking for a lot of us, especially those of us who grew up in the 80s, when I say it’s particularly devastating to hear this about Bill Cosby. The Cosby Show was, for good reasons, a beloved sitcom that really helped create the idea of “must-see TV”. Sure, if you look back on it now, it seems a bit corny and dated, but a) it was supposed to be “family friendly” and b) compared to most sitcoms at the time, it still holds up as well-timed and well-written, with interesting characters. Which is why kids like me could not be pried from the set when it was on. I would throw fits if forced to miss it. Nostalgia has a powerful pull in this way.
And the credibility of these accusations colors the show in ways that are now inescapable. By and large, most people remember the show as really progressive on gender for its time, particularly with Claire Huxtable having a powerful, full-time job and being shown hustling for work all the time, and no one seemed to think twice about it. But knowing this about Bill Cosby, well, certain things kind of stick out more. Brittney Cooper writes about this:
I’m reminded of a couple of moments that always struck me as creepy – after Denise got married, Cliff’s character felt compelled to have a conversation with Martin about whether she had been a virgin on their wedding night. Martin assured Cliff that she was “inexperienced.” And on another episode when Vanessa got caught sneaking out with her boyfriend, he used the infamous apple demonstration to ascertain whether or not they had had sex. I understand the parent of a teenager wanting to know for a variety of reasons about the level of sexual activity of their 16 year old, but he coulda kept the ocular demonstration. And the inquiry into his married daughter’s sex life was hella inappropriate, and perhaps offers us a clue into the mind of a sexual predator.
Obviously, Cliff Huxtable is not Bill Cosby. Cliff is a character and his controlling attitude about his daughters’ sexuality was part of that character, an extremely realistic part given that this was the 80s. However, the show definitely endorsed Cliff’s overtly patriarchal leanings, particularly in that apple episode Cooper mentions. I had forgotten about it until she mentioned it, but yeah, even then I found it a tad confusing. My aunt was Vanessa’s age and she was allowed to have boyfriends. Every teenager I knew was. But even as a kid you know some parents are too conservative and I just didn’t think about it more than that. But now, as Cooper says, that controlling, sexist attitude doesn’t read as “a little conservative” anymore, but scary.
In many cases, like with Roman Polanski, it’s easy enough to separate the art from the artist and say, well, he’s a dick but Rosemary’s Baby is a masterpiece. That’s nearly impossible to do with Cosby, however, since Cosby himself is the product in many ways and his most famous character was a mouthpiece for ideas and values that Cosby wanted to push. Plus, this is a transgression against many of our childhoods, because that warm memory of watching The Cosby Show is forever tainted. It’s a perfect storm of shit, and it would totally be understandable if folks wanted to pretend none of this has happened so that our memories remained, for better or worse, pure. Indeed, that’s half the reason why these allegations seem to have gone down the memory hole in the past.
But you know what? There are fifteen accusers, five are named, and the stories span decades. The responsible thing to do is to not to selfishly cling to the idea that something you liked was somehow perfect, but to accept this reality and modify your attitudes about things like The Cosby Show accordingly. And if people can do this for The Cosby Show, by god, it’s not really a huge ask to let people note that some video games are sexist without threatening to burn down the fucking planet over it. After all, accepting a game you like is sexist doesn’t taint the experience of the game in nearly the same way that learning that Cliff Huxtable was probably a rapist does. At the most, it means just being slightly more aware, perhaps rolling your eyes a bit, and, if you’re a developer, trying to do better next time. So next time you want to burn the house down because someone suggested the sexism of a thing you like means it’s slightly less than perfect, remember that it’s really not that bad. After all, it’s not like having a big part of your childhood ruined for you. And it sure as hell isn’t even close to the same as having to endure sexism—or sexual violence—aimed at you. Perspective, folks. Perspective.