We could be watching bitter former groupies or mistresses lie about an innocent man. We could be watching some delayed justice catch up with a filthy serial rapist. I simply can't call it. Women can and do lie about being raped. Men can and do get away with rape. People who claim that women never lie about rape or that men are constantly beset with false allegations of rape generally have ideological or personal axes to grind.
I wanted to write about this situation because of the news that TVLand cancelled reruns of The Cosby Show. Because apparently if you watch The Cosby Show you support rape or something. Other people are asking if we should boycott reruns of A Different World.
I wrote on this before but I am not a huge fan of linking enjoyment of or appreciation for people's artistic accomplishments to who they are morally. If you consistently do that you won't enjoy much art. In her memoir Lena Dunham revealed that as a child and teen she had what many people would consider at best an odd relationship with her younger sister. At worst she was a molester.
As she grew, I took to bribing her for her time and affection: one dollar in quarters if I could do her makeup like a “motorcycle chick.” Three pieces of candy if I could kiss her on the lips for five seconds. Whatever she wanted to watch on TV if she would just “relax on me.” Basically, anything a sexual predator might do to woo a small suburban girl I was trying.
I shared a bed with my sister, Grace, until I was seventeen years old. She was afraid to sleep alone and would begin asking me around 5:00 P.M. every day whether she could sleep with me. I put on a big show of saying no, taking pleasure in watching her beg and sulk, but eventually I always relented. Her sticky, muscly little body thrashed beside me every night as I read Anne Sexton, watched reruns of SNL, sometimes even as I slipped my hand into my underwear to figure some stuff out.
Now I wouldn't watch Dunham's HBO show Girls if you paid me but if I did watch would that mean I support Dunham's perversities? No it wouldn't. One of the most beautiful rock ballads ever written, Led Zeppelin's "Ten Years Gone" was created in part by a man, Jimmy Page, who was having sex with fourteen year old girls when he was twenty-eight. That was statutory rape even back in the hedonistic seventies. If you listen to this song are you condoning sex with underage girls? Do you boycott anything Sean Penn is associated with because he once went upside Madonna's head with a baseball bat? Charlie Sheen has beaten and shot women. Mark Wahlberg committed racist hate crimes, beating a Vietnamese man so badly he went blind in one eye. So even if every allegation against Cosby is true, I don't see what that has to do with the Cosby Show. Cliff Huxtable is a fictional character. Obviously I dislike some artists for non-creative reasons. I understand that because of an artist's criminal actions or particularly vile political or racial stances there will be Americans who hate the artist. I get that. What I don't comprehend are people who want to yield to the totalitarian impulse to insist that a disgraced artist have all of his or her art eliminated so that no one can enjoy it. Just because you enjoy someone's creative impulse does not mean that you support rape or murder or any other foul action or belief. Bill Cosby may or may not be a rapist. His Fat Albert cartoons, his comedy albums and his television shows are still worthwhile additions to American culture. Life is complex like that sometimes. If you think that Cosby committed these crimes and thus can't watch his comedy routine or tv shows again, that is fine. But other people can separate art from creator and that is also fine.
The New York Times recently ran some articles disclosing that the Reverend Al Sharpton of the National Action Network and of MSNBC has not been paying his federal or state taxes. The article also alleged that Sharpton had been moving monies back and forth between his personal accounts and his business and non-profit accounts. Supposedly this also included paying his daughter's tuition bills with funds that had come from non-profit organizations. The paper alleged that the good Reverend had been ducking out on private bill paying obligations. It's unclear how much information the Times obtained from investigation of publicly available documents and how much the Times obtained from sources within the IRS or elsewhere who wanted to drop a dime on Sharpton. The paper is mum on that since some of the information it has appears to be private. Al Sharpton wasted no time finding the nearest microphone to rebut some, but not all of the charges, and blaming it on unspecified enemies who wanted to disgrace him. There is a long history of prominent black political leaders being targeted in the press and discredited by untrue or partially true allegations. Sharpton's no doubt aware of this history and seeks to place himself within that narrative.
Although I think he's FAR too much of an uncritical water carrier for the Obama Administration and a horrible utterly inarticulate television host, on a few issues I care about Sharpton's heart is in the right place. But if you're going to stand up and be counted you need to make sure your stuff is together. Historically, some social justice or civil rights organizations, particularly black ones, have been one man charismatic operations that didn't give enough priority to the mundane business necessities such as ensuring that taxes and bills were paid along with staff workers. You can't maintain the trust of the people you're supposedly fighting for if you don't keep your business tight. No one with a functioning brain stem will give their hard earned money to someone who is paying himself a hefty salary and otherwise "dealing in dirt and stealing in the name of the Lord". It's understandable that a neophyte may not know all the various local, state and federal rules and regulations or generally accepted accounting standards surrounding non-profits, taxes, licensing, financial statements, and when you can and can not mix personal and business monies. But Sharpton is not a young man. He's been at this for a while. He should know better. Get it right. And young or not, everybody has to pay taxes. Ask Wesley Snipes.