I think the problem arises when we want our celebrity idols to be more than human; to be better than human, because humans are, well, they’re not always the best. Many of them are the worst. But, liking a song, or movie, or other artistic endeavor by someone who’s done some bad things, isn’t necessarily wrong.
Having lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, and working in the entertainment industry for longer than that, I’ve probably had more brushes with celebrities than the average joe. I’ve seen and/or talked to more than a dozen TV, movie, and music stars, and no, I’m not gonna name-drop. I’m not the type to get starstruck, though. I don’t break down in a teary, blubbery mess, or scream at the top of my lungs, because a celeb looked at me, talked to me, or touched me. I just say “what’s up,” and keep it movin’.
I’ve never met Bill Cosby, R. Kelly, or Michael Jackson, but I’ve enjoyed their work over the years. I don’t feel stupid or guilty for laughing at and quoting lines from Fat Albert or The Cosby Show; for including the “Gotham City” remix on one of my mix shows; for incorporating some aspect of Michael Jackson’s music and mannerisms into just about every day of my existence since about 1975. Cosby’s recent legal troubles, and the documentaries Surviving R. Kelly and Leaving Neverland have shown us that the guys who brought most of us joy, have made quite a few of us less than joyful along the way.
What do we do now? Well, pretending they don’t exist is possible, but disavowing all of their art? Not so much. The stuff about Bill Cosby has only come to light in recent years, but we’ve all known about R. Kelly and Michael Jackson for decades, and have just chosen to ignore it. I don’t personally own much of their stuff, but I don’t plan on throwing away any of my Cosby, Kelly, or Jackson records. Bobbing my head to “Billie Jean” doesn’t mean I condone what Michael allegedly did in his private life. It just means it’s a funky tune, and I like it.
If you dig deep enough, and talk to certain people enough, you’ll find out that everyone, famous or not, has something that they’d rather keep to themselves; it could be as innocuous as having a sixth toe on your left foot, or as egregious as sexual abuse. It doesn’t mean you instantly stop liking their art. It just means you know right from wrong, and your moral compass is better calibrated than theirs.
Cosby admitted to doing it. Kelly and Jackson vehemently denied doing it, but they probably did it, too. Do I know for sure? No. And neither do you. Does it matter? Only to the people they did it to; to them, it’s all that matters. The two guys who said they were sexually assaulted by Jackson probably are still fans of his music. Erasing their art is impossible, but if you don’t want to partake of it, then don’t. But don’t look down your nose at those of us who do.
Cartoon is by Lila Ash, from MAD Magazine.