Jell-O Aside: The Cosby Thing
Like most people, I go about my life with a Reality Filter up and running. It sorts through the information coming at me constantly from every direction and does a pretty good job of letting in mainly what might be useful to me. Celebrity gossip often gets caught in the trap. That’s probably why I didn’t make the connection between this blog and the Bill Cosby rape allegations until a co-worker pointed it out to me last November.
I started writing this post shortly after that conversation, and got stuck. For one thing, I was reluctant (nay, chicken) to address the controversy amid all the uncertainty. Also, I won’t lie, I was conflicted. Like a lot of people around my age, I grew up with Coz, his standup routines and “Fat Albert and the Cosby Kids” and “The Cosby Show” – and, of course, the Jell-O commercials. Even after this week’s release of the 2005 deposition in which he admitted to a small portion of what he’s been accused of doing, it’s hard to square those allegations with this guy:
And yet, I do have firsthand knowledge of what it’s like when someone who “would never do something like that”, does something like that. So I could never say it was impossible, even though I wanted to give Cosby the benefit of the doubt.
While several organizations (TV Land, NBC, and UMass-Amherst, among others) have actively distanced themselves from Cosby, Kraft Food has had little to say on the issue. I did find this in an article in the Worcester Telegram, dated November 24, 2014:
Mr. Cosby notably served as a spokesman for Jell-O pudding in the 1970s. A representative for Kraft Food, the parent company of Jell-O, said Mr. Cosby started in 1974 speaking on behalf of the company and worked off and on with the brand until 2003. Spokeswoman Mary Anne McAndrew would not comment on what impact, if any, these recent allegations could have on Kraft’s product, but pointed out that Mr. Cosby has not been involved with the company “for many years.”
Colder than a frozen pudding pop.
The only other link I found associating Jell-O with the scandal was an article claiming that actor Malcolm Jamal-Warner (who played Theo Huxtable on “The Cosby Show”) had been tapped to be the new Jell-O spokesman. The source, the Nevada County Scooper, appears to be a satire site, but I don’t think they tried very hard to be funny there.
While I was doing my research for this post, I kept getting sidetracked into listening to Cosby’s old standup routines, and I’ll be damned if they aren’t still funny. Chocolate Cake for Breakfast is mostly as amusing as I remember it, though now that I’m a wife myself, Cosby’s comic depiction of his wife is less funny, and I think he has a lot to answer for among those who object to the portrayal of sitcom husbands/fathers as bumbling and inept. His Noah routine is still charming, though. And who could forget the Chicken Heart That Ate New York, in which Jell-O figures prominently? Throughout his career, Cosby’s persona has given us a positive (or, if you prefer, alternative) image of an African American man, and he has helped pave the way for the diversity that we see increasing (albeit too slowly) in the entertainment industry. His contributions to U.S. culture are not negligible.
Back in November, when I started working on this post, I was feeling more positively inclined towards Cosby. However, as the number of women coming forward continued to rise, and with it the denials from the Cosby camp, it became more difficult to rationalize that Chicken Heart could make up for a multitude of sins. Now that we know he’s admitted to drugging and assaulting at least one woman, it’s a real conundrum.
Meanwhile, much closer to home, there was the Walter Lewin scandal. Lewin was a popular physics professor at MIT who quite suddenly had his online teaching presence expunged from MIT’s servers and his Professor Emeritus title taken away. At that time, in early December, the public was only informed of a vague-sounding charge of harassment from an unnamed student in his edX course. He had been well-liked by MIT students who took his classes, and his instructional online videos had been viewed by millions, and there was widespread disbelief that what he’d done could have been so bad as to warrant the total takedown. Eventually, the complainant went public in an article in Inside Higher Ed. It does sound pretty bad.
When I first started writing this post, I was trying not to rush to judgement, while at the same time not letting myself get sucked into being a Cosby apologist, of which there were (and probably still are) quite a few. An unsavory lot, those guys seemed to be hanging out on sites like the Blaze and Breitbart, maintaining that the allegations must be false because actresses are gold diggers and whores, and anyway this has to be some sort of liberal conspiracy against a conservative black man (never mind that Cosby is also an Obama supporter) or a “Black” conspiracy in retaliation for his “call outs” in the mid-oughts that exhorted African American men to pull up their pants and get jobs. I thought we owed it to all the women who’ve come forward to take the allegations more seriously than that.
Now it seems that both Cosby and Lewin are probably guilty as charged. This leaves me pondering whether this is a good reason to toss away their respective bodies of work. While making strides in entertaining and teaching, both have been engaging in behaviors that some men have felt entitled to engage in for a very long time, and let’s face it, over the course of their careers society has not tried very hard to disabuse them of that notion. It’s only recently that there’s been a concerted and loud (thanks to social media) outcry against what some call “rape culture”. As Amanda Hess noted in a Slate article in February 2014, “[Gawker’s Tom] Scocca dredged up the allegations against Cosby not because Cosby is currently making news but because rape is.”
For pretty much all of the modern era, we’ve been compartmentalizing in this way. We accept countless performers, athletes and writers (men and women) despite their bad behavior. (Fun fact: New age musician Yanni was charged with domestic violence in 2006.) We don’t only do this with celebrities. Many of us have at least one friend or relative whom we love despite significant personality flaws. (Even Hitler had a girlfriend.) It’s valid to say, “I love you/your work, but…” Does Walter Lewin’s abusive behavior towards some students make his online lectures less valuable? Do the allegations against Bill Cosby make Chicken Heart less delightful? In both cases, I’m inclined to say no – while categorically not excusing their treatment of women, which is reprehensible. Their contributions don’t win them a pass for that. However, it’s not necessary to delete Lewin’s lectures, or to turn Cosby’s comedy albums into popcorn bowls, to state that we disapprove of their behavior away from the lecture hall or TV cameras.
People are complicated. That sounds pat, but it’s true. Bill Cosby is not and never was simply the jovial fellow from the Jell-O ads. What he is, is human – kind of a shitty one, to be sure, but as human as the rest of us.
Virgin Recipe: Patriotic Mold
Yes, it has been an awfully long time since I last posted. I won’t try to excuse this, but merely by way of explanation let me just say that life has been happening. Shortly after the Pi Day post, I had to pack up my home office and move everything downstairs (along with almost everything else on the second floor of Freak Mountain) to make way for the removal of the wall-to-wall carpeting that we’d hated since the first time we saw the house, and its replacement with much nicer (and more environmentally friendly) bamboo flooring. We were in exile at a nearby Fairfield Inn for the better part of a week, which turned out to be more stressful than one might expect. After that, I painted my office, which had been an insipid peach-pink and dotted here and there with what I’m guessing were baby-food stains, and replaced almost all the old random furniture. Henceforth, I have spent a great deal of time reading in my new IKEA club chair.
Of course, by now everyone knows about our legendary Winter 2015 Snowpocalypse, and that also took its toll. And then when springtime finally arrived, our friend V. finally succumbed to her advanced cancer at the Memorial Day weekend. So I’ve been feeling a little beat down is what I’m trying to say here.
Since it was at V.’s July 4th party last year that I allowed myself to be talked into rebooting this blog, I decided that the holiday would be as good a time as any to pick up the thread I dropped last March. Patriotic Mold was on the schedule for this weekend, and it seemed like a nice, relatively simple one with which to start again – a basic layered Jell-O, with strawberry gelatin and frozen strawberries (I used Welch’s – not recommended), lemon Jell-O diluted to almost-white paleness with vanilla ice cream, and Berry Blue Jell-O with frozen blueberries. One good thing about doing this in 2015, as opposed to 1974, is that we have the Berry Blue flavor/color now. Since it didn’t exist back in the day, the recipe says to use lemon Jell-O and mashed blueberries to achieve the blue layer, though it seems to me what what you’d end up with would be a weird dark green. The book also suggests trying the black cherry or Concord grape flavors for the blue layer, but I think that would make it too dark. As it was, with the Berry Blue, my blue layer was a deep indigo, like the darkest possible wash of blue jeans.
The recipe calls for Patriotic Mold to be a single large ring mold. Been there, done that, had my heart broken when the layers slid apart in transit. Instead, I used a three-cup mold and four 1.25-cup molds, since my rainbow mold last year seemed to work out so much better in smaller molds. My plan was to bring the larger mold to a party in the afternoon, leaving us with just a few smaller molds to consume on our own. As it turned out, even the three-cup mold was no match for our winter-ravaged roadways. Bryan and I ate some of it at home, and it wasn’t bad, although the frozen strawberries were pale and flavorless, and I was a little put off by the texture of the blueberries. (Bryan thought they were fine.)
The sad state of my larger mold sadly reflected my feeling about the holiday. Although I love my country, I’ve never been what you would call a flag-waving patriot, and the recent race-motivated murders in South Carolina have left me feeling less sanguine about unity in these United States. I was sickened and saddened by the killing, and troubled by the subsequent rehashing of our old fight over the Confederate battle flag, what it stands for and whether it’s appropriate to continue displaying it.
As a Yankee born and bred, I confess I don’t understand why some southerners stubbornly hang on to that flag, insisting that “southern heritage” has nothing to do with slavery or racism. At the recommendation of someone I know who was raised in South Carolina, I read Confederates in the Attic by Tony Horwitz. In it, Horwitz relates his experiences with Civil War re-enactors, and his visits to historic sites around the south and the people that he meets there. I was hoping that the book would shed a little light on the southern mindset; going on this journey with Horwitz, I wound up having a better understanding of how southerners arrive at a particular mindset, but I still don’t get why. Neither did Horwitz. What’s particularly worrying is the fact that the events described in the book took place twenty years ago, but they sound like they could have happened two weeks ago. I worry about what will happen if we can’t find a way beyond this impasse.
P.S. On the positive side, I was greatly cheered by the Supreme Court’s decision on gay marriage. Since it was legalized here in 2004, Massachusetts has utterly failed to go to hell in a hand basket. I expect that will be true of the rest of the country, at least as far as marriage goes.