Bill Cosby was once the United States’ favorite funny man. That status, in more blissfully ignorant days, inspired a number of aggrandizing statues and public murals.
But in the past year, nearly 40 women have alleged that the comedian sexually assaulted them, and just this week, court documents from a 2005 civil lawsuit showed him admitting that he bought date rape drugs to use on women. In light of this alarming news, what do we do with all the suddenly creepy Cosby artworks?
It’s simple. We take them down.
That’s the commendably prompt action that Walt Disney Parks and Resorts has taken at Disney World in Orlando, Florida. According to NBC News, workers removed a bronze bust of the comedian last night from Hollywood Studios’ Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame Plaza — a wise move for a family-friendly resort that claims to be the “happiest place on earth.” The news comes not long after a niece of one of the victims launched a petition to have the sculpture removed.
But there are plenty more Cosby tributes still out there. In North Hollywood, the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame includes a statue of him, and there’s a colorful mural featuring the smiling comedian alongside President Obama outside the landmark DC restaurant Ben’s Chili Bowl, to name just a couple.
While some might feel Cosby’s on-screen contributions to American culture matter more than his private misdeeds — everyone has a skeleton in their closet, right? — the scale and barbarism of his alleged sexual violence can’t just be brushed under the rug. Public statues and murals (and art exhibitions?) confer respect and prestige, and letting these works stay up suggests our values are seriously misplaced.
Artist Rodman Edwards has previously proposed replacing these works with naked sculptures of Dr. Huxtable that would shame the comedian. But here’s another idea: use the street and wall space to honor Cosby’s more overlooked comic counterparts — women like Whoopi Goldberg and Mo’Nique, for instance — instead. It wouldn’t right any of Cosby’s wrongs, but at least we wouldn’t have to look at him.