Whenever someone asks the above question, the discussion’s bound to get personal. So let me lay my cards down on the table… or, rather, my CDs.
That’s a lot of Bill Cosby right there. When I say I am (was?) a Bill Cosby fan, I speak as someone who never watched The Cosby Show and never considered Cosby to be my, or even America’s, “dad.” What I do speak from is childhood memory. When our family drove 18+ hour trips to a vacation spot, we’d listen to Cosby to make the voyage easier, to make it resemble family bonding time. The tradition set in soon enough— pull over for gas, get McDonalds, eat our meal on the road while listening to Cosby’s familiar, family-friendly comedy bits. For many years, I had every routine from all our CDs accidentally memorized. Even today, our family will quote from The Chicken Heart, or talk about how Henry Kissinger’s from Alabama, just out of habit. Bill Cosby’s the only comedian we have in our CD collection, for the record (that is not a pun. I don’t want to veer off into more politics than I have to, but regardless of what the Second Amendment says, I do believe in reasonable, federally-mandated pun control).
One of my benchmarks for a good comedian includes “making a fart joke that’s actually funny.” My father, listening to Cosby’s anecdote on fathers and farts, had to pull over our car so he could stop laughing.
That’s a good recollection I associate with ol’ Bill. My family hasn’t touched those CDs for a long time, for reasons that I hope are obvious to everyone. I once read a story about Saddam Hussein creating a Quran written in his own blood. That book still exists, because it’s such a profane stain on such a holy text that Islamic leaders have no idea what to do besides ignore it. Our family takes a similar approach with those CDs.
I bring this up because, in many ways, Cosby seems like a unique case. People like Donald Trump and Louie C.K. found ways to succeed despite allegations. John Lennon’s abusive tendencies don’t seem to stop people from buying any of his records. Those tendencies don’t detract from the humanitarian work Lennon did, but hey, the Devil can volunteer at a food shelter for his own purposes. I could say similar things about Cosby’s positive contributions.
Where am I going with this? Let me share with you my final pre-2014 memory of Cosby. My family picked up a DVD recording of one of Bill’s recent live performances. We thought it would be fun, to see his new stuff, recapture the thrills we once had from buying a Cosby CD.
An hour into the DVD, we shut if off. We watched the DVD after the rape accusations were made, technically, but before 2014, when people started to give a shit. There was no moral reason for us to hate Cosby at that time; we didn’t know women accused him of being a rapist. We were just bored. Cosby’s performance was what we expected, and that was the problem. Decades later, he was still rehashing the same difference-between-men-and-women shtick that he expressed in better and funnier ways, years ago. There was no anger (yet), just disappointment. Our idol wasn’t immortal.
I maintain that that DVD made the truth about Cosby easier to take. That previous sentences is hard to read, and harder to write. But it’s hardest to deny. In 2014 and onwards, my family and I didn’t defend Cosby, didn’t consider the media surrounding it a witch-hunt, and didn’t wonder if our favorite records were made before Cosby began assaulting women. We just woke up from our dream. We talked about how awful this all was, and how Cosby’s crimes tainted our memories of him, and how our feelings didn’t compare to what his victims went through. Our family sure as shit didn’t want him back, though. In other words, we gave him up because we didn’t need him on an emotional level.
Cosby’s old news. I bring him up now because Jon Jafari, host and creative mind behind the YouTube review show JonTron, said some stupid, inflammatory, and downright racist statements in an interview. The connection between the two comedians is extremely tenuous— Jon’s nowhere near as bad. Comparing Jon’s words to Bill’s actions would be as stupid as when Jon compared colonialism in Africa to immigrants going to America. Here’s what they have in common: the fans giving up JonTron are giving him up for the same reasons I gave up Cosby.
There’s a lot of “I used to like JonTron, but lately his material isn’t as good, so now I have a great reason to unsubscribe” going on. Now, I spend too much time on Reddit, and on YouTuber drama bullshit in particular. Yet I’ve never seen anyone go, “JonTron changed my life and continues to be the best YouTuber around; however, in light of his beliefs, I will never watch another video of his.” You get the first part and the second part, but never the two together. People ask, “Should we separate the art from the artist?” It’s clear to me we never do anything but separate the two.
No one who like’s JonTron’s current material seems to be jumping ship. Maybe I need to be the first.
When I talk about my favorite comedy acts, “best” doesn’t always mean “influential.” The Marx Brothers make my laugh like Nicholas Cage in that one weird Ghost Rider scene. But the few times I write something in a similar vein, the jokes work as well as, well, Ghost Rider did. Bill Cosby’s the same for me— his routines informed my childhood, not my sense of humor.
But JonTron? He has had more misses than hits, as of late, to be sure. Yet he can still deliver the same strange, silly, and surprising jokes that inspired some of my funniest skits. If you ever ask me in an interview “Who influenced your decision to make your comedy surreal, and make your jokes subvert audience expectations?” the (partially true) answer will be “It was Andy Kaufman.” What I won’t say, is that the (mostly true) answer is JonTron.
When JonTron makes his next video, I’ll probably watch it. Is this the right, moral thing to do? I dunno.
That’s all I got. I could talk about how Jon’s ad revenue goes to other, hard working people on his show, people who don’t advocate the star’s beliefs. I could examine how little his jesting talks about politics, or anything more complex than “look at this weird thing, let’s be weird about it.” Those are philosophical debates. No one chooses their entertainment based on philosophy, or considering if it damages the world/themselves— such a world would not allow TMZ to exist.
People ask, “Should we separate the art from the artist?” It’s clear to me we never do anything but separate the two.
Before all of this went down, for the record, I considered JonTron an idiot savant of sorts. I didn’t even trust his opinion on video games, and he is literally a video game reviewer. So if I admit that he’s no idol, why haven’t I fallen out with him like I did with Cosby? Or like his other fans have? Once again, I don’t know. I’ll have to wait until his next video comes out, and only then will I twist my arguments to support my current emotions. That’s not logical. It is, however, human.
All this talking does not matter, ultimately. Orson Scott Card and Steven Moffat have both said some terrible things, yet only the latter wrote something worth talking about in the past decade. Moffat’s at least smart enough to cast hunky boys in his shows, guaranteeing that, despite calling women “needy,” women will still throw cash at him. Are the ladies who still watch Doctor Who and Sherlock shallow? No more or less so than the rest of us. At any rate, the question of why women love the art of a misogynist invites a fascinating discussion, which requires careful thought outside of a blog post that’s already too ranty by halves.
The point is, Maya Angelou’s quote; “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel,”; has a clear dark side in the world of entertainment. Even if there are logical reasons to boycott someone, people don’t use algorithms to decide what YouTube video to watch (that’s YouTube’s job). No one wants to see how his or her sausage is made, especially if said sausage becomes the basis for an exquisite dick joke. This is not “The End Of JonTron.” Maybe it’ll be the beginning of the end, but as I’ve talked about before, it takes a LOT of bad experiences in entertainment to outweigh the good ones. Whether you support or decry JonTron at this point all depends on your thoughts about his comedy. Notice we rarely ask for someone to separate art from artist in the case of shitty art. In a media landscape where the lines between content creator and product blur on Twitter, people care about the product first. Don’t lie to yourself about this. Before you take the moral high ground on this debate, find out what kind of ground you’re standing on first.