Opinion: When our heroes go bad

Opinion: When Our Heroes Go Bad

'Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty?'

In the past year, my 12-year-old daughter has immersed herself in the back catalogue of Michael Jackson. It certainly marks a welcome relief from her fixations with X-Factor and hilarious YouTube ‘comedians’, but she can’t seem to see that ‘Billie Jean’ is one of the finest pop songs of the early to mid-80s while insisting on having ‘Earth Song’ on a loop, unable to concede that it’s an overblown slab of tosh unworthy of such attention.

Just prior to her Jacko mini-obsession, she had come to the end of a frenzied period of watching and rewatching some classic US sitcoms made well before her 2002 arrival: Bewitched and The Cosby Show being the main two. One of those collections still sits proudly on the DVD shelf, the other one is slowly being relocated to the ‘cupboard at the top of the stairs’ before the inevitable overstuffed binbag march to a charity shop in spring.

While the stench that wafted around some of Michael Jackson’s life behind closed doors will never now pass given that he’s no longer here to answer any further accusations, is there something about his brutal and unusual upbringing that meant it might have been weirder if he hadn’t acted oddly as an adult? The multiple charges now being flung at Bill Cosby seem to reek of something else entirely.

Yet, whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? In this post-Savile era, a ‘no smoke without fire’ attitude seems to hold more sway on public opinion, and to that end, Cosby’s career seems to be pretty much over with NBC cancelling a proposed new sitcom with him and Netflix dropping a scheduled comedy special.

About two weeks ago, his new live show, Far From Finished (the irony is unavoidable), arrived in the post for inclusion in a stand-up DVD round-up. Shamefully oblivious to the previous storm of allegations almost a decade ago, I was excited to receive a rare DVD featuring a proper comedy legend and not just the annual parade of Carrs, Manfords and Nobles. It remains unwatched and unreviewed, with the possibility that it might never even reach the shops.

So, when it comes to consuming art from those who have become notorious for crimes both proven and alleged, do we simply pick and choose, based on weighing up the extremity of the deed against the admiration we might have had for that person?

Removing a DVD boxset or Best Of CD from your living room or car might not mean we are necessarily condemning that individual. Perhaps it is a sign that we are simply more sensitive to issues surrounding historical abuse and a realisation that, given the cover-ups which are now being blown apart in various sectors of society, there are more people walking around carrying unimaginable pain and suffering which had been buried for years than we previously thought.

Maybe we just don’t want to believe the worst about our heroes until they’ve had their day in court and are slammed behind bars. Until that moment, I’ll still enjoy the occasional DVD viewings of Annie Hall and Manhattan. If I can find them in the cupboard, that is.

Brian Donaldson is The List's Comedy editor.