Saturday, 17 January 2015

What sins will compel us to disregard someone's achievements?

Bill Cosby is a significant figure in the media history.  His character in the 1960s "I Spy" was one of the first mainstream African-American characters in American entertainment in a leading role, where he was the equal to his European-American partner, played by Robert Culp.  His career in standup comedy was even more successful - I never watched "I Spy" but I enjoyed listening to his routines on LP and cassette.  His "Fat Albert" stories (and the animated Saturday morning feature) kept me entertained and also presented African-American children in a positive way.  "The Cosby Show" was one of the first mainstream presentations of a family of African-American professionals (he played a doctor, his TV wife was a successful lawyer).  He earned a PhD in education based on his work to combine entertainment with education for children.  And since he has been accused of sexual assault, he has been vilified, bloggers have been demanding justice, and CBS pretends that they have never heard of him.

Can I still enjoy listening to his standup routine, or would that make me complicit in his alleged crimes?

Woody Allen has directed more than 40 films (and he also has a great history as a standup comedian).  He has been accused of sexual abuse of children.  Can I enjoy his films and comedy routines, or would that make me complicit in his alleged crimes?

Sir John A MacDonald, as every Canadian knows, was our first prime minister.  He was one of the "Fathers of Confederation", having worked with leaders from Upper and Lower Canada, from the Maritimes and the West to create the Dominion of Canada.  He then went on to be one of the longest serving PMs in history (19 years, plus a term as leader of the opposition).  He was certainly flawed - even in his own day he was caricatured for his fondness of alcohol, and he was involved in multiple scandals, especially with his much-favoured CPR project.  To celebrate the 200th anniversary of his birth, Huffington Post ran a series of articles laying out MacDonald's crimes for all to see:  a virtual campaign of genocide against First Nations (appropriating First Nations lands, starving First Nations peoples unless (and even when) they moved to reserves, implementing the residential schools to destroy First Nations culture), racist policies against immigrants from China and other parts of Asia (head tax, and denying citizenship to non-European immigrants), persecution of Métis and First Nations who rose in armed rebellion against the government (he has been made personally responsible for the execution of Louis Riel).

Can I live in and celebrate this country that MacDonald worked so hard to create?

In my opinion, people are complicated.  We can continue to celebrate peoples' achievements while holding them responsible for their mistakes.  Steve Fonyo completed Terry Fox's run - let's celebrate that, and find support for Steve rather than punish him for his troubles.

Baby's waking, gotta go!

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