Separating person and persona

By Sammy Park

Staff Writer

The cult of personality that surrounds celebrities is a permanent part of American pop culture. This practice of idolization has led to the public creating deep-rooted, but fabricated, connections between artists and their art. In the public eye, actors and actresses have become the characters they portray. Singers’ personal lives are now defined by their lyrics. The inability to separate fantasies that surround celebrities from the real, and often flawed, people that they are, can quickly become problematic. Without the necessary separation between art and artist, these personalities are propped up as gods incapable of flaws.

This false sense of familiarity with celebrities can be illustrated with comedian and actor Bill Cosby. Cosby has been accused by more than 50 women of sexual abuse, but his roles as the wholesome father in The Cosby Show, the creator of Fat Albert, and the epitome of corny American humor seeped into the public’s perception of his personal life. Since Cosby’s artistic content portrayed him as fatherly and friendly, his fans found it impossible to reconcile the character they saw on screen with the rapidly accumulating accusations of rape. Consequently, accusations made public as early as 20 years ago went largely unheard, as Cosby continued to find work as America’s surrogate father figure.

As a result, separating the art from the artist is not only possible but morally responsible. An audience member should be able to appreciate art despite the artist’s personal faults. This way, fans of the Cosby Show don’t have to be fans of Cosby himself and can divorce their personal sentiments from their understanding of Cosby’s atrocities. Thus, as the public develops the ability to separate creation from creator, artists will not be able to escape punishment for their crimes. Filmmakers like Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, both of whom have faced allegations of child molestation, would not have the media clout to escape criminal investigation and imprisonment. Ultimately, the public can and should separate the art from the artist. This is the only way to ensure accountability from the artist and justice for their wrongdoings.