Unsettling Thoughts On Bill Cosby

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

So Bill Cosby’s a rapist.
Those are hard words for me to type: dude was one of my childhood heroes, the first comedian I really got into, and still a funny funny man.  But fifteen women have come forward to say that he drugged and violated them, which is a lot of women.  None of whom have a lot to gain in terms of money or great fame by accusing Cosby (seriously, anyone accusing anyone famous of rape goes through so much shit that it’d be an easier way to fame and fortune by robbing a bank).  Some of whom have been struggling for years to get their message heard.
It’s not a legal definition, no, but if fifteen different people came out over the years to say, “Yeah, Mister Rogers snorted cocaine with me,” I’d go “Mister Rogers snorted cocaine.”  So that makes Cosby a rapist.  (His “Spanish Fly” routine, on fantasies of drugging women into being loose enough to have sex with him, doesn’t help.  I remembered that one, as I had memorized most of Cosby’s routines as a kid, but I certainly didn’t put that one into context.)
(Though as Bart Calendar notes, “rape” is not unusual when it comes to 1960s and 1970s heroes – he’s got a list of beloved musicians who are also rapists, or, at the least, guilty of child molestation by knowingly sleeping with girls below the age of consent.  You may have to understand that all your heroes are secretly vile, which is frankly not the worst message to take away.)
Anyhow, so I was thinking the other day that fifteen women have claimed that Bill Cosby raped them.  Which means there are, likely, more: Women who have gone “Okay, it’s in the headlines now, it’s getting traction, I don’t have to make the ugly fact that I was violated by Bill Cosby the only thing people are going to know about me.”  Women who shrug “Well, that’s what happened back then, I don’t see that as bad.”  It may well be that Bill Cosby raped forty or fifty women, or perhaps even more.
Charles Manson killed nine people.
No, wait; technically Charlie didn’t kill anyone.  His followers killed nine people.  (And some kinder interpretations than mine think that it was his followers who started murdering people, and once that started Cult Leader Charlie either had to go “Wow, that’s awesome! Just what I wanted!” or probably get murdered himself in a cult uprising.  I don’t know, I only read Helter Skelter once just to be cool when I was a teenager.  And the numbers of Manson dead vary, depending on who you talk to, so I’m sure someone will correct me.  Probably Bart.)
Anyway, Charlie’s in the news because he got married – remember, folks, gay marriage is what’s destroying this sacred institution – and I had a weird thought.  Because Manson?  Killed nine people.  Cosby raped, say, thirty.
There’s a math there that I don’t want to do.
Like, seriously, if we assume that the absolute worst-case scenario about Cosby is true, and he raped hundreds of women, does that make him worse than Charlie Manson?
Leaving aside that old do-not-engage question of whether “rape” is worse than “murder” (as murder is a short end, whereas rape traumatizes the victim for decades, but I suspect most rape victims would prefer people not tell them that they’d be better off dead), you have to figure that maybe Cosby was doing deeply nefarious shit for forty years successfully.  He may have had a lot more impact.
And then I start going, “Well, Cos gave laughter to the world!  He did a hell of a lot for black-white relations at a time when there were practically no black heroes in the media!  He’s done a surprising amount of charity work, donating to the community! He’s made the world a hell of a lot of a better place, and all Manson ever did was wrote a marginal Beach Boys song!”
Then I think, “Okay, so is this an equation?  Like, if Manson cured heart disease, would the murders be just a phase we was going through?”
Then I think, “Is it about the order of revelation?  Because hey, we knew happy Jell-O eating Bill Cosby for years, we loved him, then we found out about this secret past – what if Manson was a researcher who cured AIDS in 1987, and then we discover now that whoops, he sorta killed Sharon Tate and covered it up properly?  How would we react then?  I bet there’d be a lot of talking media heads saying that Manson didn’t kill anyone directly, it was just a youthful mistake….”
And of course this whole chain of thought is fucking ridiculous.  People can do good things and bad things.  Our monkey brains want HEROES and VILLAINS and so try to figure out who’s a goodie and who’s a baddie.  And the truth is that people can contain both wonderful kind instincts and selfish harmful ones, and which one you get depends on who you happen to be.  All of our most beloved heroes have been absolute dicks at some point (well, except maybe Mister Rogers), and all of our worst villains have done something nice for someone.
But we don’t want to think that good people can do bad things.  Or that bad people can do positive ones.  We want to do Cosby Math, where we total everything up and try to see whether they’re above the level of “EVIL.”
And Cosby Math is dangerous, because we start thinking that there’s some upper end of the scale that’s completely safe.  That there are heroes who’ve done wonderful things, and of course people like them can’t do bad things, and you see that in the trail of the women who’d tried to say “Hey, Cos did this horrible thing to me” and people went “We don’t want to hear it, scrape those allegations from his biography, if you say this we’ll make you look like the villain.” And some of them went dormant for years.  When you do Cosby Math and start flipping binary switches to light up someone as “HERO,” then you actually bury evidence.
Truth is, you can have a good guy who’s got some fucking racist thoughts, you can have an anti-abortion and anti-gay marriage Pope who’s really compassionate towards the poor, you can have a really funny enlightening dude who rapes people.  You can have mixtures of all sorts of things and they don’t really add up.
We want to shuck away all the contradictory evidence, to leave us with a single image – whether that’s good or bad, we don’t really care which, we just want to not do these exhaustng calculations any more.  But people are more like one of those lenticular baseball cards, the ones that look like they’re moving if you flip them back and forth.
But in truth, that isn’t motion you’re seeing.  It’s just four or five different pictures, each similar but radically different.  Which picture you get depends what angle you’re viewing it from. And sometimes, you can’t add all the pictures together to form a satisfying whole.
And as always, apologies.  People come here to get nice neat conclusions.  I don’t have one here.  Sometimes it’s just me pointing at a mess on the floor and shrugging.


  1. Marc
    Nov 22, 2014

    It’s interesting that in this particular case for you the existence of an accusation trumps everything else, without any requirement of proof, when fake rape allegations do exist, as do mass hysterics, and accusing a celebrity can be a very lucrative perspective.
    I think you should give the guy at least the benefit of the doubt…

    • chelonianmobile
      Nov 22, 2014

      One accusation could be dismissed; fifteen separate ones, no. You’re kind of proving Ferrett’s point here.
      (The Led Zep fish thing mentioned in the linked list is a significant percentage bullshit though, according to most sources.)

  2. Yet Another Laura H
    Nov 23, 2014

    You know, I don’t want to feed the trolls, but I can very much imagine a younger version of me reading the comment above and thinking, “Oh, this is how most people think. This is how people in our society should think.”
    It’s not. For one thing, “innocent until proven guilty” is a very fine concept— one that applies to people accusing others of crimes. They’re innocent of perjury and slander until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Fifteen accusations is a lot of people to dismiss out-of-hand— if you regard “women” as “people.”
    If you read the post above, Mr. Steinmetz addresses the point mentioned in two ways. He’s right— those who accuse private citizens of rape can expect an almost literal shitstorm, and those who do so to someone so beloved and avuncular— well, the only way these women are getting rich and famous off it is to charge a nickel per death threat and use the proceeds to hire Paula Froelich as their publicist. And fifteen corroborating stories is a lot, man.

    • Marc
      Nov 24, 2014

      So saying that he should be given “The benefit of the doubt”, not that he is certainly innocent, makes me a troll? That’s a first for me.
      Then of course apparently there are doubts that I regard “women as people”…
      I’m not dismissing 15 women but strength in numbers does not makes truth. It makes it something that should be assessed but the mere existence of an accusation shouldn’t by itself constitute proof. It’s very dangerous to go along this way and reactions like yours go a long way to demonstrate it.
      In many cases lives have been ruined

  3. Alexis
    Nov 24, 2014

    I think Ferrett has a great point about people being a complex mix of good and evil, with very few people ever being completely one or the other. Many beloved heroes had tons of personal failings–MLK cheated on his wife, Gandhi alienated Muslims and had weird bathroom issues, etc. I’m a classical musician, and one of the most notorious classical composers, Richard Wagner, was virulent anti-Semite.
    The problem is when we put someone on a pedestal then many people start ignoring or dismissing any criticism or accusations or unsavory behavior from this godlike figure. Look at what happened in Penn State or in the Catholic Church. Sex abuse was ignored, or dismissed, or covered up because beloved religious figures and football heroes just do not rape little boys. Except for all those times when they rape little boys.

    • kim
      Dec 20, 2014

      it took Oprah many years to speak about being raped….no one asked why she took so long because the person wasn’t famous. it took coach Sandusky victims awhile to speak up…..no one asked those victims why it took so long because Sandusky is not as famous as Bill Cosby…even though he gladly wore Penn State jerseys on his show. I did not tell my mother with my uncle did to me until I was older. we see him as Dr Huxtable but we forget that he was in Uptown Saturday night pimped out. society is just mad because they put Strangers on a pedestal. some of these women are in their sixties and seventies with great grandchildren. people ask why is it coming out now. we are in the internet world what took 10 years take 10 seconds get a clue. we are in the last days and time and God is blowing up spots. every hidden things shall be revealed. when Bill Cosby met Phylicia Rashad she was on drugs…married to the man from the village people who was the cop….none of you knew who Claire Huxtable was before that…y’all just knew her as Debbie Allen sister…bill cleaned her up and brought her to the show……don’t get it twisted people you do not know someone because they’re in your living room on TV…..half of us has been molested and didn’t say a word…male and female. Bill Cosby is the coach Sandusky of Comedy…I enjoy his comedy…but I do think he did it and I ain’t f****** laughing

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