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Washington, DC, United States
I don't write here nearly as much as I should, but when I do, I'll try to make it count for something.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Bill Cosby: Our Role in Perpetuating Celebrity Canonization

I would like to start off by stating that I wasn’t originally going to say anything more about this Bill Cosby situation - for a multitude of reasons. I posted my opinion on the Cosby Show as an entity (and that opinion hasn’t changed) but after weeks and weeks of this continued media coverage, it’s getting harder to express my full anger towards everything that’s happening. First, I want to make this very clear right from the bat – while I believe we live in a society where a person should be seen as innocent until proven otherwise and that witch hunts are fundamentally toxic, I do believe that Bill Cosby is guilty of these allegations… that he’s a rapist. I believe it 100% and will certainly eat my words if, at a later date, somehow these allegations are proven to be a conspiracy of lies.

Now that I have that out of the way, I am going to say nothing in defense of Bill Cosby. He has been able to get away with far too much over his decades of Hollywood power and it’s not right that he’s had to suffer zero repercussions until these last couple of weeks when all forms of media have recoiled from him almost simultaneously – no more Cosby Show on TV Land, no comedy special on Netflix, cancelled pilot for NBC. And while a bunch of people are like, “Yeah! He’s finally getting his just desserts!”… my response is, “Well what about the victims?”

Oh, the victims, you say? Yes, them.

And let me say that I am APPALLED at a lot of the things I’ve been reading. I have heard an equal amount of people express disgust towards Cosby’s horrifying actions as they have towards the women who have waited so long to come out about this – either because it was irresponsible of them or implying that this is all one big lie. I don’t even know which of these is most offensive so let’s address both, shall we?

I have never been raped. I cannot and will not presume to know what enduring that kind of violation is like. God willing, I’ll never know. More importantly, since I’ve never been through it, I find it absolutely VILE to express judgment towards anyone who has and how they react to it. The fear and the shame that one has to deal with is on a level I can’t even comprehend and I can imagine one’s knee jerk reaction to just cover it up. Is that the absolute best decision a person could make in that situation? Probably not, guys – but victim shaming is the exact fucking reason why people DON’T feel brave enough to say anything.

And the implying that these women are lying…. I don’t even know where to begin. I mean, anything is possible. The reality is that there are people who are fame-grabbers, who would stoop to the lowest lows for a piece of it…. but are we honestly ready to believe that ALL of these women are just making it up to target Bill Cosby for… what? No charges have been filed. No charges CAN be filed due to the statute of limitations. None of these women, to our knowledge, have asked him for money – and he has PLENTY of it so believe me, he would have eagerly thrown them millions in order to keep wiping this under the rug. I guess one could argue book deals, TV movies, guest spots on daytime TV talk shows and the like but surely we can’t believe that this has zero basis in reality. And even if one or two of these women are lying, there’s a thin line between reserving judgment and – yes, here we go again – good ol’ fashioned victim shaming.

Twitter and Facebook have been on FIRE with pointing fingers at these women – as well as countless bloggers and journalists. And then… I saw that horrifying segment on The View. Now I've never respected this show anyway. From day one, it seemed like an insulting, demoralizing, soulless exploration into exactly what happens when a bunch of rich and famous women are happy to sell out their own gender for a few gold coins and a captive audience. However, to be fair to them, I had never actually watched the show – until this week. What I saw was perhaps the most nauseating and hateful thing I've seen in a long time. If you are truly unable to have a serious, thoughtful dialogue about rape then just shut up. If all your capable of is victim-blaming and defending your good ol’ celebrity buddy Bill (and not even TRYING to look at this from both sides) then you have no business having a national audience. You embarrassed me as a woman, Cast of the View. And you embarrassed yourselves. Perhaps the show is always like this (like I said, I've never watched it) but if it is, then our society is in worst shape than I realized. Stay at home moms, there are better things to watch on TV, I swear! DO NOT CONTINUE WATCHING THIS SHOW!!! I’m dead serious. It’s incredibly problematic.

But I digress.

All of this has been pretty terrible. But what gets to me the most is how people, for the most part, aren't looking at the bigger issue – that Bill Cosby was in a position to get away with this for so long at all and how we glorify these celebrities so much that they are no longer people to us anymore. It’s clear that people have reacted so strongly to this because everyone has this idea of who they think this man is – a voice for the black community, a pudding pop-pusher who loved “keeping it real” and making us a laugh, Heathcliff Huxtable, our ideal father and advisor. It is hard to accept that he is capable of these crimes he’s committed because we have to accept that he is not who we have turned him into in our collective minds – and more importantly, because of this level of worshiping, we are complicit in granting him the level of power to get away with these crimes. I am a believer of personal responsibility so I’m not saying because you looked up to Bill Cosby that means you’re the reason those women were attacked. Bill Cosby is the reason those women were attacked, and him alone, but we do have to understand that his ability to live a life free of repercussions is because we live in a society that treats the rich and powerful as untouchables. There’s that old term, “With great power comes great responsibility.” I think a more accurate term would be, “With great power comes a great big stack of Get out of Jail Free cards.”

It’s hard to think about how much we allow this level of celebrity worship to grow and how much our system is built around keeping the powerful relatively scar-free. It’s hard to think about how much we accept the way this system is built and how unwilling we are to challenge it or understand how when these sorts of crimes actually happen all the time. Bill Cosby’s team (allegedly, of course) systematically crushed and intimidated any woman who attempted to bring his crimes to light. And when one woman finally did bring him to court, it was swept under the rug so quickly and so completely that by the time the media FINALLY decided to give a shit about any of this, it came as a complete shock to everyone in the universe. There have allegations about his behavior since the 80s and yet everyone was acting like someone had discovered that the Dalai Lama eats babies.  The media is part of the problem, obviously, but we have to take responsibility too.

We are all guilty of treating celebrities and public figures like they’re more than human and it needs to stop. We need to stop identifying them as the characters they play or through the songs that they write. Another example that’s been pointed out a few times in some recent articles I've written – not to mention by my lovely friend Kat whom I enjoy having spirited debates with – John Lennon. I am an avid Beatles fan. They’re probably one of my favorite bands – top five for sure. I believe that they have made a huge impact in the music industry. I believe that they’re one of the most influential bands of all time. I believe that every single member of that band was necessary to create the magic that they made (yes, even Ringo). However – and this is a big one guys – John Lennon was a wretched, womanizing wife beater. This isn't opinion. It’s public fact – a fact that Lennon himself admitted to and pretty unapologetically acknowledged. Despite this, most Beatles fan look to him as an icon and a beacon of peace – the sort of human being that we should strive to be.

Personally, I've always been the sort of person who leans towards separating the art from the artist (but I can totally understand one’s inability to do this because art is personal and we put ourselves into our art) – however, even if I believe that I think that separating the art from the artist shouldn't mean saying, “Well yeah maybe he did these terrible things but he made so much meaningful music….” and just letting yourself forget the ugliness. The Beatles’ music – like the Cosby Show – meant a lot to a lot of people and held much social importance during the time in which they were created. Do I think we should throw that away? I don’t, personally. However, I think that we need to take a step back and understand that regardless of the art these people have created, they should not be canonized by us. This is the true issue: can we as a society learn from this and really move forward towards a more realistic attitude towards celebrities?

Thankfully, in the age of social media, it’s harder for the famous to get away with as much and fly under the radar of public scrutiny regarding dark issues that they want ignored. Information is so much easier to find, it’s so much more tangible. And the Twitterverse will rip you to SHREDS. Bill Cosby learned that lesson when his INSANE marketing team came up with the idea of doing a meme contest amid all these rape allegations. And Cosby probably honestly was surprised that it turned out the way it did – with hundreds of “rape”-themed memes popping up everywhere. He had managed for a good four decades to get away with his crimes, flaunting his power and using intimidation to get away with anything he wanted while managing to convince the world to love him. I bet he’s sitting somewhere right now, confused that things have escalated with no sign of calming down. He’s been entitled for too long. This must be very very confusing for him.

At the end of the day, though, who knows what will really change – but my hope is that people don’t simply look at Bill Cosby as a monster and close their eyes to the bigger picture. The celebrity arena is filled with people we look up to and who are capable of terrible things and have done them. But creating a world where we bring these people back down to our levels – as humans – we make it harder for them to continue decades of pathological criminal behavior without punishment. And in the meantime, take to social media and create awareness because sometimes (like now) it’s the only real weapon we have.

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