The media assassination of Bill Cosby continues. Now even as a I use the word assassination, it carries a sense of judgement of whether he deserves what is happening to him. Had I said “bringing to justice” it has a different sense as well. I don’t know what the right words are at this point. We are dealing with a media based spin on innocence and guilt. It becomes very difficult to sort out truth from the noise.
Sins of the Past
We continue to be an evolving culture. Concepts of right and wrong are relative to a culture and a time in history. Most of us have heard the term “rule of thumb”. Do you know where it comes from? It refers to the maximum width of a stick (the size of your thumb) that a man should use to beat his wife or children. For those of us over 40, most people have experienced or knew someone who felt the power of a stick or belt on their backside more than a few times. If you were left handed in a catholic school prior to 1970, you may have had a nun break your fingers to force you to use the “proper” hand. Today most of our 1950-70 teachers and parents would be hauled into court and possibly arrested. So looking at sexual abuse in the past that might have been dismissed or ignored, is it our responsibility to hold people accountable by today’s standards?
Our Views of Sexual Abuse
Hundreds of years ago “the spoils of war” regularly included rape. It was essentially a right that went to the victor. We can look at it as a crime today, but then it was an expectation. Moving closer to the modern day British nobles reserved the right to have sex with new brides before their husbands. Again we have institutionalized rape . We don’t look at Thomas Jefferson as a rapist but there’s a lot of evidence that his relationship with one of his slaves probably would fit our current definitions. Again those pieces of history often got skipped in the history books.
Much of the white washing of our sexual landscape has occurred in the past 100 years. During the early 20s movies were starting to show nudity as a normal part of life and sex was being discussed openly. The depression and a wave of conservative moral movements sent us back into the dark ages in terms of openness about sex and discussion about sexual abuse as well. By the 1950s I Love Lucy show couldn’t even say the word pregnant when Lucy was expecting. In 1958, Disney released a movie called The Light In The Forest about a white boy raised by Indians starring James MacArthur. One of the sub-plots involved a girl who was trying to get away from a sexually abusive uncle. Sort of a strange element for a Disney story but it’s there none the less. I’ve never really decided if this was an element to help restart the discussion of sexual abuse, or it simply reflected the idea at the time that girls just needed to deal with this and if things got too bad, they just needed to get away from the situation.
Welcome to the 60s
The social repression of the 50s was responded to with the sex, drugs and rock and roll of the 1960s. We also started seeing a social awakening of racial issues and later woman’s issues. Enter the comedy of Bill Cosby. He was a trailblazer in many respects. And like many men of power in the 60s, he probably used it in ways that may not have been appropriate by today’s standards. There are many movies and TV shows of that era with men slapping women and it being viewed as socially acceptable. There was no condemnation then, and for the most part we grew out of that and started treating it for the abuse that it is. So is it fair or reasonable to dig up the events of the past and hold them to the scrutiny of the present? The media in the Bill Cosby case is blurring the timelines to make it appear that this is new news. Most of the events in question happened over 30 years ago. If it wasn’t addressed by the proper authorities then, why should we subject it to our own lens now? Unlike DNA evidence coming forward in an old case, as far as I know there is no new information being presented.
The biggest problem I have with the Bill Cosby sexual abuse case is that I don’t see a legitimate winner on either side. This is about ratings. I saw Bill Cosby last year and he is still pretty sharp, but at the same time he’s clearly showing signs of age. If this ever goes to trial, he will be in his 80s and probably not the best person to put on the witness stand about events that took place half a century ago. I’ve watched several of the women’s interviews and while there are common elements, the soundbites are edited and orchestrated for media ratings. The media loves watching the fall of an icon – Pete Rose, Lance Armstrong, Michael Jackson, etc. Assuming these women are victims, are they likely to get help or closure – or more likely a book deal. And are they likely to get justice? If they couldn’t get it 50 years ago, they probably aren’t going to get it now. Bill Cosby will lose a little money and most likely retire. And we still have to consider that Bill didn’t do what he is accused of. The media is essentially telling us that he is guilty. Are they providing a supportive platform for the women, or are they orchestrating an attach on someone that would provide media ratings for a very long time? Bottom line is that if this wasn’t Bill Cosby, I don’t think this would be happening.