Bill Cosby raped me.
Sorry, it just seemed like the “in” thing to say. Okay. So I have never met the man. But I feel like I’ve known him all these years. And to know him is to be known by him. At least cable news imparts this notion.
Joan Tarshis, in 1969 a nineteen-year-old comedy writer, thought she knew the Bill Cosby she knew on television. He broke character by allegedly plying her with flattery, booze, and drugs before plying her with him.
“The next thing I remember was coming to on his couch while being undressed,” Tarshis recalls of a 45-year-old encounter. “Through the haze I thought I was being clever when I told him I had an infection and he would catch it and his wife would know he had sex with someone. But he just found another orifice to use. I was sickened by what was happening to me and shocked that this man I had idolized was now raping me. Of course I told no one.”
Women don’t lie about rape, feminists insist (men surely do). I’m inclined to agree with the female chauvinist pigs when their sentence’s subject remains plural. Fifteen women—at latest count—describing a very similar modus rapearandi seem at least as believable as a Jack the Raper’s ongoing Cliff Huxtable act.
Cosby’s performance entranced his alleged victims as it did the rest of us. Americans, like the women, desperately believed in the avuncular funnyman with the unique ability to seamlessly morph from clown to sage. Serial rapists hang out beneath highway overpasses and in the shadows of abandoned industrial buildings, not on the set of The Electric Company and Picture Pages, right?
Predators camouflage their presence and prey on the vulnerable. A hot-mess model straight from rehab doesn’t exactly make for a model accuser. But predators, be they priests or pythons, target the easy ones—the Janice Dickinsons, not the Margaret Thatchers. The same attributes (youth, inebriation, emotional wounds, etc.) that make victims easy marks make them difficult witnesses. Victims and their detractors, duped by the seducer, often share the same gullible fault.
John P. Schmitt, Cosby’s attorney, labels the stories “decade-old, discredited allegations,” announces that the comedian “does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment,” and reminds readers of his client’s advanced years (“age 77”).
But rather than elicit sympathy, Cosby’s septuagenarian status, and the gap between the supposed events and their publicity, exacerbates the alleged misdeeds. Without justice, vile acts weigh down victims rather than victimizer. And silence, a sound strategy in an innocent-until-proven-guilty environment, doesn’t work as well in the court of public opinion. A guy who couldn’t get enough of the cameras for the last half-century now can’t get far enough away from them.
The feeling appears mutual. This week, NBC withdrew its interest in a Cosby program under development, Netflix pulled a planned comedy special, and TV Land even took reruns of The Cosby Show off the air. The comedian continuing his half-century television career appears as a lost Cos.
Like everyone else, I want to believe the smiling face I know rather than the sad faces I don’t. Cosby’s bank account surely gives millions of reasons for suspicion of the accusations. And the lack of criminal charges, let alone criminal convictions, plausibly provides a presumption of innocence. But one wonders if the sheer number of accusations, by several women appearing far more credible than Janice Dickinson, makes even those who know Cosby the person and not Cosby the pixelated doubt the star’s innocence.
Transcending the live-action/cartoon dimensional plane—a feat last accomplished by Don Knotts in The Incredible Mr. Limpett—I spoke to several disappointed, young yet musically talented, animated associates of Mr. Cosby in a Philadelphia junkyard. One winter-capped cartoon kid, who spoke to me on strict condition of anonymity, plaintively asked, “Whyba, Billba Cosbaby, did youba giveaba allba thoseba ladies roofies?” “Forcible sodomy is like school in the summertime,” another noted. “No class.”
But Bill Cosby, friendly face of quality children’s television and wholesome primetime family fare, exudes class. Alas, a guy who can sell America Pudding Pops and New Coke certainly can sell us an image of his integrity. And images are all we know of the people on the other side of screens, which, by definition, block, partition, and obscure.
The Idiot Box makes idiots of its worshippers—and the worshipped. Don’t believe everything you see on TV.
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