COLLECTIVE AMNESIA

The Bill Cosby Controversy Stages of Grief

Can’t imagine TV’s favorite dad sexually assaulting incapacitated women? We live in a world where one man’s stand-up routine is more convincing than 14 women’s testimonies.

Lucas Jackson/Reuters

Denial

Remember when your parents taught you that a “lie by omission” is still a lie? Apparently, those in the Cosby camp are utilizing the same bullshit evasion tactics that you stopped using around the time you learned that the tooth fairy wasn’t real.

In his biography Cosby: His Life and Times, Mark Whitaker dedicates 468 pages to deifying the legendary man in the iconic sweater, with no mention of what Cosby had hiding up his sleeve. While Whitaker refers to Cosby’s “roving eye,” he somehow fails to mention the 2006 lawsuit against him, in which fourteen women came forward to allege that Cosby had drugged and sexually assaulted them. Each of the women had eerily similar stories that they offered to share on the stand. Cosby would offer them a drink, and then wait until the effects of whatever undisclosed substance he had stirred in took hold. The women would come to in various states of consciousness and undress—and only some managed to struggle and evade the grasp of the comedian.

Anger

Hard to imagine one of television’s favorite fathers sexually assaulting incapacitated women? You’re not the only one reticent to admit that “the Cosby Effect” could be used more accurately to describe the pill-induced haze to which Bill subjected his victims. In a now-viral stand up routine, Hannibal Buress reflected on the Teflon nature of Cosby’s public image, pointing out how ridiculous it is that, despite the 2006 lawsuit, the comedian’s name has emerged largely unscathed. In Buress’s words, “If you didn’t know about it, trust me. When you leave here, Google ‘Bill Cosby rape.’ It’s not funny. That shit has more results than ‘Hannibal Buress.’”

More Denial

A wise woman by the name of Taylor Swift once said that, “there’s a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” I would amend that statement to add that there is a special circle of hell where you are actually forced to listen to Taylor Swift songs on repeat for all of eternity—and this extra horrible hell is reserved exclusively for women who, for no apparent reasons, cast aspersions on sexual assault survivors.

In a notably ill-informed (and that’s really saying something) segment on Monday, the ladies of The View took on the resurfacing Cosby allegations with poise, nuance, and sensitivity. Just kidding—they were real big d-bags about it. Whoopi Goldberg led the crusade by boldly saying what absolutely nobody is thinking: “I hope there is justice for this lady, I hope somebody gets to the bottom of this, but I'm going to reserve my judgment because I have a lot of questions.”

The lady who Goldberg is referring to is Barbara Bowman, one of the victims who agreed to testify in the 2006 case. According to Bowman, “Cosby won my trust as a 17-year-old aspiring actress in 1985, brainwashed me into viewing him as a father figure, and then assaulted me multiple times.” Apparently, despite 30 years of publicly telling her story, Whoopi Goldberg still thinks Bowman has “a lot of questions” to answer to. What those questions are, and why a survivor ought to face an inquisition for sharing her traumatic experience while her alleged rapist pursues his illustrious career in peace for decades, is a question I would like to ask Whoopi Goldberg.

As you can probably guess, Goldberg did not demonstrate a similar distrust towards Cosby himself, instead suggesting that “you say, this is a friend of mine and I don’t know.” While Goldberg was too busy not blaming anyone (except the victim), Rosie Perez dared to reveal the true culprit: the world wide web. She explained, “You know what's crazy for me though, is whether the allegations are true or not, is the fact that the venom that the public has when they go on social media…And if these are true, I hope these women have their day in court and he gets the punishment—but if it's not true, a lot of people have rushed to judgment.”

Because nothing screams “rushing to justice” like decades of not being held accountable for your crimes, followed by another decade of public amnesia post allegations.

More Anger

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Just weeks after Hannibal Buress called Cosby a rapist on stage, good ol’ Bill posted a link to a meme-generator on Twitter, captioned “Go ahead, meme me!” Of course, the Internet is a fickle and cruel mistress, and the outpouring of memes that followed didn’t exactly read “positive, current publicity makeover.” Instead, the memes tackled the sexual assault allegations head-on. A truly cautionary tale of a 77-year-old versus the Internet.

Even More Denial

There’s no such thing as a good rapist. However, there is such a thing as a person who acknowledges the harm they have inflicted upon others, and hopes that this acknowledgement will begin to lighten the load of the trauma endured. Bill Cosby is not that person.

In an interview with NPR’s Weekend Edition that aired last Saturday, Scott Simon repeatedly pressed Cosby for a response to the re-surfaced allegations. A transcription from the program reads as awkwardly as a descriptive passage from Twilight—Cosby remains silent, while Simon dutifully narrates that, “you’re shaking your head no”—over and over again.

Eventually Cosby did respond to the allegations, which is to say that Cosby’s attorney issued a say-nothing “no comment” statement, insisting that, “Mr. Cosby does not intend to dignify these allegations with any comment.

Do You Want to Get a Little Bit Angrier?

Then feast your ears on this 1969 Bill Cosby routine about drugging and seducing women. The “bit” describes “Spanish fly,” a wonder drug that a young Cosby imagined would “make a girl go crazy once it was put into a drink.” The routine is from his 1969 LP titled It’s True! It’s True!—because sometimes you literally can’t make this shit up.

Acceptance?

At this point, it seems willfully ignorant to deny that there are a plethora of skeletons in Bill Cosby’s closet. But even more painful than admitting that Cosby is far from a perfect comedy icon is the process of acknowledging our complicity in his Teflon image.

As Bowman described in her piece for The Washington Post, “I was a teenager from Denver acting in McDonald’s commercials. He was Bill Cosby.” Cosby’s powerful position in the entertainment world not only intimidated and implicitly coerced the women he victimized—it also convinced them that their stories would not be heard. Bowman did not immediately report to the police because she felt as though she would be re-victimized and silenced. And, in effect, the lack of consequences that Cosby faced post trial has done just that. By refusing to associate Cosby with his alleged crimes, the public has more or less told the fourteen women who offered to speak out against him that their stories do not matter as much as Bill Cosby’s fame and fortune.

Bowman went on to point out that “Only after a man, Hannibal Buress, called Bill Cosby a rapist in a comedy act last month did the public outcry begin in earnest.” How can we increase reporting and decrease sexual assault in a world where one man’s stand-up routine is more convincing than fourteen women’s testimonies? How can we keep lauding the creative output of men even after the women in their lives out them as predators? What are the real life consequences of our collective amnesia? Cosby might refuse to dignify his allegations with a response, but we also have a responsibility, to survivors and to ourselves, to answer to our crimes.