When you read about rape, you can’t help but imagine yourself as the victim.
In the case of Bill Cosby, it’s all too easy to see yourself as a young actress or model, just starting out in your career, hoping for a big break. You agree to meet with a powerful and fatherly man.
Afterward, you don’t feel like a person. You say words, and no one seems to hear you. Telling the truth feels like shouting, screaming into the wind of a canyon. Your truth is soundly disbelieved and turns into a non-truth. You feel like smoke, reflected in a mirror, hardly seen, an image of what’s left after something has burned.
In the 1960s, Bill Cosby gained fame as a comedian. He became the first African-American actor to win an Emmy award for the show “I Spy.”
The ethos of the 60s allowed for a grand optimism, and it’s easy to imagine that Cosby was buoyed by this sensational vision of a future where everyone is valued.
Reality has touched against myth
Humanity can move to achieve the impossible
Because when you’ve achieved one impossible others
Come together to be with their brother, the first impossible
Borrowed from the rim of the myth
Happy Space Age to you . . .
This is a poem by jazz great Sun Ra, and it was his suggestion for what Neil Armstrong should say when he took his first step on the moon’s surface.
There is this powerful idea that humans are constantly improving, becoming nobler, more thoughtful. There is a hope and expectation that we will overcome our faults, end wars and care for all our people. This vision was emblematic of the 60s.
Racism is one enormous problem we can’t seem to tell the truth about, let alone solve.
The idea that women are not human beings is another.
Turning the Wheel
Bill Cosby had an impact on American culture that cannot be overstated.
Bill Cosby is also a rapist. 60 women have come forward to speak their truth. They were silenced for years by Cosby and those who loved him, and by themselves. You could say that society couldn’t accept what the rape victims were saying. That Bill Cosby would drug women, rape women, lie to women, cause them to deny their own reality – was not in the realm of the imaginable for vast swaths of the American public, from the 1960s all the way up until 2015.
In 2015, during a stand-up routine, comedian Hannibal Burgess casually said Bill Cosby was a rapist. Then, finally, the wheels of justice began to turn.
A man spoke the truth and was believed immediately. This fact was almost as galling to some women as the abuse itself. The words weren’t heard unless they were spoken by a man.
One reason Cosby kept going is that his level of stardom powered entire industries. To shut him down would be to lose all that power and promise.
To that, I say – what about the promise of the victims? How many actors, screenwriters, directors, comic geniuses stopped working in the industry? What cinematic masterpieces were never created?
We will never find out how those careers might have gone. Careers, happiness, earning power – all snatched up and destroyed in a bonfire fueled by PTSD.
“What does that say about a woman’s worth, a woman’s value?” asked Victoria Valentino, a Cosby victim, after he was released from prison. “Do our lives mean nothing?”
Trueing the Wheel
There are a lot of things that are excruciating about seeing Bill Cosby released from prison. How long did it take, how much work was required, to put him there in the first place?
It took years.
But it’s not only the time and the work but the anguish. So many women were attacked in this odd, seemingly non-confrontational way.
They were drugged and then raped. They were treated as bodies only. For some, the drugs took away their awareness of what was happening and their memory of it. Their bodies kept score, though.
The women did the hard work to remember, to piece together the events. Finally, they found the courage to report. They repeatedly worked up the bravery to tell their stories over and over again. They found lawyers, they testified. Every aspect of their lives was scrutinized.
Finally, they were heard. The untruths were trued.
Cosby’s conviction was overturned on a technicality. In exchange for testimony in a civil case, Cosby was promised he wouldn’t be prosecuted. The crimes were admitted to and then traded away in an oddly casual and banal way. They were acknowledged as crimes and instantly forgotten. Almost as if they had never happened. More smoke in a different mirror.
Cosby has never admitted to having raped anyone. It’s possible he still believes that giving women drugs is an acceptable method of seduction, that his behavior is in the realm of regular sexual expression. Just another example of the banality of evil.
We hope someday, having solved the problems we face, to join a community of galactic civilizations.
This record represents our hope and our determination, and our good will in a vast and awesome universe. — U.S. President Jimmy Carter, Voyager golden disc, 1977
We are still drawn to the old ideals, perfectly expressed in science fiction like Star Trek. In that story, human civilization was brought to its knees by wars and corruption but was rebuilt with a renewed sense of justice and idealism.
Some would argue that our societies are still falling downward. The repeated injustices felt by Cosby’s victims would seem to support that assessment.
But this dark wrinkle in time is an illusion. We will drop those artificial burdens, slip the bonds, entwine arms in renewed personhood. We will imagine and project ourselves onto distant stars across the nebula. We can see a time when every person is held sacred by every other person, where justice exists not in a courtroom but is built into our hearts.
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