This entire Bill Cosby fiasco is something I chimed in on a few weeks ago on Facebook. I wanted to expand a bit on my thoughts and make a more sweeping point.
For anyone who hasn’t heard, Bill Cosby has been accused of rape by over a dozen different women over the past few decades. These allegations have been re-brought to light due to a video of Hannibal Buress talking about it on stage in Philadelphia. The video went viral and the rape allegations are now being taken seriously.
What is interesting about this is if you listen to Hannibal speak about the material, he talks about how he wasn’t saying anything shocking. The information is (and was) out there. Not only is this verifiable with a quick Google search, but I can attest that in the comedy world this was relatively common knowledge. A lot of people in the comedy world probably assumed everyone just knew this information and that’s possibly why people haven’t talked about it. Why not?
My best guess is that people are afraid. Nobody wants to risk their career over something like that. Cosby is a living legend, a force in the industry. More importantly than that, he has made millions of dollars, off of which many many people have gotten rich (agents, managers, show runners, actors, EPs, etc.) so there are massive forces working to protect him (their investment). Sure, you could come out and take a stance, but the people who have vested interests in Cosby’s success (and reputation) will surely (and predictably) try and shut you down. They might accuse you of lying, blackball you from certain projects and employ various methods of marginalization or outright elimination. Deviant behavior is bad PR, especially if it’s true. So it makes sense that the forces profiting from a particular person or entity will do everything they can to maintain that position. In Cosby's case, the only reason he's so vulnerable is because he's not as relevant as he once was. That said, it will be interesting to see how his "team" responds behind the scenes.
These forces are the mechanisms of modern authority in institutions. This isn’t just true about our little comedy world. This is even more true and even more consequential in other, much larger industries. It goes all the way up from Hollywood to the NFL to corporate America to the U.S. Government. This is how our institutions function and how they suppress dissent in order to perpetuate their own power.
We can look at countless examples. This explains why Paterno and the Penn State administration were so adamant about keeping Sandusky a secret. They knew. They all knew. But it was bad for business. It demonstrated institutional failure with disastrous, horrific consequences, namely child molestation. Then, of course, it went public, it was pinned on a few people (rather than the institution itself), those people suffered tarnished reputations and were expelled and then, after some time, it was business as usual.
The same is true in the NFL. I promise you everyone in the NFL knows about all the scandals that come out way before they go public. It’s probably common knowledge. Ray Rice, Adrian Peterson, and most certainly much more, and much worse. (Ben Roethlisberger, for example.) The NFL protects rape and violence all the time because the institution (league in bed with sponsors) is protecting its own interests (power).
These are not isolated incidents as they are made to seem once they go public. No, these are embedded institutional failures. That is, namely, the priority of money and power over human behavior. The true criminal is the very institutions that coerce people to adopt those malevolent priorities in order to survive within them. And that is what we ought to be fighting against. Not the individual incidents of deviance, but the very institutions that protect them.
For brevity’s sake, I’ve limited the examples to the more popular ones, but there are countless others. (The Catholic Church, which is so tired a subject it barely needs mentioning.) Go into Hollywood and you’ll find the same thing. Probably worse. All sorts of prostitution rings and sex slavery, sexual coercion, things that are tantamount to rape, are extremely prevalent and relatively “known” commodities in that community. Ditto with Wall Street. But nobody says anything because the institution is what puts food on their tables and yachts in their marinas. So everyone has a reason to protect the institution and themselves. Remember, the people in power are the ones carrying out these vicious, horrific things. Are you really brave enough to go to war with that type of monster? The few who have have suffered terrifying consequences. All part of the plan.
The worst cases of this are governments and institutions with the ability to carry out true violence. You can go up and down this country’s history and find countless examples of this very thing. In the vein of the Michael Brown and Eric Garner killings and the subsequent Grand Jury decision to not indict either of the officers responsible, take a look at how the government has worked over the years to control, mitigate, and outright eliminate the black rights movements. Go back to the 60s when the FBI launched a ridiculous campaign to destroy the Black Panther Party (as well as many other dissident activist groups), ultimately crescendoing in the blatant murder of Fred Hampton. This is violent corruption that everyone within the institutions at fault knew about, full well. The FBI knew and the Chicago police knew. Nobody says anything because saying something is tantamount to warring with the powerful institution itself. In fact, the FBI agent who told Hoover that the Panthers were mostly concerned with their Free Breakfast Program was told that he was making a huge career mistake by not telling the FBI Director that the Panthers were “violent radicals.” Hampton’s tragic story is proof that institutional power will often stop at nothing to vanquish its opposition.
We can look at this indefinitely. The military, mercenary armies, genocide by sanctions, CIA inciting violent revolts in other countries to serve U.S. interests, U.S. support for oppressive regimes, etc. Some of this is controlled through propaganda (convincing the people within the institutions that this is actually good); some of it is controlled through outright fear and intimidation. “Say something and suffer the consequences.”
This is terrifying stuff, but I think we need to be aware of how these things function. They will allow us to see the bigger picture in many of these microcosmic examples that pop up all too frequently.
To bring it back, the entertainment industry, as well as Cosby’s wealth and fame, protected him for decades from justice. I suppose it's a good thing that people are realizing the truth about him now (better, that is, than never learning it) but it would be a massive failure on our end if we assumed that he was a lone wolf, a bad apple in a sea of otherwise altruistic forces. Most people are, deep down, good and well-intentioned. I believe this. However, our own ignorance and fear can evoke within us some pretty nefarious behavior. This includes simply being silent or allowing an institution to continue to subjugate and injure various people.
From the entertainment and sports industries, to the business world, to the government and beyond, the constant is the overwhelming power of institutions to prioritize maintaining that power over anything else. And, at a certain point, we are just as guilty for refusing to recognize our complicity in abetting that rather than what we should be doing, which is throwing stones.