Why I Feel Sorry for Bill Cosby

After posting about Michael Tucci, I discovered that there are non-substantiated claims of sexual harassment that may or may not include him.

And that got me thinking about Bill Cosby.

I hate to write this, but I accept that Bill Cosby did enough of the awful things attributed to him (though not all of them) that it is difficult for me to listen to his old stand-up (I always enjoyed his old stand-up comedy routines--"Buck Buck," "Ninth Street Bridge"--more than his newer routines and even The Cosby Show). Maybe one day I'll be able to go back and listen to them without immediate association to the recent fall-out. But I doubt it.

And yet, despite not greatly contending many of the allegations (although I recognize that no criminal case has yet been resolved), I find the whole thing incredibly distasteful, including the rescinding of Cosby's honorary degrees.

It isn't because I think men (or women) should get away with drugging people, threatening people, or demanding sexual favors. Yeah, that's just wrong. Rather, there's a mob mentality about the whole thing that sends shivers down the spine. There's a vague French Revolution Reign of Terror/Salem Witch Trial vibe where one begins to wonder if throwing out haphazard accusations--against someone like Michael Tucci, for example--has become a kind of game or exercise in control.

The victims--and I do believe there are victims of sexual harassment/abuse in our culture; I don't believe every accusation is a scam, etc. etc.--begin to lose my pity as their desire to burn down the castle and lynch the bad man grows. Maybe the Beast truly did do bad things; does that mean that looting treasures and smashing furniture is okay?

When an 80-year-old blind man is continually forced to undergo civil and criminal procedures, I lose my taste for blood (if I ever had it). I begin to wonder what kind of culture we live in that would do that.

And yet, I support dozens of Law & Order episodes where criminals are brought to justice years later (I've always enjoyed a good cold case), including the episode where the skeevy doctor is punished because he was dumb enough to brag about his untouchability on the news.

By the end of the trial, my
sympathies had veered
entirely towards Jackson.
The point is not that I have an answer. I don't. In a perfect utopia run by a wise and benevolent kindly somebody or other, I think I would like to see the man punished in a quiet, non-intrusive fashion that doesn't involve public pillorying and snowballing accusations. But we don't live in that world, and the current democratic adversarial system is truly better than many other systems (check out history for terrible alternatives, such as the Star Chamber).

Still, I think there is an alert embedded here--not only to people bringing sexual harassment charges (which I think they are right to do; like Paglia, I think these matters should be settled in the courts, not by academic tribunals or other such forums) but a warning against people like Kenneth Starr and people who get mouth-foaming angry about pedophiles:

No matter how unjustified, pity will rightly or wrongly eventually swerve towards the perceived underdog, whomever that underdog might be.

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