Outside the “Rapist Box”: Bill Cosby, Woody Allen, and my Father

There’s been a lot of hype all over the internet lately about Bill Cosby and his alleged crimes.  This post is not about the question of whether or not he committed them.  If he did, it is tragic.  If he didn’t, the accusations against him are tragic.  Either way, it affects a specific group of people, and none of them are me, which probably makes it none of my business.

What I am interested in is the cultural response to the story.  Over and over I have seen people wondering whether it’s still okay to love The Cosby Show, or to laugh at Cosby’s stand-up jokes.  It seems that, if Cosby is a rapist, it casts a pall over everything he has ever produced, and has every chance of ending his career.  “Did it have to be Cliff Huxtable?” asks one article, while another asserts that “these revelations cast America’s once-favorite sitcom dad in terrible light.”  Netflix, TV Land, and NBC all jumped the sinking Cosby ship within a matter of days, canceling shows or pulling reruns.  Theaters began canceling his upcoming appearances.  “Run away,” says the mainstream media, “we don’t want to be seen to associate with an accused rapist!

It reminds me very much of the reactions early this year when the accusations against Woody Allen took center stage.  People who loved his movies suddenly seemed to be ashamed of that love, or to feel the need to never watch them again.  In fact, a personal appeal from the alleged victim, Dylan Farrow, asked for exactly that: for people to stop celebrating Woody Allen’s films.  It’s as if the overall cultural response is to say, “Well, if someone is a rapist, that means nothing they’ve ever done can be enjoyed or celebrated, because that would be supporting them, and supporting them is the same thing as supporting rape, and we certainly don’t support rape.”

Again, I’m not interested in arguing about whether any of these allegations are true or not.  There are plenty of articles out there arguing both sides of all these stories.  I am interested, primarily, in the cultural response to the phenomenon of rape. 

My interest in this issue stems from my own personal history. Continue reading