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Cosby/sexual assault joke op-ed

Thursday 7/1/21

Op-ed I wrote this AM, which I doubt I'll be able to sell.


Hey, rape-y sex joke people: You’re helping with the rapes

Upon Bill Cosby’s release from prison on a technicality, I took to Twitter to gauge reaction, which is always an unwise choice to make in this life. If parts of the world we live in are a squamous, infected boil, Twitter is the pus-center.

And yet, Twitter is the public square, what used to be a place like Boston Common, where I walk every day and encounter unwell people bellowing into microphones about how Santa Claus was created as internecine political stratagem.

I’m disturbed by Cosby’s newly found freedom. I think anyone who cares about people who have acts done to them sans their say-so—which can take all kinds of forms—feels the same way. Just as I would imagine that anyone who read his former co-star—and current Howard University Dean of Fine Arts—Phylicia Rashad’s fist-pumping yelp of triumph on behalf of Cosby’s liberation would be similarly sickened.

But there’s another reason acts of sexual violence get the kid gloves treatment, and that comes down to our lack of empathy and need to make a joke. No matter how stupid, unfunny that joke is, or indicative of how broken the would-be comedian behind it.

Cosby hit the bricks, and cue millions of awful pudding pop jokes. You know the kind. “I bet the Cos knows a lot more about what a pudding pop really is now lol.”

Ah, prison sodomy jokes. Rich stuff. Followed by all manner of witless drivel about what frozen treats Cosby would be giving some lucky lady by the weekend.

I look at these people, and I see the 100K followers, or whatever the number is, and then the plaudits of “nice one” from the commenters, and it’s like, seriously, God, flood this world, cleanse it all over again.

People don’t take what happens to other people seriously. They use it for their riffs. For attention. For clout. For the brand. For their wretched online stand-up routine.

Empathy is one of the rarest qualities—and it’s one we need to be human, and to treat others as humans—because it requires imagination and an absence of this compulsion so many of us seem to have to perform.

It’s not enough to care about someone else. You have to try and step outside of your life and go into theirs. Empathy is a form of sacrifice in that a person has to jettison what they know, or think they know.

Similarly, Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer was accused of sexual assault, which led to Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard—who has a running rivalry with Bauer—posting on Twitter to simultaneously rip Bauer and plug his book club. In other words, he propped himself up with a joke on what might be—we don’t know yet—a sex crime in which a woman was throttled.

Wacka wacka, right?

How dead inside do you have to be, how oblivious to pain, to turn what could be someone else’s now-perpetual suffering into a prop like you’re Carrot Top of the internet? Are you even a living person at that point, or just some pasty smear of post-human residuum?

People go out and do the dastardly act, but our cultural need to make asinine jokes that four million people are simultaneously making helps to ferry them to the scene of the crime and then drive them away after, like there really wasn’t that much to see.

The likes of Cosby have their prepared tinctures, but our dead-inside humor is an enabling one as well. Dump it down the drain, and try putting yourself, your brain, and your heart, into what someone else’s life might be like.


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