No More “Dr.” Cosby

Bill Cosby in 2018

Bill Cosby in 2018
Earlier this month the UNC Board of Trustees voted to rescind Bill Cosby’s honorary degree. Their decision came just weeks after the once-beloved comedian was convicted on three counts of sexual assault against a former female employee of Temple University. UNC was one of the last hold-outs among colleges who had stripped Cosby of his largely ceremonial honors. Temple, Carnegie Melon, NC A&T, Johns Hopkins, Boston College, and Notre Dame had already distanced themselves from the man they once praised for his contributions to education and race relations. And while Bill Cosby is the first notable sexual predator to be convicted in the “#MeToo” era, he is joined by a growing list of high profile celebrities who have been accused of sexual misconduct, including Harvey Weinstein, Charlie Rose, Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman, Tom Brokaw, and Matt Lauer.

Common among these men is the power they had over their prey. In Cosby’s case, that power came from drugging his victims. For other alleged predators, power came from the positions they held. In recent months, scores of women have finally come forward to say they were afraid of either being fired or not being promoted if they refused (or talked about) advances from their celebrity higher-ups. Men like Rose and Lauer, for example, counted on those fears in order to sustain and protect their own bad behavior. These men were also wealthy and powerful within their sphere of influence. In Lauer’s case he was a major revenue producer for NBC, thus ensuring that even if a woman complained, she would not be believed, and punitive action against him would be unlikely.

That was then and this is now. The “#MeToo” movement is in full force. Lauer has been fired, Rose was dropped by PBS, and Weinstein is about to stand trial. Meanwhile they and other once powerful men are now persona non grata, which explains why so many colleges, studios, talent agencies, investors, sponsors, and fans have distanced themselves from these sexual bullies. The question is, should honors and awards bestowed upon them in the past, now be rescinded in wholesale fashion?

Brittney Cooper, professor of women’s studies at Rutgers University, told the Associated Press, “There’s an on-going conversation about ‘can we love the art, and dismiss or disavow the artist?’ But we have to stop deciding that art is a reasonable spoil of war, that we will ignore all the casualties. We can’t separate Cosby from his art.”

I tend to agree with Professor Cooper. After all, serial predators are only able to succeed professionally by protecting their public persona. They wake up every morning comfortable in the knowledge that their house of cards can’t possibly come tumbling down. Moreover, they count on the cooperation and silence of others to sustain their precious and profitable persona. As such, their “art” is informed by a protected environment that empowers their criminal behavior. Thus, any accolades ascribed to them, even by those who are unaware of that behavior, is based upon a false persona. Their contributions to society might have seemed significant at one time, but we look at things through a different lens now, and what we see is that the pain of long-suffering victims far outweighs the intrinsic value of a successful TV show.

In the end, if we don’t rescind honors and awards given under false pretense, then we become complicit after the fact in condoning and enabling these arrogant men and their abusive behavior. Besides, who needs an honorary degree in prison any way.


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