#ActivistProblems · Feminism · International Issues · Justice and Penal Issues

Cosby, Bowie…Same Difference?

I bet you never thought that you’d ever read a blog post that compared Bill Cosby to David Bowie, right? Well, life is filled with all sorts of unfortunate things…

Bowie passed away on the night of January 10th, in case you (by some manner of magic) missed it. And, as is customary when international icons pass, there was an outpouring of grief and remembrance of the uber-talented artist. And then, near the end of the grief-filled Monday after his death, my brother walks up and asked me a weird question…

“So…if an artist that you admire – that inspires you – passes away, and in the grief that you’re experiencing you find out that he’s a sex offender…how should you respond?”

So I responded the way I think anyone would’ve responded that Monday; “Wait…you’re talking about Bowie?”

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Mourners gather by a mural of David Bowie in Brixton for a street party celebrating his life on January 11, 2016 in London, England. (Photo courtesy billboard.com)

Turns out he was – when David Bowie was in his mid 20s, he allegedly raped a young woman. Of course, it’s never really come to light with the exception of various blog posts (most of which were written after his death). With this ‘revelation’ comes a lot of questions. Cosby apologists are no doubt asking, ‘how come we are attacking Cosby and not saying anything about David Bowie?’. Other folks are asking ‘how this actually stayed a relative secret as long as it did if folks actually came forward?’

My brother’s question, to me, meant a bunch of other things. How do we look at a great person who did one horrible thing years ago but never received justice? How are we, the supporters of such a great person, supposed to feel when that bubble of benevolent brilliance bursts?

In those ways, David Bowie and Bill Cosby are almost identical to some people. The reason that Cosby supporters can’t accept the idea that he might be a serial rapist is that he’s been such an influential and inspirational man. He, by the merit of all the great things that he’s done, isn’t truly capable of being the sort of person that goes around assaulting dozens of women. And, when my brother asked this about David Bowie, my instinct was the same. Bowie’s a brilliant musician and artist, and even his existence as an out bisexual man has inspired and given hope to so many. It isn’t really easy to imagine him as problematic, far less a sex offender.

David Bowie, sex offender. The phrase is just weird to look at…

Someone might say that it means something that Bowie was never indicted concerning the 1987 sexual assault allegations. I definitely think so – how can we call someone what a jury of people and the court of law said he isn’t? At least from a legal standpoint (and given the fact we can’t send him back to trial) he’s not a rapist. Some, too, would say that having sex with underage groupies shouldn’t count as rape. There’s even a part of me that thinks it’s unfair to judge someone as a bad person because young women came to have sex with them and were underage. But that’s a bullshit argument and I know it. Bowie had a responsibility to make sure that he wasn’t having sex with minors, at least because he doesn’t want to go to jail.

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Lori Maddox, pictured here, said she met Bowie when she was still a teen. They both consented to sex; in fact, Maddox arguably went to his house specifically to have sex. (Photo courtesy groupieblog)

Of course, with those facts in mind, there’s a vast chasm of difference between a man who was cleared of the one rape charge brought against him and another who has had dozens of women come forward about rape claims over the past 10 years. But he’s also been cleared of at least one allegation so far. This also means a lot to some people, a chance to reaffirm that the majority of the women accusing him are liars.

None of the actual legal stuff is important to my real concern now, though. The thing that crosses my mind is that the mental faculties we use to determine whether a person is good or bad is at best arbitrary, and at worse governed by things I have yet to put my fingers on. Bowie, a white bisexual British rock star, is a better person than Cosby, an African American TV legend. Both are accused of the same crime, albeit at vastly different times and volumes. Neither of them have been found guilty. If Cosby is guilty, he will go to the grave with a tainted image. Bowie, however, has gone to the grave with a cleared name.

The law is a pretty complicated thing, especially when attempting to measure something like sexual assault – no matter how cut and dry it is, there are some interactions that evade our logic because of socialization, gender roles…you name it. But public opinion is even more unpredictable. We made decisions about whether a person is ‘evil’ using sometimes the same information that makes someone else tragic. I can’t help but think, with this in my mind, whether we are doomed to think of every person who commits a crime a ‘criminal’ and nothing more…and whether we are really using that word fairly.

To the law, Bowie and Cosby are just two innocent men (at least for now). To us, in 2016, Cosby is a rapist, but Bowie is an icon. And that difference may be no more than perception…

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