A number of women have come forward recently to throw their rape accusations on what is quickly becoming the funeral pyre of Bill Cosby and his career. In the midst of this, some young men are also coming forward to testify that homosexual director Bryan Singer raped them or coerced them into sex. And there’s a common link between all the accusers.
What do all the accusers have in common? They were all aspiring actors, actresses, or Hollywood professionals looking for a leg up from an already successful Hollywood celebrity. Anyone with half a brain can figure out what happened next, right?
Let’s say you’re a marginally talented amateur trying to get a breakthrough part or job, and some celebrity who could help your career invites you to his office or his house or his hotel room and gets you liquored up or stoned or high and starts getting frisky. Maybe you’re thinking, “If I let him have his way with me, maybe I’ll get the job I’ve been waiting for.” So you let it happen, mild at first, and then things start to escalate. Maybe even more than once. But then you don’t get that job and then the celebrity blocks you, ignores you, and acts like you don’t exist. You feel really ashamed and taken advantage of, but you also know deep in your heart that you should have known better. You should never have shown up in the first place. And after the first encounter, you should certainly have never returned.
You should have known that success is not that cheap, and you should have had the integrity to realize that you aren’t going to hit the Hollywood lottery. The people who actually make it don’t sleep their way to the top. They usually work really hard and make little gains. And most of those truly successful professionals have the self-dignity to say no, even to powerful people.
Are Bill Cosby and Bryan Singer off the hook, then? No. Because they also knew they were never going to give any jobs to the people they winked at and led on and coerced. Bill Cosby and Bryan Singer also had to know that those aspiring actors were there because they were afraid to say no and hoping Singer and Cosby would say yes to more than just sex. It is very likely that Bill Cosby and Bryan Singer took advantage of their power. And it is also very likely that the aspiring actors knew what they were signing up for. Or at least they should have known. Both sides of this all-too-common story need to bear some share of this shame.
But are Bill Cosby and Bryan Singer then guilty of “rape”? I don’t know. At least some of these allegations are suspect. For instance, the most recent one brought by Joan Tarshis indicates that Bill Cosby forced her to perform oral sex. CNN anchor Don Lemon is being lambasted for saying there are ways not to perform oral sex on a man (Hint: it involves teeth), but he’s actually right. Joan Tarshish may have been coerced, but she could have said no, at least in practice. The fact that Tarshish got in that same situation again later is kind of strange. She ultimately didn’t want to say no, perhaps, because she was probably afraid that would mean a lost opportunity or a lost job. When it became clear, allegedly, that all Cosby wanted from her was sex, she cut off all communication and receded into obscurity. Until the opportunity arose for her to get on CNN to talk about something that happened in 1969.
Why didn’t she bring this up before? All of this is suspect. I have to say it strikes me as very wrong bringing up rape accusations decades after the alleged rape occurred. It would be quite despicable if these aspiring actors, having failed to achieve fame through the (allegedly) coerced exchange of their bodies, are now cashing in on the sale of their stories. But at the end of the day, I don’t know all that happened. No one does really.
I understand that rape is a serious crime. But that’s what makes it such a serious accusation. Bill Cosby and Bryan Singer didn’t find helpless women and men in some dark alley, hold them down, and have sex with them against their will per se. At worst, they used their positions of influence and power to entice women and men into sexual situations, plying them with drugs and promises, and threatening them with career repercussions should they fail to perform. That’s wrong. And it’s a shame. But should it be called rape? One of the weirdest things about this story is the fact that these aspiring actors are claiming they were raped on more than one occasion. Ummm. Why did they ever return? If they had been raped in the most straightforward sense of the word, why didn’t they run to the police immediately and cut off all contact? Again, there is more to this story than is being told.
The story of women going to Hollywood to become actors and getting stuck in the porn industry is so common as to be cliché. This is the nature of Hollywood. I do have some pity for gullible and naïve amateurs who are coerced into what amounts to prostitution because they think there are shortcuts to the Emerald City. But there aren’t any shortcuts. And they had to know that already.
Dreams are not cheap. And neither are dreamers. Those who prey on the weak from positions of power should be ashamed of themselves, and some of them should be charged as criminals. But most of these dreamers sold themselves short as well. And that complicates the issue.