Bill Cosby is vastly funnier than Judd Apatow. In fact, I don’t find Apatow’s work terribly amusing at all. Forgive me, but I don’t. On the other hand, I wore out Bill Cosby records as a kid. I memorized his routines. My parents even took me to see him live a couple of times. So, clearly, I would rather have heard that Apatow was a serial rapist, not Cosby. But the facts are what they are. A man whose work I really love is a monster who should be in jail. And Apatow goes free despite the third season of “Girls.”
However, Apatow was more than off-base when he said that he thought the Cosby scandal was “the worst thing that’s ever happened in show business.” The worst? Ever? That’s the kind of stupid (yes, stupid) remark that actually belittles some seriously dreadful stuff.
Let me reiterate, Cosby’s serial rapist career has inflicted untold pain on at least three dozen women who certainly did not deserve what happened to them. He should be in jail for the rest of his life. No doubt, it’s bad. But the worst ever? No.
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Show business as we know it has been around for quite a while, and there has been assault, rape and murder from the beginning. It is part of society, and it is not immune from society’s ills. Cosby is no different than the serial rapists on college campuses save for his age, fame and money.
In fact, if Apatow had done any homework on this at all, he would have found a case of show-biz rape in England a couple years back that surpasses the Cosby scandal in sheer numbers. Sir Jimmy Savile of “Top of the Pops,” Britain’s answer to Dick Clark and “American Bandstand,” is believed to have raped 450 victims, 82 percent of whom were female and 80 percent underage. And he had been knighted for his charity work with kids. Worse than Cosby? I think so, but you are free to disagree.
One man can do a great deal of evil, as Cosby has done. But the greatest criminals in the world aren’t guys like Ted Bundy, Charles Manson or Jack the Ripper nor Savile nor Cosby. They are men like Mao, Stalin and Hitler. They run a system that perpetrates evil on a scale a single individual cannot rival.
And so it has been with show business. The worst things that happen to show business occur when entertainers as a profession allow themselves to participate in grand-scale evil.
For instance, segregation in America was bolstered by show-business practices. Audiences in movie theaters and other venues in the South had white-only and colored sections — the film community and live performers accepted it for years. Films were either banned or were censored to assuage racial sensibilities. Distributors had the power to deny films to segregated theaters and performers could have boycotted the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” Instead, they collaborated to get paid.
There is an entire body of art known as agitprop, political propaganda in art and literature — usually the term refers to communist art, but political propaganda posing as entertainment is commonplace. At its worst, one has the Leni Riefenstahl’s ode to the Nazis, a film called “Triumph of the Will.” TV programs in North Korea, along with novels and films there, reinforce the message of the sociopaths running the country. I remember reading once of a rewrite of “Swan Lake” by the Kirov Ballet in Leningrad (now the Mariinsky in St. Petersburg — only the names have changed) in which the ending was changed from a tragic one to a happy outcome for ideological reasons under Stalin.
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Nor should we forget the American cinema’s black list during the McCarthy witch hunts of the 1940s and 1950s. The very people who were soft of Hitler and Mussolini in the 1930s came after people they alleged were communists after World War II; their victims were called “premature anti-fascists.” They set their sights on Hollywood because the film industry has been a place the morally indignant have hated since they crucified Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle for being rich and liking booze and women.
The Hollywood 10 were dragged in front of the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), which insisted that they state whether they had ever been members of the Communist Party. They refused this violation of their Constitutional rights and were sentenced to a year in jail for contempt of Congress. Hollywood didn’t fight for its own. Instead, it created the Black List, people in the industry who were banned from working. Estimates are that anywhere from 150 to 500 people were black listed, and the list persisted into the 1960s.
Bill Cosby in an evil man despite his comedic talents. But show business is at its worst not when one man engages in rape because he is in a position of power. It is at its worst when it collectively acquiesces to or even collaborates with evil.
Jeff Myhre is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine.