Cosby-Buress effect: how to use social acceptance to dismiss criminals

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Comedians poke fun at things. When Hannibal Buress openly remarked during a performance that Bill Cosby is a rapist, Cosby was not the target of his fun. Buress chided everyone else for tolerating Cosby’s behavior. America’s dad, Buress suggested, was actually America’s serial rapist. Buress said we have to stop giving this man a pass, just because he won our hearts with The Cosby Show in the 1980s. Stop acting like you don’t know.

Here’s an interesting thing about Cosby’s behavior. A lot of people actually did not know Cosby is a rapist. I didn’t. Only people familiar with the evidence knew. Hannibal Buress, a fellow comedian, knew. What was the evidence in this instance? Testimony from credible witnesses. Witnesses in rape cases are also the victims. Cosby’s victims spoke up after he committed his crimes. People who knew about their testimony believed them. Buress would not poke fun at our admiration for Cosby, or falsely charge the icon himself, if he doubted the longstanding charges.

Now think about the role of social acceptance in the Cosby-Buress story. Pre-Buress, polite society did not charge Cosby with rape. If you knew about those charges, you ignored them. The easiest way to ignore something is to discredit it: “It’s a rumor.” “The accusers just want his money.” “It can’t be true. How could it be?” If the truth yields conclusions too uncomfortable to accept, and we want to find a way to fit in with our friends, we’ll find a way to set the truth aside.

Along comes Hannibal Buress, a comedian on the rise. People listen to him. He takes it for granted that Cosby is a rapist. Buress is Cosby’s colleague: a fellow comedian and black as well. Given the difference in age, Cosby could have been a mentor for Buress. Yet Buress stands on the stage and calls Cosby a rapist. People notice that. Victims, dismissed before, see that people listen to Buress’s remarks about Cosby. That gives them courage to support each other. No one wants to be dismissed. Now his victims have more confidence that won’t happen.

Before long, Cosby is the untouchable figure. No one wants to listen to him anymore. He has to cancel his performances. People press him for answers to the charges. He has none. All the books and articles about America’s dad look like a public relations illusion to cover his criminal life on the side. The smirk and the bright eyes don’t look so endearing now. Now we think, “What’s the matter with you? You should be in jail.”

One remark by Buress on stage, recorded and posted to social media, turned not only opinion, but true belief based on evidence, against Cosby. The reversal occurred rapidly, though the charges against Cosby hung in the air for decades. “Another icon smashed,” you say. Buress concludes, “You won’t want to watch reruns of The Cosby Show anymore.” It’s another poke at us, Cosby’s audience. If you want the truth, look to a jester.

If serial rape by America’s dad seems too serious a subject for jests, what about fears that your own American flag heralds a state that assassinates leaders and blows up buildings with people in them? No one would say Oliver Stone is a jester, but his films about politics arrest your thoughts. JFK in particular had the same effect as Buress’s comments about Cosby. “Wake up, people,” Stone said. “Jim Garrison was right about who killed Kennedy. Don’t dismiss this man. Don’t pretend he was wrong.” After people see JFK and talk about it, more individuals acknowledge the truth about what happened in Dallas. They acknowledged it openly, without fear of dismissal.

Then a book like James Douglass’s JFK and the Unspeakable comes out. It contains a trove of carefully documented and compiled research. He tells a comprehensive and credible story about President Kennedy’s leadership. He demonstrates how his leadership led to his death. The words in Douglass’s subtitle, Why He Died and Why It Matters, accurately describe this story. Douglass keeps these two questions in view from the first page to the last.

We have not reached that point of acceptance for true accounts of 9/11 yet. Consider that now, no one says Stone went down a rabbit hole when he made JFK, or that Douglass is a fringe conspiracy theorist. That’s what you still hear about people who research 9/11. The more evidence they gather, the further down the rabbit hole they’ve gone. If you want social acceptance, you better come out of the hole. The hole is for those sorry people lost in Wonderland, who can’t tell reality from unreality – delusionals who tell us our own government is complicit. “You tell me 9/11 is an inside job? You’re crazy. What does that even mean? Get out: I don’t want to hear anymore.”

That’s dismissal. Fifty years from now, people will talk about 9/11 the way they talk about Dallas after Stone and Douglass. If you claim with Gerald Posner that Jack Ruby closed the case when he executed Kennedy’s sole killer in a Dallas police station, most people, post-Douglass and post-Stone, will tell you to read the evidence. Come back when you know better. They will say that November 22, 1963, was the day we lost our republic. People understand the significance of that day now. You don’t have to worry that your friends will send you into intellectual and political exile if you acknowledge the truth.

I’m impatient to reach that point with 9/11. People will read David Ray Griffin’s work mid-twenty-first century and ask, “Why did we not listen to him when he was alive? Now it’s too late.” Griffin has done an amazing job with incomplete evidence. You cannot read his work and conclude that we know everything we need to know about 9/11. The sum of what we do not know exceeds the sum of what we do know.

Given where we are, though, we cannot depend on a new, official investigation to fill in the large parts of the drawing that currently remain incomplete. We will not receive relevant, truthful information from mainstream media, or from authoritative sources in government. In fact, authoritative and government are oxymoronic concepts in this context. A new investigation by people other than you and me, by people who have more resources and weight than you and me, will not occur. We have a lot of reasons to feel confident about that outcome.

In light of that outcome, what is the best possibility? What can occur, in our lifetimes? We can still see the Cosby-Buress effect take place. True enough, Oliver Stone and James Douglass are not jesters. High treason by people inside government may not be a matter fit for jesters. I’m hopeful, though. If we cannot find a serious film maker to open our eyes, perhaps it will be another theologian. David Ray Griffin, like James Douglass, is a theologian. Theologians care about right and wrong. Let David Ray Griffin’s colleagues stand on the stage and say, “Listen to this man. What he says is true.”

If that happened, people would not be so cautious about stating what they really think. They would be open in their speech about 9/11, without fearing dismissal. Speaking the truth about 9/11 would not appear conspiratorial, as it does now. People fear advocates of truth in this situation, because it appears the advocates aim to down every source of order we know. If 9/11 is in fact a state crime against democracy, everything about our current order is open to question – nothing about our safety or laws is certain. In that atmosphere, truth speakers not only point to a conspiracy. In most people’s eyes, they form a conspiracy against our current order.

We can’t let that kind of thinking make us ignore the truth. To ignore the truth always yields a worse outome than to embrace it. America can live without America’s dad. Americans can live without a cohort of criminals who run a national security state to protect their own power. Americans can live more safely without criminal parents than they can with them. If your father were a rapist, wouldn’t you want to know it? Would you want to pretend your whole life it wasn’t true? The same questions – and answers – hold for state crimes, and for every citizen’s ability to acknowledge them openly and truthfully.

If we did that, people decorated with their ribbons and flag pins, current liars and potentates who surround themselves with signs of power, would soon be in the same position as Bill Cosby. No one cares to listen to them. No one should listen to them. Who wants to pay attention to people who betray you?

After Buress’s comments, Cosby lost his audience. America’s dad can’t entertain people or invite them to laugh anymore. When citizens acknowledge that criminals have captured their own government, officials lose their power, authority, legitimacy, and ability to command obedience. Then citizens confidently say to officials, “Get out of here. We have no reason to listen to you.” It matters who dismisses whom. When you acknowledge the truth about what people have actually done, victims show criminals the door.

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