The Rapist’s Respectable Public Face


There’s been a lot of talk on the internets lately about the allegations against Bill Cosby, and how that secret truth conflicts with his public persona, especially the persona he offered on The Cosby Show. I want to chime in, briefly, to say this is the most common thing in the world.

(Digression: if my assertion that the allegations are true makes you uncomfortable or prompts an argument, please don’t bother. I don’t live my life by standards like “Innocent until proven guilty” or “Beyond a reasonable doubt.” Those are checks on state power to do things that would be illegal for average citizens, things like kidnapping and imprisoning them for ten years, or forcing them to work without pay, or taking their money without their permission, or–in some states–killing them. I don’t have the authority to execute, arrest, fine, or demand community service from anyone; at best, I can think mean things and refuse to watch someone’s TV show. The burden of proof for that is “common sense” and at this point so many women have come forward that it would be absurd to pretend our doubts are reasonable.)

Anyway, as James Poniewozik says in Time, Cosby deliberately tied his real life persona to his own agenda and personality. We were meant to conflate the two because Cliff Huxtable was made for that.

But even if we pretend that Cosby was actually playing himself and not a sitcom character, there’s no reason to be shocked that a likable, seemingly decent man is actually a rapist. Most rapists seem like normal good guys. The ones who write PUA books recommending pressure and sexual assault to get a woman into bed are easy to spot, but most seem like normal, everyday people. They’re family, co-workers, and friends.

“My buddy wouldn’t do that,” is their first line of defense. Respectability is camouflage. And when you’re hanging out with that friend, they laugh along with your joke about what you do when your dishwasher stops working and quietly believe you’re just like them.

The thing about Cosby isn’t that there’s such a disconnect between his public and private life, it’s that it’s so common.