A friend of mine tells me that once, in the seventies, when a conference of school administrators drew to a close somewhere in Iowa, he had the responsibility of driving Bill Cosby to the airport in his beat-up Toyota Carolla. During the drive Cosby said nothing. Nothing. Not hello. Not thank you. Not good bye. In some recent interviews, when asked about allegations of his sexual abuse, Cosby has clammed up again. One filmed interview shows an Associated Press correspondent asking Cosby about the barrage of accusations piling up on his doorstep, to which Cosby says, “There’s no response. . . . There is no comment about that.” Then he tries to bully the reporter into excising even the question he hasn’t answered from the record.
What may appear Cosby’s refusal to lower himself to the level of his nasty accusers is, instead, an attempt to retain the ill-gotten power he has allegedly exerted over an ever growing number of women who have stepped forward with remarkably similar stories of his assault. He’s a “predator,” says one of those women in another taped interview; he’s a “coward,” says another, in reference to Cosby’s alleged modus operandi: drug a woman, take advantage of her, and humiliate her when she awakens.
An opinion piece in Time magazine, by Erica Williams Simon, discusses both Cosby’s silence in response to his accusers and the silence he repeatedly seeks to impose on them. Of Cosby’s refusal to speak to the allegations, Simon writes, “This should not be viewed as the mature response of a well respected, integrity filled man (and in the case of his wife, a beloved, regal woman) attempting to maintain dignity and stay above the fray. It should be seen as what it is: A power move by a someone so arrogant that he thinks he shouldn’t even be asked about the fact that 15 [as of November 20, 2014] women are accusing him of a horrific crime.”
Both Cosby’s arrogance and strenuous efforts to control, not to mention his predation of vulnerable women, mirror one common scenario in which a professor takes advantage of a student. Cosby’s fame parallels the esteem accorded a professor, who enjoys a kind of local celebrity, and Cosby’s self-interested use of his established power to help others with their careers resembles a professor’s ostensible gestures in behalf of a student’s pursuits while grooming the student for selfish purposes. Although Cosby’s reliance on a drug-induced stupor to exercise control may not characterize most situations between a professor and a student, the influence of a professor’s flattery and seduction should not be underestimated.
When asked in a filmed interview whether they thought about Cosby’s abuse every day, the five women assembled, all of whom accuse Cosby of drugging and raping them, looked at one another to see how the others would respond. Then one of them said her experience was like “a subliminal soundtrack.” She compared it to the death of her son. That comparison conveys the level of the pain, which never disappears.