Tina and Amy vs. Bill Cosby

The Golden Globes were last night or as I referred to them in a previous post “The Tina and Amy Show” because let’s be honest it was their show. In the last blog post, I also confessed my embarrassing love of awards shows despite the fact that I know them to be oddly political, potentially meaningless, outdated, woefully undiverse. Given these problems with awards shows, I wholeheartedly appreciated the feminist bent this year’s broadcast had. Huffington Post also made a list of the most feminist moments of the evening which included a gorgeous acceptance speech honouring rape survivors by Downton Abbey’s Joanne Foggart and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s celebration of complicated women. I could have done without the Margaret Cho/North Korea bits. They were awkward in an awards show sorely lacking Asian representation and weren’t even that funny. Had they been replaced with more Tina and Amy I would have been much happier.

The hosts (am I supposed to say hostesses? Don’t care) were on fire with their monologue and fortunately, Buzzfeed has already compiled a list of the best jokes from their opening which will save me from having to recount them here. But of course I have to single out the fact that they went for the Bill Cosby joke. Hell yes, they did! I know some people didn’t approve of the joke because they felt it wasn’t the time or place, it was basically a rape joke, it made light of serious allegations etc. I hear those criticisms but respectfully disagree. Here is largely why, summarized for me by Elizabeth Plank of Mic News.

When the allegations against Cosby broke in the media recently, I learned that his mistreatment of women has been something of an open secret in the industry for years. It is therefore likely that there were people in the room last night who turned a blind eye and for that they should feel uncomfortable.

Others felt that Tina and Amy were essentially making a rape joke which feminists abhor so aren’t we being hypocrites here? The thing is, they weren’t making a rape joke because they weren’t making the victim the butt of the joke nor were they trivializing rape. The butt of their joke was the rapist. When Tina did her impression of Cosby and Amy steps in to correct her by saying “that’s not right” the joke is that Amy takes issue with the impression, not with the fact that Tina is accusing Cosby of drugging someone. The point is that Cosby slipping drugs to women is so believable (see the point above about his behaviour being an open secret) that what is unbelievable about what Tina’s impression is that she hasn’t nailed the idiosyncrasies of Cosby’s speech pattern. By focusing on the rapist and indirectly shaming the industry for failing to protect these women, Tina and Amy are making a comment on rape, not trivializing it. Similarly, they were making a joke about serious allegations, albeit a joke charged with condemnation, but it felt appropriate given the role comedy has played in bringing these allegations into the public forum. After all, it was comedian Hannibal Buress who brought all this recent media attention to Cosby when he called the latter a rapist during a stand-up routine. It’s also not the first time Tina Fey has made Cosby’s reputation the butt of a joke. Ironically, comedy has been the catalyst for a serious conversation about this particular issue. For these reasons, I do not agree with the characterization of Tina and Amy’s comments yesterday as equivalent to a rape joke. To see an example of an actual rape joke, check out the one Cosby himself is said to have cracked during a recent show in Ontario. (Another reason why I’m not inclined toward sympathy for Cosby.)

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Still others may point to the fact that the American justice system is based on the notion that an accused is innocent until proven guilty, thus jokes implying guilt before his day in court (should that ever happen) violate a fundamental principle of the system. While I agree with this in principle, no criminal charges have been brought against Cosby (though there is a current defamation lawsuit against him) perhaps because many of the incidents are alleged to have occurred during a time period that now falls outside of the statute of limitations. Moreover, according to some experts “the current state of the law and the nature of sex crimes and evidence collection often render it next to impossible to secure a criminal conviction against rapists.” For all of these reasons, it is not clear to me that we will get any definitive answers on Cosby’s guilt or innocence by way of the judicial system.

Which means we are left with the court of public opinion. At least 23 women have accused Cosby of some form of sexual assault, ranging from groping to rape. It seems that you either believe that the accusations against Cosby are part of a large, orchestrated campaign to slander him, or you believe at least one of these women is telling the truth. I admit to being in the latter camp and based on last night’s Golden Globes ceremony, so are Tina and Amy.