Sunday night, New York released a piece by Noreen Malone that immediately became the decisive piece on the recent surge of women who have come forward publicly to accuse Bill Cosby of rape, attempted rape, or sexual assault. Thirty-five of the 46 women who have publicly accused Cosby were interviewed by Malone and photographed by Amanda Demme, who created a visual montage of accusers that really drives home how many women, exactly, we are talking about here.
What stuck with me about this story is this image that emerges of Cosby as the gleeful master manipulator that emerges from these stories. Between the details the women offer and the sheer number of them, you get a clear picture of a man who sees rape as a sport.
The online version of the piece in interactive, allowing the reader to click each woman’s portrait and read her story. While there are some variations in their stories, most women describe Cosby as having a cold efficiency and cavalier attitude that leaves you with the unmistakeable impression that this is as easy a habit for him as making coffee in the morning is for the rest of us. All in all, you get a very solid portrait of a man who enjoys humiliating and overpowering women, and even likes toying with them before and after the rape itself, just to drive home the message of who has the power here.
This dovetails neatly with the image you get of Cosby reading about the four day deposition he gave in 2005, after being sued by Andrea Constand for sexual abuse. Cosby’s arrogance during that deposition is chilling. You really start to see that he thinks that he has us all fooled and that he can, to be blunt, bullshit his way out of anything. You start to get the feeling that he doesn’t just see the alleged victims as toys he can play with, but that is his attitude towards all of us: That we’re all just a bunch of dupes in his game and that he is the big man in charge. And when manipulation and distraction won’t keep us all compliant with the big con, then the team of lawyers came out to bully people into silence.
On a personal tip, I had literally just finished reading Tana French’s 2007 novel In The Woods before reading the New York piece Sunday night. The novel, which is about a murder detective unwittingly manipulated over the course of months by a teenage psychopath, was certainly an interesting juxtaposition. The fictional Rosalind’s behavior and Cosby’s real life behavior had eerie echoes of each other: The pleasure taken in toying with people, the ability to show a completely different face to different people, the sense that getting away with the crime is almost as fun as committing it. Oh yeah, and the utter rage when your facade is ripped away and others start to see you for who you really are.
Most of the discussion about this story is focused on shifting public attitudes towards rape accusers and making people understand they are no more likely to be lying than people who claim to be victims of any other crime. But this glimpse into the mental workings of a rapist is also extremely valuable. The myth that rape is the result of men just being sexually overexcited and losing control persists in the public imagination. But while Cosby’s alleged behavior is on the extreme end of the spectrum, it fits with what feminists have long asserted about rape: That it’s a crime of power, not of lust.
That thrill isn’t just overpowering the victim, but the jolt of excitement that comes from tricking the rest of us into letting the rapist get away with it. Just imagine the thrill of being able to dupe a small number of people, but multiplied by the hundreds of millions of us that Cosby had fooled. He must have thought he was so powerful, in part because he was. It’s too late for criminal charges against him now, but there is a small satisfaction in knowing how angry he must be now, watching that carefully built facade crumble around him.