When our heroes turn out to be bad guys

2014-11-25 06:00

The accusations of rape against everyone’s favourite grandpa, Bill Cosby, are not new. We’ve just chosen to listen now.

Claims against R Kelly, one of the greatest R&B performers of our time, were also not new. We only began seriously talking about them after The Village Voice investigation by music journalist Jim DeRogatis, which detailed Kelly’s long history of abuse, was published last year.

During this year, there has been a bigger conversation around the domestic violence in the US National Football League than ever before after a video was leaked showing Ray Rice assaulting his wife.

But these are not new stories. The partners of US footballers who have spoken out have been suffering for years. There is also 7th Heaven’s Stephen Collins, who played a pastor in the TV series, who is embroiled in a child molestation scandal.

When a hero or “nice guy” is accused, many of us refuse to believe that someone we love can also be terrible. It disturbs the order of things and challenges what we know to be true. We also conveniently ignore the power and exceptionalism we have bestowed on the men we love and respect.

They enjoy immense social capital which we believe makes them vulnerable to accusations of rape and violence but, at the same time, refuse to believe that it gives them the perfect cover for abuse of that same power.

In the trial of one of our most notorious serial killers, Moses Sithole, it was found that some of his victims had been young women who had applied for work with an organisation he claimed to run.

He was also said to be shy and charming, which allowed him to lure some of his victims in broad daylight.

Serial killer Ted Bundy was a nice guy. Film director Woody Allen is a genius. Actor Sean Penn is a huge talent. To be great in one way does not exempt one from violence.

Added to this, we ask why survivors of sexual abuse don’t come forward sooner as though we haven’t seen or even been part of what happens to the women who accuse “good guys”.

Did we not remark on the violence suffered by the women who accused President Jacob Zuma (who was acquitted) and Zwelinzima Vavi of sexual violence? To come forward, particularly against a father, a brother, a leader, is very often like signing up for additional violence.

That we may have some warm and fuzzy feelings towards men like Cosby is precisely why we ought to shut up and listen.

To quote American poet and activist Essex Hemphill: “Some of the men we love are terrorists.”

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