The Smithsonian Institute Discovers That It Has Booked A Seat On The Bill Cosby Ethics Train Wreck, But It Has No Intention Of Getting Off

Cosbys and Cole

The Cosbys and Johnnetta Cole

When three new women accused Bill Cosby of sexual assault this week, the government’s Smithsonian Institution, “the nation’s attic,” suddenly found that it had been lured into assisting a clever PR ploy by the disgraced comedian. [ Full disclosure: I have worked for the Smithsonian recently, delivering a five hour lecture on the cultural and ethical influence of classic Western movies last December.] The revelations were the most graphic and disturbing yet ( Sample: “I was shocked. I didn’t know how I had lost so much time. My clothes were thrown all over the room and I felt semen on the small of my back and all over me…” ), and brought the total number of accusers near the half-century mark. Meanwhile, an exhibition of art owned by Bill and Camille Cosby will be on display at the National Museum of African Art until January 2016.

How many women will have come forward by then? Let’s start a pool!

In July, the museum posted a notice by the exhibition that reads in part:

“Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue” opened to the public in November and is scheduled to conclude in early 2016. In the months leading up to the show, and in recent weeks, cultural commentators have questioned whether the museum should have moved forward with the exhibition in light of the rape allegations that have dogged the comedian. Attorneys for Cosby have denied the accusations…[which] cast a negative light on what should be a joyful exploration of African and African American art in this gallery. The National Museum of African Art in no way condones Mr. Cosby’s behavior. We continue to present ‘Conversations: African and African American Artworks in Dialogue’ because it is fundamentally about the artworks and the artists who created them, not Mr. Cosby.”

Sure. Tell us another.

The Washington Post critic who visited the exhibit recently said that he tried to count the number of references to Cosby in it and “stopped counting at 40.” The exhibit is a departure from established museum practice, which usually does not exhibit private collections of living people unless the collections have been donated to the institution. Of course, the Cosbys donated something to the Smithsonian: $716,000, which the organization did not make an effort to disclose until pressed. Museum director Johnnetta Cole is a close friend of the the corrupt couple, and Camille Cosby serves on the museum’s board of advisors.

It should be obvious that the Smithsonian has been put in the position of appearing to bolster the arguments of Cosby’s defenders by placing its imprimatur—at a cost to taxpayers of $136,000 dollars—on a public exhibition that hypocritically extols the “family values” of couple who now appear to have conspired to allow the comic to pursue an avocation as an adulterous sexual predator.

I don’t know that I agree with the assessment of Post cultural critic Phillip Kennicott that the exhibition, in context, appears to bolster the oppression and subjugation of women through rape. I do agree with him that…

“This isn’t about borrowing art from an unsavory rich guy; it’s about hosting an exhibition that celebrates the family life and character — “the personal importance of family to the collectors cannot be overstated,” reads one exhibition text — of a married man who by his own admission acquired Quaaludes to give to women he wanted to have sex with…Now the Smithsonian has chosen to stand behind an exhibition celebrating a collector who personifies the nexus of power, wealth and celebrity that allows too many men of high social standing to treat women with violence and impunity…No matter what the Smithsonian asserts, the Cosby exhibition is now inextricably tied to women’s portrayal of Cosby as a sexual predator. Its casual celebration of patriarchy and traditional female role models will be read in context of women who claim that he allegedly used drugs to incapacitate them.”

In other words—ick. It shows atrocious taste and inexplicable judgment for the government to sponsor a hagiographic exhibition in the nation’s capital that serves as a tribute to a man as his warped and even criminal secret life is unfolding daily. More ick: the exhibit includes such text as “the personal importance of family to the collectors cannot be overstated” and “What about the word no don’t you understand?”

“Conversations” should be taken down. It should have been taken down as soon as the credible accusations started rolling in.

I have wrestled with whether to simply state now why  today’s post is materially different from this one, in which I found unethical Disney’s decision to remove Cosby’s bust from its Florida TV Hall of Fame exhibit, or to mercilessly mock the inevitable commenter who can’t see the distinction. I guess I’ll be nice. The Disney exhibit honors Bill Cosby for his undeniable accomplishments in comedy, breaking down walls for black entertainers, and revolutionizing TV sitcoms. He didn’t buy the honor, and it has nothing to do with his sexual misconduct and hypocrisy. Nor is the Florida exhibit mounted in the name of the nation itself, on the taxpayer’s dime. “Conversations,” however, now appears to be a state-endorsed celebration of Cosby’s personal values even as they are being shown to be a spectacular ruse.

The Smithsonian exhibit is a lie, devised to perpetrate a lie.

That’s the distinction.


Sources: LA Times, Washington Post 1, 2

7 thoughts on “The Smithsonian Institute Discovers That It Has Booked A Seat On The Bill Cosby Ethics Train Wreck, But It Has No Intention Of Getting Off

  1. If it’s really about the art it should be (or have been) possible to have the art on display without mentioning Cosby at all. So, we can conclude that it’s not at all about the art. It’s about buying positive publicity.

  2. “… in the name of the nation itself, on the taxpayer’s dime”.

    I wondered if that argument would surface. If readers look into the history of the Smithsonian, they will find that that is true, but only as a consequence of a train of usurpations imposed on it since its very beginning (when only immense public pressure forced the government to release the bequest it had seized – after which the government pretended that it had sourced the funds). That connection may not be prayed in aid, on the principle that who comes to equity should come with clean hands. The Smithsonian is an emanation of the government, because it was hijacked. It is funded and answerable in that way because it was put in harness, not left under its foundation principles and endowments.

    The rest of all that is still valid, however.

  3. Jack, you wrote recently about the “duty to confront” in 7-11s and so forth. What was wrong with all fifty or so of these women that this didn’t come out decades ago? What are the odds that absolutely none of them would have the self-respect to do something about this? As a predator, was Cosby so good he batted 1.000 on always picking the best, weakest candidates? I know this is called “blaming the victim,” but it just seems worthy of some sort of discussion. (And I’m no longer interested in giving Cosby the benefit of the doubt after his deposition was brought to light.) I just don’t buy the argument these women didn’t want to ruin their careers by challenging Cosby or that things were different in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. There were plenty of self-respecting women who had more than a career in “entertainment” to preserve at all costs.

    • Of course he chose his victims based on the power differential and on his, apparently finely tuned, assessment of whether or not they would be likely to report the abuse.

      It’s not blaming the victim to notice that some people are more likely to be victimized because of a set of characteristics. It’s smart. All this reluctance to analyze why certain people are more likely to be victimized leads to more people being victimized because it creates an excuse not to change.

      I don’t understand why people are so unable to confront a problem by knowing and addressing all the variables. How does it help solve a problem to blind ourselves to the most obvious causes? That is the most destructive thing political correctness does. It doesn’t allow people to frankly speak about all the variables.

      We’re so far down that road we can’t even acknowledge that women, black people, illegal aliens, criminals, liars, and progressives are sometimes actually not automatically right by virtue of being part of a protected class.

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