Crime in Culture: Bill Cosby and Jimmy Saville

We Need To Talk About Crosby, has now been released on BBC I-player. This four part documentary takes a deep dive into the career and crimes of Bill Cosby, comedian, trail blazer and serial rapists.

The documentary delicately deals with not just those who Crosby raped, but also those who had at one point held Crosby up as a hero – for many in the African American community his work to increase black representation in film and tv was foundational for their own careers and sense of self.

This means that when Crosby’s decades of drugging and rapping women came to light – and in hindsight there were a lot of red flags flapping – many struggled to balance the facts of the case with the wholesome and activist image Crosby had carefully crafted.

As someone who lives in Britain it’s impossible to not see the parallels with Saville, who had a similar long history of abuse and used his charity work and public profile as a tv presenter, and host of kids shows, as a cover.

It’s not a direct parallel. Saville (who abused people of any age, and it is suspected also the dead) was not working to level the playing field for a repressed minority, who continue to pay for the sins of other people’s forefathers.

However he did use publicly visible causes to act as a shield and deflector while hiding in plain sight, creating an army of fans who would leap to his defence, and dependents who needed him to carry on succeeding. Both men were changing and crafting the public perception of themselves to make sure they go under the radar, while also signalling their hollow sense of self. Both men used these tactics to float to the top and make sure that rape culture continued to operate in their favour.

We Need To Talk About Crosby is a lovingly crafted series and is from a creative point of view is head and shoulders about the two part Netflix documentary Jimmy Saville: A British Horror Story.  The Netflix documentary was hard to watch, but what will possibly be even more uncomfortable will the the upcoming drama about Saville, played by Steve Coogan, from the BBC and which was confirmed would be shown this year.

Saville has his own uncomfotable place in British crime history, partly because he was never brought to justice, unlike Crosby, he died before any of his crimes were investigated.  There were investigations from the police, and various institutions that he had worked at like the BBC, and hospitals, however there will never be a day in court for those who still live with his legacy.  The most we have been able to do is the removal and destruction of his gravestone (no proper burial or memorial being a time honoured punishment for those who commit the worst crimes) and ongoing conflict around the Glen Coe cottage he lived in on the run up to his death.

While everybody is absolutely certain that he is guilty of these crimes, the lack of trial and sentancing does leave an unresolved feeling, and a drama about him from the broadcaster who employed him and that he used as cover for his assaults, feels very much too soon.

Crosby on the other side was tried and convicted, unfortunately in a blow to those who he assaulted and raped his conviction was overturned and he is currently a free man, and has even said he is planning a tour.  His tour announcemnt being a heavy blow to not just his victims and the audiences he betrayed, but also to cancel culture, as he’s made it appear incredibly weak.  We can only hope that the fact that Cosby’s crimes came to light before he died means that in some way, at some point, his victims can have if not a sense of justice, at least a sense of rebalancing.

What I was left wanting more of from both documentaries was an understanding of the forces in both mens upbringing that possibly made them feel compelled to abuse and carefully curate a whole life with their ability to abuse undetected at it’s centre? I think we will probably never get a definitive answer to that question.  If Saville was still alive, any mitigating circumstance he could bring forward as a way of absolution would probably be the putrid cherry on an already foul cake.


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