A Song, A Protest, and a Betrayal

I was rummaging through the psychic sock drawer this morning and stumbled upon 3 disconnected items:

First, I want to express my gratitude to the many Maple Leaf fans who came through in the clutch last week. When a technical problem knocked out the Air Canada Centre’s microphone during the singing of the U.S. national anthem, Toronto fans picked right up where the singer left off and finished the extraordinarily difficult to sing “Star Spangled Banner” – without musical accompaniment. On behalf of 330 million countrymen and women, let me say thank you for a very graceful gesture!

Sock Two: You may remember that at an assembly last month, Kinton Cheung gave an impassioned speech in support of the “Occupy Central” movement in Hong Kong. Afterwards a number of students and teachers came forward to don yellow ribbons to promote the democratic cause.

Last week I visited China and it’s not surprising that this topic came up in almost every conversation, but what was surprising was the reaction of our Chinese old boys, the vast majority of whom looked at this issue from an entirely different perspective.

Almost everyone believed that, while more direct representation might be a good thing, the occupy movement made five fundamental mistakes:

First, the students broke the law by occupying the streets without even applying for a permit. I’m not sure we in the West can ever properly appreciate how important the rule of order is for the Chinese, but even the thought of mob rule is extraordinarily disturbing in a country with 1.3 billion people.

Second, the protesters inconvenienced many people by disrupting Hong Kong’s extensive transportation system. As the protest has continued, support for the students has steadily diminished; the latest poll shows that most Hong Kong people want the protest to end immediately. (And most of our old boys are convinced the occupy movement will end within a month.)

Third, because of the traffic disruption, businesses have been cut off from their customers, and as a result, many small business owners are now close to bankruptcy, an eventuality that apparently has not caused the student-protesters to lose much sleep.

One old boy pointed out that the students don’t appreciate the fact that they have more freedom in Hong Kong than do citizens in any other part of China. “The fact that the Hong Kong protesters expect so much more for themselves irks me” he said, “and reinforces the belief that the protesters are out of touch.”

A number of parents and old boys pointed with pride to the fact that that the government has, for the most part, shown restraint throughout this ordeal; they believe Beijing learned an important lesson at Tiananmen Square in 1989. They also think the people of Taiwan and Tibet are closely monitoring how the government deals with all of this, because it is entirely possible that someday in the not-too-distant future, the Tibetans and the Taiwanees may find themselves in a similar situation.

I took a couple of photos of “Occupy Central,” and like most visitors, I was struck by how organized and orderly the protesters were. This looks more like a Mountain Equipment Co-op than your typical Times Square protest.

China 1 China 2

Sock Three: You may have seen the beyond disturbing reports in the news last week about Bill Cosby. A number of women have recently come forward to accuse the 77 year-old icon of being a serial rapist. When I first read this, I was just gob-smocked. I still can’t quite come to grips with this because, if you had asked me to give you an example of a good father, a good husband, and a good man, I would have given you Dr. Bill Cosby, aka Dr. Huxtable.

But that, it turns out, was my mistake because Bill Cosby was not at all the wise, caring, and compassionate Dr. Huxtable.

Like a lot of folks my age, I feel more than let down. Maybe it’s because I’m from Philadelphia, Cosby’s hometown, and went to high school in North Philly, right down the street from Temple University, his alma mater, where he serves on the Board of Trustees. This time it all feels more personal. It’s worse than when Woody Alan broke the “creep-o-meter” index by marrying his adopted daughter. Woody and Bill both made us laugh, but Cosby was the comedian we all trusted.

In a strange way, Cosby’s sin is more disturbing than the infidelities of presidents and preachers.  That’s because “The Cosby Show” was all about goodness. It was about a dad’s helping his adolescent kids come of age in an almost too good to be true family, in an almost too good to be true post racial setting.

I’m not quite sure what the Canadian equivalent of this would be for you. Would it be finding out that Peter Mansbridge was coke-head or discovering 30 years after his career ended, that Gretzky had been on steroids? Whatever it is, it’s not good for the soul, this kind of disappointment. It can leave you cynical, and that’s not good for any of us.

What makes it all the worse is the fact that so many women did not feel they could even come forward for so many years – because Bill Cosby was such a cultural icon.

If there are lessons to be learned, perhaps they are two: One, we shouldn’t confuse the artist with the art. The fact that you are good at something, even family sit-coms, does not necessarily mean you are good. There is, after all, a profound difference between the dancer and the dance.

And second, the Cosby case shows us just how much more work we need to do in order to create a more equal society, one where the powerful don’t overwhelm and intimidate those with less social or financial standing. We all need to work to create a society where women are on equal footing with men, a society where the weakest among us can stand up to injustice, even when that injustice is committed by a popular, powerful man sporting a smile and a funky sweater.


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