The XX Factor

The Year of Truly Awful Celebrity Sex Scandal

The allegations against Bill Cosby make earlier celebrity scandals look quaint.

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

As 2014 comes to a close, DoubleX is looking back on the year that was—the stories we covered and missed that captivated, puzzled, enraged, and delighted us.

On Thanksgiving, 2009, Tiger Woods got in an argument with his then-wife Elin, reportedly about his infidelities. He then crashed his car into a tree in front of his Florida home. It turned out Woods was cheating with a football team’s worth of women—exotic dancers and club promoters and waitresses—all of which went against his squeaky-clean, family man image. He lost a bunch of endorsements, and was pilloried by the press. Reporters camped outside his house for days on end.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Woods lately, because his scandal—which, five years ago, was the biggest one around—seems impossibly quaint and even a little  wholesome compared with this year’s big disgraces: allegations against Bill Cosby and CBC broadcaster Jian Ghomeshi. After all, though Woods was cheating on his wife, he was having consensual sex with these women. Yes, Woods put forth an ascetic image while he was really indulging in a lot of vices, but that contradiction is nothing compared to the horrors of Cosby, who put himself forward not just as a sterling family man, but also lectured other black men on acting responsible and “respectable.” He railed against rap music, the current state of black culture, and promoted stable, two-parent homes. All the while, he was allegedly drugging and raping women. The hypocrisy is breathtaking, not to mention the actual alleged abuse.

Ghomeshi is much less famous and powerful than Cosby, but the allegations against him also make the Woods Affair seem like small potatoes in retrospect. Ghomeshi allegedly sexually harassed coworkers who were ignored by their superiors when they tried to complain. He allegedly assaulted several others. When the CBC fired him, he attempted to sue them for $55 million, though he later dropped the suit as more and more evidence of his sexual misconduct piled up against him.

These are true scandals. They are disgusting and illegal abuses of power. Perhaps in their wake, we’ll be able to move past the reflexive preaching against celebrity affairs and other juicy missteps, which, while totally entertaining, are really none of no consequence to us, collectively. What Cosby and Ghomeshi did actually matters, and the stories of their alleged victims need to be aired. Paying attention to these scandals this year was not gawking—it was caring about things that matter. Even if Cosby can’t be punished in court, the public shaming should be unyielding.