Every American human with a social media presence is likely aware that David Bowie died this past week after a battle with cancer, the severity of which was underestimated by the general public.
One minute, David Bowie was alive and no one was worried that that was going to change. And then he was dead.
David Bowie was trending on Facebook and Twitter. Social media lit up with post after post of support and love and “Bowie changed my life” and “Bowie made it okay to be queer” and so on and so forth.
Certainly, Bowie’s willingness to play with gender and sexuality, beginning at a time when those things were hardly even talked about, was influential. He was widely beloved and made a show out of being queer–and his courage in that regard was likely life-saving for a lot of queer people who were trying to figure out how to live their lives before being queer was acceptable.
David Bowie was glamorous and brilliantly-talented and a pioneering artist and also, quite possibly, a rapist.
It’s hard to find traces of this on the internet–surprisingly hard, in fact. It is not mentioned in his wikipedia article. Most news outlets have not spoken out about it. It is hard to determine what did and did not happen. The general consensus seems to be that Bowie raped a 13-year-old girl backstage at one of his shows. Maybe Bowie thought she consented, but because she was 13 she was actually incapable of consenting. It is possible that he knew that and did what he did anyway. It is possible that she never even claimed to consent.
The details are very unclear. However, it is probable that David Bowie, hero and artist, was also a rapist.
People seem very reluctant to accept this, or at least to consider its possible validity – likely because they are uncomfortable with the idea that a person who so many people consider brilliant could also do something horrific.
There are a number of ridiculous memes floating around the internet that show artwork or an inspiring quote and after you have appreciated the quality of the art or the words, tell you that that art was created by none other than Adolf Hitler. These produce a level of cognitive dissonance, because it is so hard to wrap your head around the idea that a person who wrought so much needless destruction, who committed mass genocide, could also produce something beautiful.
Bill Murray is one of my favorite celebrities. He is funny and weird and he was in the cast of SNL between 1976-1979 (the golden years). Bill Murray was also accused of perpetrating domestic violence. I love Bill Murray the artist – I love the things he produces, I love his creative mind, I love the movies he is in. I do not love Bill Murray the abuser.
We want to under-complicate people – to put people in one box. Surprisingly, this is rarely effective. OJ Simpson’s likely murder of Nicole Brown Simpson does not take away any of his touchdowns. He can be both a football player and an accused murderer. Adolf Hitler was a murderer who produced beautiful art. Bill Murray hit his wife and also appeared in Ghostbusters. David Bowie was quite possibly a rapist who also starred in Labyrinth.
People do not fit in one box, regardless of how famous they are. If people cannot be placed in one single category, regardless of their fame or infamy, then it is fair to say that anyone can be an abuser.
If David Bowie, hero to so many, could be a rapist, so could anyone else. People who are abusers do not come with flashing lights and an “abuser” sign. People who hurt other people are still people; they are people with entire lives, they are people who make art and music and light, they are people who maybe save others’ lives, who maybe make the world more beautiful in a lot of ways. And they are also abusers.
There is a responsible way to respond to Bowie’s passing: we mourn the artist, we deplore the rapist, we accept that anyone is capable of abuse, we recognize the way humans are complicated, and we work to avoid victim-blaming and to increase our trust in the survivors of abuse, regardless of how we feel about the accused.