Monday, April 27, 2020

Harvey Weinstein and metoo

Kate Winslet and Harvey Weinstein
Well, as most people know, the Harvey Weinstein sexual harassment,  abuse, rape etc. scandal has broke.  Who is Harvey Weinstein?  Not exactly a household name until recently, but he was the co-head of Miramax and later The Weinstein Company and has finally gotten into trouble with sexual harassment and potentially more than I have the time or the heart to follow.  He is also clearly the current symbol of much broader problems in the entertainment industry and society as a whole.

When the story broke, Weinstein gave a lackluster apology where he didn't own up to any more than he had to.  He said he was going to therapy, perhaps in a plea to gain sympathy, as if he was an opioid addict or something, as opposed to someone who was clearly and directly harming others.  It is a distraction from the fact that jail is more apropos.  He also seemed to immediately talk about an eventual return to his job.  That strikes me as tremendously unlikely.  Who would work with him ever again?  They would certainly be an enabler.  If ever there was a time for the phrase "You'll never work in this town again!," this is it.  I hope the man finds redemption on a personal level, but, and I do not take this lightly, he should never get his job back.  If he ever gets out of prison, he can live on the millions of dollars he already has.  He also brought up the defense that he came of age in the sixties and seventies, which is odd because the seventies were nearly forty years ago.  It would have been a bad excuse then, too, of course.  Times have changed for the better.  He ended with a non sequitur attack on the NRA, thinking he could distract the mob of Hollywood liberals at his door by pointing them to a common political enemy.  Thankfully, no one fell for it, but it is not like there are no examples of people's personal sins being set aside on account of their "good" politics.

One common theme in everyone's appraisals of Harvey Weinstein is that he was a "bully."  That is a word that has come up with nearly everyone.  We have all tolerated jerks at different points in our lives, either out of prudence or cowardice, but when being a "bully" is treated as normal, acceptable behavior, we are that much closer to the truly unacceptable behavior that transpired here.

Aside from the more definitive harassment, Hollywood needs to decide if sex for favors is wrong or if consent is the only factor that matters.  We live in a hookup culture where casual sex is celebrated.  Violating consent is often the only remaining taboo.  In such a setting, we shouldn't be surprised that at least some young women, or members of any demographic, are content to sleep around to get ahead and if you asked them about it, they would tell you they don't feel victimized.  It is only sex after all.  Some would even say it is prudish and paternalistic to insist they are victims.  Don't get me wrong, consent is necessary and a great starting point, but even many of the more liberal-minded people are at least unwittingly admitting it is not enough.

Acting, like any profession, is about so much more than the work itself.  There is so much networking, selling yourself and behind the scenes hustle.  What forms of helping oneself get ahead are ethical and what ones are not?  I do not feel qualified to answer that question in an even remotely thorough way right now, although I am firmly against prostituting oneself or others, but it is a necessary conversation to have.  Whenever you have a high-demand job with a glut of qualified applicants, employers will find increasingly arbitrary ways to thin the herd.  This is why those saying people who have slept around to get ahead must have no talent are often wrong.  In many cases, they were potentially operating in a post-meritocratic world.

We should not let the fact that this happened in show business distract us from the fact that this happens everywhere, as the metoo hashtag has shown us.  On the other hand, we shouldn't let the fact that this happens everywhere distract us from the fact that show business is particularly bad.  It also shouldn't diffuse the current momentum and push to do something about the problem, at least in show business.  Will this become more than a social media crusade?  Will we merely raise "awareness" or will we do something?  Even just blowing the lid off Hollywood in the next few years would be a great good for humanity as a whole.

Many of us at home need to turn off the blinders we put on for celebrities.  While these people, on account of their work, are tied to some of our cherished memories, this does not make them immune to being terrible people.  How do we now respond to the many movies that are tied to Weinstein?  What about a whole lot of other people, including potentially ones we currently like?  Honestly, if we stopped watching movies that were somehow tied to a rapist, pedophile, murderer, or sexual harasser, how many options would we really have left and how many of our cherished memories would we throw in the trash?  Where do we draw the line in terms of behavior and in terms of the offender's degree of involvement in a project?  I dare someone to google search all the outed people and then check their IMDB pages.  Some people have called for boycotting "Hollywood," but are they really going to throw out their televisions?  My guess is that Americans will increasingly learn to separate art from artist because we like our entertainment too much.  TVOne is still quietly playing Cosby Show re-runs in the middle of the night.

The biggest reason Michael Jackson is innocent

My guess is that any time you have a career field that more openly hires people based on good looks, such as acting, modeling, news media, fashion, and so on, you are going to attract more leering creeps.  It is part of why our current president started his own beauty pageant.  It was a thinly-veiled opportunity to meet beautiful women and "accidentally" walk into their dressing rooms.  Of course, harassment can happen to anyone.

My other guess is that as women rise more and more to positions of power in society, we will see more instances of sexual harassment with swapped gender roles.  Even if men and women achieved sameness in regard to power and roles in the work force, society, etc., they probably won't end up harassing quite as bad or as often as men.  Men and women are different and, on the whole, have different levels of temptation toward different vices.  Women are superior at keeping things professional.  Also, a man has more natural brute strength than a woman on the whole so it takes more for a man to feel threatened by a woman than the inverse, although it does happen.  Legitimate male victims will likely have more shame at coming forward.  Of course, there is also a homosexual angle in all of this.  Hollywood liberals' sexual preferences, even more than society at large, are all over the map, and thus the harassment relationships will be likewise.

One more disturbing, but not particularly surprising, element in all of this is the alleged news media cover-up.  Reporter Sharon Waxman claims she wrote a story on this for the New York Times, back in 2004, but the story was squashed.  The paper did publish the story that set off the current storm of allegations.  Ronan Farrow, who ultimately wrote a New Yorker article in similar territory, claims NBC tried to squash the story when he was working on it for them.  Among the many reasons these things might have happened, entertainment media and news media are in bed with each other.  They are largely owned by the same conglomerates and deeply connected.  News, by the way, is mostly just another genre of entertainment.  Also, the whole unbiased thing has never existed anywhere.  Many enablers surrounding this situation may not have been willfully enabling someone they were entirely sure was a predator so much as hedging their bets and wishing it wasn't true.

On the other hand, we shouldn't dump too hard on people for defending their friends.  If someone told me that a close friend of mine did something terrible, my immediate reaction would be denials, too.  What kind of person throws a friend under the bus at the first sign of trouble?  What if someone did end up being innocent later?  How could you face them?  Let's save most or all of our anger for the actual perpetrators of evil, not those close to them who have been placed in a bind.  Also, who wants to live their life in constant paranoia that their friends are bad people?  In many cases, why even ask these biased observers about the matter?

Some people, seemingly more men, have expressed worry that the pendulum will swing too far in the other direction.  Even innocent things could get men in trouble.  I would say that this is not technically impossible and should not be out of bounds to bring up, but on the other hand, for the most part, we are nowhere even close to this problem being widespread.  If your first response to this movement is to express worry that it may go too far, you will not look good, although months later, I think it is time we cautiously critique it.  Many people today are complaining that political correctness is leaving them walking a narrow line with what they can and can not say.  This is a legitimate complaint in some cases, but in others, people are just being stupid or truly want to bring back the bad old days.  Some men feel overwhelmed by the real or imagined tightrope walk of women wanting them to be strong and assertive, but not threatening.  This may say more about their own lacking, but fixable, social skills than contemporary women.  Some are claiming that the sheer number of allegations means that some women must just be jumping on a bandwagon and smearing people with lies.  I suppose the current climate could provide cover for such behavior, but I am more open to the idea that most of the allegations are true and show business really is that rotten.  People have reasons they don't come forward and I am glad they have been encouraged to do so now.

There is one more predator with an interesting case: Kevin Spacey.  Kevin Spacey was outed after five seasons of starring on the Netflix show House of Cards.  The show had already shot two episodes from season 6, the planned final season.  Rather than discontinuing the show, they decided to do a final season without him.  Now no one watches just the final season of a show, especially an ongoing, interconnected drama.  By continuing the show, they have implicitly given us permission to watch the entirety of the show, including the previous seasons starring Kevin Spacey, with a clean conscience.  Arguably, they have, by extension, done this for any "tainted" show.  They have also made themselves the heroes for firing him and built an empowering narrative around the final season, which will star the female lead and last, but certainly not least, salvage the entirety of a show that they might have otherwise had to throw away.  That is, if fans will go for it.

I will end with something a little thorny.  As a man, I feel entirely qualified to speak on this issue, at least to the degree that I have here.  Truth is truth, regardless of who states it.  I claim little to no empathy with women on this matter or a slew of others, but I will claim sympathy.  This movement needs male allies, no matter how much its most strident or misandrist members declare otherwise.  A movement can not be strong while excluding half of humanity, especially the half that controls most of the levers of power.  I sympathize with women's frustrations, but marginalized groups must engage the sympathy of those in power whether or not they like it or if we even deserve such a response.  The only other alternatives are hopeless venting or a violent revolution, which would also be a losing battle.  Now I am not saying women should grovel.  Be bold and have righteous anger, but tone down the more exclusionary rhetoric.  I am only playing "tone police" because I care.  I would add that not all men are bad.  I don't claim to know where the situation is.  It may be worse than I realize, but what I do know is not all men are the bad guys.

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