American Culture

We must be okay with Harvey Weinstein

thumbs upOr, at the very least, we’re much more okay with him than we want to confess. Were this to happen on the Republican/right wing side of the coin, we’d be demanding clear answers into who knew what, when they knew it, where these things happened, and how they got so out of hand. Were it conservative women that were harassed, assaulted, and worse, we’d be trotting out our “voting against their own interests” cards left and right. And we’d be right for it, because of course we would.

It’s seems to be a little more difficult to insist on this degree of righteous anger when the threat comes from within one’s own ranks, doesn’t it? There is a cultural and moral rot in Hollywood (and so many other environs, but right now, Hollywood) that we’ve known about for so long that the whole notion of “casting couch” just seems banal, so stereotypically Hollywood. How wrong is that? And we’ve been okay enough with that knowledge simmering away on the back burner that we keep paying into the system that not only condones sexual exploitation, but takes it as a given. I know I have. And I know after this post I’m sure to cue up something from Hollywood on Netflix, or maybe even Amazon for extra salt in the wound. If I were a typical movie-goer, I  might even pick out something starring Brad Pitt, because what’s not to like?

And I hate myself for it a little. I mean, after Mel Gibson’s drunken rant, his career was all but done. Michael Richards, lovably goofy Kramer from Seinfeld, plunged like a lead balloon after his outburst.

Who’s going to hold their breath waiting for that to be Brad Pitt’s fate? Or the fate of any one of the potentially thousands in Hollywood who wave these events off as just part of the cost of doing show business?

We’re okay with it, clearly.

We live in a nation at a time, a here and now peculiar to us, we own this, that doesn’t see animal torturers permanently removed from professional sports while a Hall of Famer can get yanked for unseemly gambling. Women beaters and drunk drivers line up for kick-off every weekend during NFL season, and we pay top dollar for their merch so we can show our team spirit and tolerance for their life decisions.

We’re okay with it, clearly.

We know exploited undocumented migrant labor picks our tomatoes, which keeps our prices nice and low, and we probably don’t think about that too much while eating our pizza.

We’re okay with it, clearly.

We know about the exploited labor at Foxconn. Many of us learned of it on our iPhones, and can’t wait to drop the next thousand dollars.

We’re okay with it, clearly.

We know that our biggest chocolate companies have their hands dirty with child slavery, but that red velvet cake is just so good.

We’re okay with it, clearly.

And not a damned bit of this, or of countless other examples of our collective tolerance for inhumanity, will change until enough people feel viscerally sick inside when they realize just how okay with the status quo they actually are.

This whole Weinstein experience has been illuminating on another front, as well. With reference to Gibson and Richards again, we see what it takes to lose a career. And we see what can be done while keeping a career. As a society, we’ve got an established scale, right there, for how we tolerate which perversions of human character. I’m glad that all it takes to trash a career (at least in Hollywood) is one slip of self control resulting in an anti-Semitic or racist tirade. It would be awesome if that were also a bar to running a successful business or holding public office. We’re not there yet. But we’ll certainly not have that in our fun, thank you. Animal torture, though? Sure, a little. That’s okay. Violence against women? Hasn’t wrecked nearly enough sports or entertainment careers, has it? We’re okay with that. We’ve known we’re okay with that for years.

And now we’re supposed to be surprised that the land of the casting couch, which we’ve known about for years, harbors sexual exploitation and violence while our parade of celebrities turns blind eyes and wags silent fingers, anything but risk the big money. Woody Allen has even uselessly chimed in (because who could be more relevant to the issue other than maybe Roman Polanski): this shouldn’t turn into a witch hunt.

He’s wrong, of course, but it was useless for him to say it because it just isn’t even likely. What should be absolutely apolitical has become political in a way that obstructs justice.

And we’re okay with that, at least just enough. When the lip service is over we’ll know the Oscars are just around the corner again, and the auditorium will be packed, and the podium occupied, and what an incredible slate of talent there will be. But we’ll still be quick to point out that Fox is the last place that gets to talk, while complacently snuffing our torches and stowing away our pitchforks. After all, what’s a little complicity with rape if that’s going to get between us and our amusement?

9 replies »

  1. Wait a second – what news are you watching. Weinstein’s life is more or less over. He’s been vilified by EVERYONE, save a couple predictable nutbags, and that always happens. He’s been booted out of the Academy. Investigations are being pursued. Right now the only question is whether Ben Affleck is as fucked as Harvey is.

    • Somewhere I must have been less than clear that it’s the overall culture that creates a Weinstein that I was talking about or you wouldn’t ask what news I’ve been watching. Brad Pitt was but one example of those who knew. It seems more than a little late for a parade of “oh, I feel bad for not saying something sooner, but here’s my moment of contrition on camera.” We’ll get that for a while, but I mentioned Woody Allen’s lament for a reason. There’ll be no witch hunt. All those who knew and did nothing meaningful will still be in the Academy. We can wonder who else they know about and aren’t outing, but we won’t make them feel the consequences a Gibson or Richards would feel.

      • Ah. The way you had it framed it seemed you were pointing at left hypocrisy. Not to say there ain’t any, of course.

        I don’t know the Pitt reference. Is he bad about this, too?

        • I am partly pointing at left hypocrisy, but more broadly I’m pointing at our society’s complacency with all manner of evils, hence the riffing on “we know this, but we buy anyway” angle. Stuff about Pitt can be found at the link as an example of “who knew what and did nothing meaningful.” Apparently when Paltrow confided in Pitt that Weinstein was an evil sack of crap, Pitt paid a visit and threatened a little. Whoopie. With all that money and influence floating around, nobody could get a PI to get dirt on Weinstein and tank his career earlier than this when close pals are confiding about what happens? Any quick review of all the news out there on Weinstein brings out the idea that he was an “open secret.” So how many other than Pitt knew and let Weinstein keep predating on women? How many other women knew and for a host of reasons let this guy roam free? To the extent the left hasn’t got the political motivation to rock this boat, I do think it’s a massive case of left hypocrisy if we don’t push and shove to find out more about who let this go on. Surely Weinstein wasn’t the only one. How many other “open secrets” are there we haven’t heard of yet?

        • Let’s grant all you say. Probably true, and it probably understates the case. It certainly is evidence of hypocrisy in Hollywood.

          But the argument you seemed to be making was broader. The “we” who don’t care are progressives generally, not those in H-town. I don’t know much about Hollywood and I doubt the average person knows much more than what they see in thong-sniffing paparazzi rags like TMZ. It seems clear now that the scandal has broken into the light that “we” probably do care. Hard to say if we care enough, but nobody I know is trying to sweep it under the rug.

          What I wrestle with is how this was never broken before. I get how the casting couch old boy crew would keep it on the down low, but there are a lot of women who know. A LOT. And if you’re tracking the story, you know that many are rich, powerful women. This isn’t 1940 – why did they remain quiet?

          One possibility: if I had been a casting couch victim, that means I’m a rape victim, right? So my response is probably going to be similar to what we see from other rape victims. And abuse victims rarely seek out a lot of publicity. Maybe some of that? But gods, so many women just now speaking up – was what Weinstein did THAT ubiquitous?

          Another: these women look, from our perspective, more powerful than they are. You may be rich and famous, but that old boy network remains immensely more powerful even today than we have perhaps thought about.

          I really don’t know, but it has me asking some questions. I have a feeling this is just getting started. Those old boy things are good at keeping women from speaking up, but once a couple are brave enough to haul it out in the light you’re going to see a lot of people who were silent emboldened by the knowledge they aren’t alone. So if you’re right about Pitt ugly days could be ahead for him. And the Affleck thing has been quiet for a few days, but they seem to have hard evidence and a semi-confession to work with. Who knows?

        • “…nobody I know is trying to sweep it under the rug.”

          That’s part of the insidious nature of societal complacency that concerns me. Nobody needs to try and sweep it under the rug. Whichever “we” is considering the matter will naturally be outraged, ranging from the mildest of tut-tutting to fist shaking. Maybe a head or two will roll. But our complacency has a lot of momentum behind it. It’s the same complacency that let Michael Vick maintain a career and keeps Nestle in business. In Hollywood, beyond the monster at hand, it’s the people who know and who keep pressing flesh against rotten flesh. In the NFL, it’s more than Vick, it’s teammates who don’t stare down the coach and say, “if he’s on the team, we aren’t.” At Nestle, it’s anyone who knows about child labor abuses (slavery, by any other name, else I don’t know what to call slicing the balls of a child’s feet so they can’t run) and takes a check instead of blowing a whistle. Out here, in broader society, we’re two degrees removed. We didn’t have to look in Paltrow’s eyes and see the pain. We hear about it third- and fourth-hand. It’s abstract. The news, and the news of the news of the news of the news, will keep our little outrage flames flaring for a bit. Then it’ll be business as usual, where “business” means we just keep opening our wallets, demonstrating that our willingness to say “no more” runs only but so deep.

          “What I wrestle with is how this was never broken before.”

          This. Exactly this. It took how long for people to come out of the woodworks after Cosby? And now Weinstein? How many more?

          “One possibility: if I had been a casting couch victim, that means I’m a rape victim, right?”

          As far as I’m concerned, consent under duress is no consent at all. And to the Weinsteins of the world, anything short of clawing at their junk with the rage of a violated Greek goddess seems to count as consent.

          “…was what Weinstein did THAT ubiquitous?”

          That’s why I focused on the existence of the phrase “casting couch.” You’re a language nerd (I mean that in a good way). What does it take for those words to become loaded with their meaning? How long has that pairing of words meant that? I don’t like reverting to a mere Wiki reference, but that’s all it should take to boggle the mind in this case. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Casting_couch We’re looking at a Hollywood pathology over a century old. I don’t think the question is whether what Weinstein did was THAT ubiquitous. I think it’s “how much worse is it than we realize?” I’m a pessimist. However bad we think it is, that probably needs a multiplier.

          Pitt will probably come out of this relatively unscathed. He did, after all, play the hero. He chest-poked and had some words. All things considered, that’s maybe the best we could have expected. Our justice system still isn’t tooled up to handle these kinds of accusations with anything resembling justice. Probably too many financially driven decisions were being made for it to end up in the hands of police or the courts. The reasons why it’s gotten this bad go way beyond my humble ability to address it fairly at any level.

          To me, the damned shame is that Weinstein’s body wasn’t found in the desert somewhere, his remains mauled by scavengers, with such a long list of people with motive as to make investigation nearly impossible.

          The reason I drag politics into this at all as a left/right thing is because Team Blue keeps trotting out the likes of Hillary Clinton to opine on the matter. Now, Hillary is nowhere near the shrew who defended hubby at any cost the right would like us to believe she is. Their claims of her attacks on Slick Willie’s other women are mostly without merit. Nevertheless, I find it nearly impossible to separate Bill’s “mere” philandering from outright abuse of power, in his case, a serial abuse of power. There’s that whiff of casting couch to his particular abuses. Now he’s a well-regarded elder statesman for his troubles. And I don’t care what Hillary’s motives were. Either she’s as smart as we’re led to believe, or she isn’t. Either way, instead of drawing a line in the sand about the serial power abuser she hitched her cart to, she played the good political wife. On that front, she’d have done better, probably even politically, had she borrowed a page from Huma Abedin’s playbook and kicked him to the curb. Sure, Fox has absolutely zero moral wiggle room to point and lay blame, but that’s never stopped them. It doesn’t help matters that when they point fingers in this case, they’re not wrong.

          My ire seems to be a permanent feature, so it doesn’t take much to raise it. In this case, there’s a moral high ground to be had. When we’re faced with a president who actually indulges pseudo-moralists like Values Voters, we need to be the ones standing unequivocally on actual moral high ground. And that’s where the last of my hope evaporates. Somehow, in this new-old twist on the moral culture wars, there’s some jaws of victory from which the left will yet again find away to seize defeat. Rubbing salt into the wound, we’ll probably learn some of the details of this culture war from Dan Rather’s News & Guts or the “left’s” Chris Matthews…because cheering the war in Iraq wasn’t a career ender.

          Our complacency runs deep.

        • “What I wrestle with is how this was never broken before.”

          Interesting article “Hollywood’s dishonest campus rape panic” (washingtontimes.com).

          Thank you Rocky Mountain. Much appreciated your thought provoking post.

  2. And bet the farm this ain’t nowhere near over. Just because it hasn’t happened in the first couples weeks doesn’t mean it won’t. If you’re a man in Hollywood who harassed women, don’t worry, your time is at hand.

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