It’s been a banner bacchanal year for leering and revulsion -- a dominating CEO hinting or demanding casting couch liberties from the budding famous or wannabes, using female employees as his stalking horse, engaging in outright fondling and literal chasing around the hotel room, accused of rape, subject of secret tapings and commonly known for rampant misogyny.
|Brute has become Harvey|
Weinstein's middle name
Why didn’t Hollywood act earlier? So scream the media and the public. But let’s turn that around because Hollywood was hardly alone in the winking. The same charge of too broad acceptance could be said about Bill Cosby, the late Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and even Donald Trump. We came to know how they operated so why didn’t we holler to the rooftops?
It was an open secret that this hurricane Harvey was a rapacious womanizer. But our society as a whole, and the entertainment industry in particular, know the power of sex in the marketplace. Both sexes tend to accept a certain level of sexual teasing, a tolerance for woman-chasing as long as it more amuses than horrifies.
Prosecutors may never be able to make a rape case against Weinstein (the time element). But outside the courtroom there’s no doubt anywhere of his savage sexual come-ons disguised as auditions, the power plays Miramax covered up, the system of protectionism and the failure of groups, even the entertainment unions, that should have intervened faster.
But a lighter version of such sexual misbehavior – with dark hints of far worse -- is not only tolerated in our society but welcome. It sells tabloids in the supermarket, entire channels on cable television, series on networks and it’s turning darker and more salacious as standards loosen up. It takes quite a bit of coverage to switch our smirking SNL acceptance into a Weinstein level of social disgust.
What is the switch point? For one thing, volume of encounters, a predatory pattern. For another, power. The predator is in the position to force cooperation or has developed a successful pattern with women whose looks have a lot to do with their employment.
There’s yet another reason, though we are proving more selective here, the possibility of escape because of wealth -- that they will continue to get away with it without media exposure and public condemnation. Stripping away their authority becomes the remedy when the courts fail.
These seem the trigger moments when we stop joking about the Weinsteins of the world and act against them. But in the past our outrage has been misapplied. Yellow journalism and public fury ended the career of Fatty Arbuckle, a silent film star lynched in ink by untruths. An abnormal fear of womanizing and politics barred Charlie Chaplin for generations while in modern times we quickly forgave Hugh Grant, Eddie Murphy and others for dallying with prostitutes. Today’s Internet sweeps up rumors rapidly even as it seems to loosen standards. That, our evolving attitudes and our past mistakes should serve as some sort of cautionary tale.
|Why does Trump escape censure?|
A little known 10-year-old Twitter hashtag, #MeToo, is choking with messages from women abused my men in power.
The publicity has emboldened all manner of women even knowing the complaints may not go anywhere given the antiquated status of our laws.
Elected officials should realize the wrath lands particularly hard when the courts and society cannot dole out punishment. All these headline-making offenders who spent years establishing authority over men and women were often praised for it.
Nor do they fit the traditional rape stereotype of the back alley prowler. Asked to comment on Weinstein, Brandeis law professor Anita Hill (who obviously knows about this) pointed to the fallacy of who to be careful around. “Too many are under the impression that the people who do this are losers, and that’s not the case,” she told Newsweek. “Liberal men, high-achieving men, educated men, men who claim to support women, can be harassers.”
Today’s headline-generating scandals recall how the 1950s and 1960s amalgamated conflicting trends in American society, with powerful effects on adolescents in their formative sexual years.
Feminism grew slowly on one side while the other side entrenched the Playboy magazine view of the world, an era when “Bikini Beach” movies were innocent silly fun at one level and ogling adolescent fantasies on another.
Weinstein born in 1952, O'Reilly 1949, Trump 1946, Ailes 1940, Cosby 1937. They assuredly shared a similar generation of cultural attitudes and behavior that society tolerated or was even attracted to. By their twenties they moved in similar circles of wealth and Type A power.
This does not mean Weinstein’s behavior can ever be excused. Frankly, unlike the others, it could have been nipped in the bud. But it needs to be understood in the context of the world he grew up in and that we, Americans, created.
The late Hugh Hefner was a slick marketer in this cultural turmoil -- magazine interviews in which the future President Carter (hard to imagine a better man) confessed to “lust in his heart,” the only phrase anyone remembers from that article. There were frequent magazine essays defending free sex, same sex and even feminism while the centerfolds unfolded merrily in high school bedrooms. As one writer has noted, Hefner could “mainstream pornography” if he could tie it to upper class aspirations.
Some men moved past that obsessive interest in the female form even as some women shot past the boxes society put them in. But not all men and not all women, not by a long shot.
Natural impulses were extended into aggressive exploitation. The language and teasing of the times are now rich fodder for TV shows like “Mad Men.” Even today where groups of men gather, you hear the same butcher shop snicker when a woman in a miniskirt walks by. “If you don’t want us to look at the meat, don’t hang it in the window.” Men get defensive when women get angry about treatment like this – blaming the woman for their reaction.
The movies today may acknowledge all ages and generations but the bulk of the profits still stem from catering to the adolescent male mind, even as that mind lingers into adulthood.
Cultural icons embody attitudes that would stir anger today. When Jimmy Kimmel on his late-night TV show conjured up the ghost of Frank Sinatra to sing his real hatred (historically documented) for casino owner Trump, we first had the faux Sinatra confess he was still “banging ghost broads” in heaven before insulting Trump in familiar Sinatra song patois (****you to the moon I’d like to sock you in the snout). The Sinatra annals are full of stories not only about women flocking to him but some women coerced into giving sexual favors to Frankie baby, and this was the avatar that was familiar to this generation – a vulgar combative man’s man.
Yet no expert on popular song can overlook Sinatra’s depth of interpretation, sense of swing and amazing intonation. Do we stop listening to Sinatra? Of course not.
Tina Fey and Amy Poehler drew one of their biggest Golden Globes laughs in 2013 when they singled out director Katherine Bigelow and the controversy over “Zero Dark Thirty.” “When it comes to torture,” Poehler quipped, “I trust the woman who spent three years married to James Cameron.” Is there now a move to ban “Titanic”? Don’t be silly.
Comic Seth McFarlane says his 2013 Oscar joke to the supporting actress nominees (“Congratulations, you five ladies no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein”) was based on what he heard from friends in the business. A year earlier “30 Rock” used a similar joke without apology: “Oh, please, I’m not afraid of anyone in show business. I turned down intercourse with Harvey Weinstein on no less than three occasions out of five.” Before we blame Hollywood for looking away, both these moments were viewed and laughed at by millions.
Dominant and even brutalizing males have long been part of our (male dominated?) culture. Go back to Anita Hill and those hearings about Clarence Thomas’ nomination to the Supreme Court. An in-bred southerner whose record on civil rights was quite disturbing, the late Robert Byrd of West Virginia, immediately recognized the verity of what a conservative Baptist African American (Hill) was saying about sexual come-ons by Thomas and took to the Senate floor to defend her. His remarks barely dented how a bunch of middle aged white men, led by the likes of Joe Biden and Orrin Hatch, treated her – and of course, Thomas survived and she was ridiculed.
These men were hardly isolated chauvinists in 1991. It was women in office conversations who discounted her the most, saying in effect, “Anita should grow up” – that this kind of sexual innuendo from male bosses was natural in the workplace and women had long ago learned to shrug it off. The office women of 1991 are not far from the Donald Trump Jr. of today.
While these Hill doubters sneered at the feminists' freakout of TV talking heads, Weinstein was becoming established in the movie business and “The Cosby Show” was No. 1 in the TV ratings – to put in perspective how our society runs on parallel tracks. Straying into adultery or calling on prostitutes? A one-day headline. Sexual brutality forced on the less powerful? That lights our torches.
There will be no historical rescue of O’Reilly and his backstage master Ailes, though neither was convicted. Their proclivities and bellicosity extended to how women were dressed, talked about and treated on Fox News, and their documented stalking of female employees fits the image their product projected.
Weinstein, thank the Lord, was seldom a hands-on producer, with all that term implies. So his exposed offenses certainly should not cast shade on the films he executive produced whose artists elevated the profession: “The King’s Speech,” “August: Osage County,” “Silver Lining Playbook,” “The Iron Lady,” “Mandela” and so forth.
|Cosby case sickens and saddens|
Few can embrace the hero of black culture, the early and innovative Cosby who made his mainstream mark in Playboy clubs (wasn't that a hint?), was a philanthropic giant, dominated TV living rooms for a decade and established a long-style form of observational comedy that didn't sound perverted. To the contrary, he was Jello Pudding family friendly, even though stories of infidelity trailed him.
His offenses violently contradict his family image. It was private behavior so in contrast to public persona that it becomes unforgivable. I feel much like Jerry Seinfeld did in a recent interview about how he had so admired Cosby in his own formation that he was tempted to defend him but he can no longer listen because he “can’t separate” Cosby from the allegations.
Even today Cosby might argue that this sickening feeling whenever his name comes up is unfair. After all, he has escaped court punishment. His “Cosby Show” associates are undeserving victims of his serial abuse. But the image of drugging and seducing women -- and his escaping because of his fame and built-in protection -- stands in such stark opposition to the Cosby the nation loved that, right now like Seinfeld, any past warmth turns bitter in the mouth.
It may take generations for that to change – not because we think better of the offenders but because we learn to think better of ourselves.