Harvey Weinstein. Me Too.
And the Complicity of Ambition.
I’ve been observing all the fallout from the Hollywood “sexual predator” scandals, the offshoots of “Hurricane Harvey,” and finally just had to drop in my two cents worth. And I for one think we should all thank Harvey Weinstein for breaking out like a bull-rhino and finally smashing down the circus tent hiding the worst kept secret in the world. Not that this “alleged” sexual predator and accused rapist and over-the-top industry bully-boy deserves any gratitude at all for his 60 plus allegations of everything from out and out rape to hotel room bathrobe “massages.” But the fact is that Harvey (who everyone has known about for over 30 years) has turned overnight into the enabler’s nightmare.
No doubt, Weinstein, feeling brash and bulletproof as only Harvey could do, tested Hollywood’s tolerance levels, already stretched paper thin, and just took things too far. And it couldn’t have come at a better time.
Now everyone except Zazu Pitts has jumped onto the red-hot “Me Too” bandwagon, which started out as a timid act of courageous expression and has now become a celebrity stampede into the headlines. Now righteous indignation (overdue God knows in some instances) has poured out from so many women on such a daily basis that by now it has gone from being “OMG, not another one,” to bordering on being merely fashionable. Now there is a full movement, mark my words, that will soon become a feeding frenzy and ultimately a witch-hunt. This will all happen in rapid succession before things settle down, the iron law of economics takes over and reason returns with a realization that jobs are lost, projects are cancelled and this industry is hemorrhaging money.
We’re not there yet. And at this point I’m glad to see more courageous women (and men) coming out with accounts of being traumatized, abused, intimidated and violated. And yet along with all these breakouts comes a caution.
Because everyone—and I mean everyone—has known that casting couches, influence peddler sexual blackmail and sexual predator pathways to success have been imbedded in the fabric of this town since the 1920s. And a startling number of industry players, at some level, have embraced the complicity of their own ambition, shelved their conscience and pandered to it.
It is a numbing kind of acceptance that has gone on for generations until Harvey Weinstein came along and tore open the book for all of us. He was, of course, preceded by Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ayles and the rapaciously unrepentant Bill Cosby whose “drug and dip” somnophilic antics seem almost quaint by comparison. Following Weinstein in quick succession were producer Brett Ratner, Kevin Spacey (the new poster child for end-of-career gay predators in ‘the biz’) and Louis C.K who has strangely garnered some “style points” for actually fessing up to his misdeeds—and yes that is how far we’ve lowered the bar!
At this point, I have to acknowledge my cellular consciousness for tipping me off because over the years each of these men had managed at some point to make my skin crawl. I also have to note that it’s easy to drop the dime on this particular gaggle of fondlers, flashers and (“alleged”) rapists because none of them is particularly attractive. Weinstein looks like Seth Rogen’s love child with Jabba the Hut. Roger Ayles resembles a poop emoji. And Bill O’Reilly, a 6’5” glowering tower of smugness, seems so palpably pompous that he doubtless has to carry his ego around in a wheelbarrow. Louis CK reminds me of that pained pillar of angst you just knew would eventually self-destruct. Kevin Spacey has always reminded me of an Emperor Penguin with a boner. And Bill Cosby, the loveable Huxtable, has always worn that supercilious smirk that made you suspect he’s had his hand up the Mona Lisa’s skirt all this time (and probably popped her a Quaalude to get there).
There is a point to this beyond the fact that these men have all been egregiously serial and obtusely obscene in their depravity. Many of them are, by reputation, not very nice people. Spacey has had a knock for being difficult ever since he arrived in the business. O’Reilly is the archetypal imperious
“horrible boss.” And apparently “Hurricane” Harvey’s staff had to carry around a first aid kit just to get through a day with him.
By contrast, why are we surprised that other reported improprieties such as those launched against the likes of Ben Affleck, George Clooney, Dustin Hoffman, Jeremy Piven, Sylvester Stallone, George Tikei and Richard Dreyfus seem to be popping up and just as quickly vanishing like whack-a-mole from the daily headlines? Meanwhile certain standing and ex-presidents, ex-governors, rockstars and many athletes have had “serial” accusations that somehow just washed away like whispers on the wind.
Am I saying there may be a “cuteness” factor that allows some of these men a pass? Absolutely! But that’s only a piece of the puzzle. It’s a Rubix of corruption and an industry convention. It comes with its own laundry list priorities, and it goes something like this: 1) Long-term industry cachet, 2) current bankability, 3) degree of depredation, and 4) the “bounce-back” factor. (How quickly can they recover from this?) It is now a mosaic that is under assault, a siege that is overdue.
More than that, the #MeToo movement has great momentum right now. It is the reason for the hastily assembled board meetings of the Motion Picture and Television Academies where there were quickly voted expulsions of Weinstein, director James Tobak and others from their memberships. Those were followed by “Zero Tolerance” declarations issued post haste from studios, networks, production companies, and every academy up to and including West Point. Meanwhile (trust me) an entire battalion of co-conspirators and fellow felons sit at home in cold sweats trembling in their boots.
At the moment, “Me too” is on a high speed rail—with parades and daily speeches on talk shows—and for the foreseeable future, no one wants to get in the way of that train. This was of course inevitable. And yet what still leaves me confounded is the simple truth that everyone for the last 90 years or so has helped—in every sense of the term—to lay the tracks.
Almost since the beginning of the industry when Columbia head Harry Cohen had a private bedroom next to his office for “leading lady” auditions and MGM Chairman Louis B. Mayer was (reputedly) trying to fondle underage stars like Shirley Temple and Judy Garland, the perverse game of sexual predation had its start at the very top of the Hollywood food chain. Actresses such as Joan Crawford made no qualms about using their sexual charms to get roles. Early on, Marilyn Monroe apparently thought it was a job requirement. (And Rita Hayworth once lost a lead at Columbia by refusing to sleep with Cohen, even though her husband Edward Judson tried to pimp her out to do so). Apparently the most egregious and blatant casting couch offender of all was Darrell F. Zanuck who had a hidden walkway and secret door to his office at FOX just so young starlets could “privately audition” each day at 4 p.m.
The irony in all of this lies in the fact that during that time, the cycle of sexual enablement was all a part the soup. Everyone knew who the predators were as well as their expectations. They knew which studios to court and the ones that “came at a cost.” If you went in to DZ’s lair, you were going to pay for the play. If Buddy Adler was your producer you were expected to grant whatever favors he asked for all the inroads to OZ. (Marilyn Monroe chose to do so. Joan Collins apparently did not—a rejection of Adler she claims cost her the role of Cleopatra ’62.)
Nor was this exclusively a gender issue. Young aspiring actors too had to make their Faustian pacts. Confessionals and exposé biographies of everyone from Montgomery Clift and Rock Hudson to James Dean and Steve McQueen revealed that all of them (reputedly) went on their knees to Hollywood’s Gay Mafia for those breakthrough roles that helped to launched their careers.
This of course is a taboo subject that is consistently kept under the radar when its predations and depredations too have been going on for nearly as long. (And isn’t it bizarre that Kevin Spacey’s pederastic romps have virtually ended his career, while Producer/Director Bryan Singer seems to have successfully managed to cajole, scrub clean and otherwise suppress every one of his?)
Am I saying there is a double standard here? By every indication there is. Simply follow the money, follow the leverage, follow the rules of the game.
The “Sexual Revolution” of the late 1960s created something of a paradigm shift in the way parts were pandered in Hollywood. And by the early 1970s Hugh Hefner had moved his Playboy Mansion from Chicago to Beverly Hills. So there was a new “Candy Box” for all the industry players to gather. After a year or two it was widely rumored that private walkways had been constructed so that Hefner’s celebrity pals James Caan, Warren Beatty, Jack Nicolson and Bill Cosby could have instant backdoor access to the Playboy Mansion any time they desired.
(Even as far back as the 1970s the major players inside Hefner’s playground knew about Cosby’s somnophilic “Sleeping Beauty” fixations and played into them. So no wonder, he felt put upon in 2014 when all these victims came forward. Doubtless in his twisted, perverse sense of logic, Cosby somehow believed he had been playing inside the lines.)
Playing inside the lines—imagined or real—was of critical importance, especially when it came to someone trying to leverage their careers by commoditizing their sexuality. It was the same mindset that apparently intimidated high profile celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Helen Mirren to suffer their sexual humiliations in silence for years. It was the same culture of complicity that prompted cynical smirks and smiles in response to Barbara Hershey’s wry observation that, “You can’t sleep your way to the top. But you can certainly sleep your way to the middle.” It was the same culture of complicity that apparently prompted A-List actors like Russell Crowe and Matt Damon to try to cover for Weinstein by entreating victims to keep quiet about the producer’s more recent outrages.
Now the lid is off this Pandora’s box, and now I’m even more astounded by the hypocrisy of outrage that is pluming out of it. Many of the same people in high-dudgeon over this recent spate of scandals are the same ones who formed a 40 celebrity petition list to get serial pederast Roman Polanski reinstated after his flight from prosecution. Many so terribly outraged over this recent run of allegations were also among those on the 370 celebrity “character witnesses” who endorsed singer Michael Jackson—a list that included Larry King, Elizabeth Taylor, Stevie Wonder, Kobe Bryant (now there’s an endorsement!) and Whoopi Goldberg, whose defense of the likes of Polanski, Jackson and Cosby seems to have turned being the perp’s apologist into a cottage industry.
Michael Jackson is a classic case of slipping through the net of “reasonable doubt.” No one wanted to believe that little Michael would molest teen and pre-teen boys, despite two lawsuits, his triple deadbolt bedroom doors and a string of young visitors that continued at Neverland for months on end. His antics were dismissed as “eccentric” and even though rumors of payoffs persisted and two trials nearly ten years apart went to completion.
At this point one cannot overlook the inconvenient truth that Michael Jackson was a billion dollar industry, as is Woody Allen today. And that might go far to explain how Woody, despite being outed in New York Magazine by stepdaughter Dylan Farrow for having serially molested her, continues to write and direct films. And someone please explain to me how Allen receives 21 Oscar nominations and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Golden Globes, while Amazon Studios Exec Roy Price gets fired over one alleged proposition in the backseat of a limo?
Is there a double standard? You bet there is. Its names are Power and Leverage. Entire empires get taken down when superstar perversions are exposed. Michael Jackson was an empire. So is Woody Allen.
Up to now, The Weinstein Company has been arguably the most powerful, successful independent production studio in Hollywood history, and it now sits dead in the water, crippled and on the verge of bankruptcy because its CEO was an (alleged) rapacious monster who couldn’t control his urges…and they knew. They even built a slush fund to cover Harvey’s (alleged) criminal sexual transgressions. Everyone at Weinstein knew, and so did all those doing business with them. But everyone—many of this industry’s most powerful people—went along with this cretin’s depredations because an entire industry fiefdom had been built up in the midst of it…and they thought the center would hold.
Now Harvey has blown the center open with a time bomb. So now there is a mad scramble in Hollywood to regroup and remoralize a system that has been essentially corrupt since its inception.
But it’s not just Hollywood that is hypocritical in its approach to sexual misconduct. America as a nation suffers from a pandemic of moral relativism in how, why and where we plant our outrage and our sense of retribution. And we are—all of us—very partisan in our censure. And we often get political when we do it.
Why else would we have two weeks of Senate hearings to unseat Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas because Anita Hill accuses him of saying “Long Dong Silver” and asks her out to dinner? Then two years later we dismiss all allegations of molestation, sexual misconduct and even rape against William Jefferson Clinton and elect him not once but twice as President of the United States. (Even now he has frequent flier miles on Ron Epstein’s “Lolita Express.”)
How do the people of California (of all places!) manage to shrug off a dozen accusations of serial fondling by gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger and elect him by a landslide, while now a new posse wants to lynch Al Franken because he tongue kissed his leading lady?
After all these years, I’m bewildered at how Senator Gary Hart not only loses his 1988 run for president because of an affair de coeur with Donna Rice, when Donald J. Trump openly brags about groping women, quells an (alleged) pending rape charge, and gets off Scot free from several accusations of fondling and sexual misconduct because he declares it all to be “fake news.” (Hell Donald! They have you on Tape!) I’m even more confounded by the fact that an entire nation of fundamentalist Christians (the moralistic Ted Cruz Bible thumpers) managed to park their conscience somewhere along the side of the road and vote this man into office.
In a final condemnation of our national character, I have to observe that surviving allegations of sexual misconduct may or may not be an issue of popularity. It’s certainly one of agenda.
Even now we engage in a willing suspension of disbelief if one of “our own” gets nailed. Plausible denial becomes a factor, especially with “one-off” offenses. Many of us side with the accused because after all, it's a “he said-she said.” And we’ve all borne witness to careers that were killed in the poison of allegation.
Still, on balance, no one is even trying to deny that Hollywood has too long gotten a pass, and now its day of reckoning has hit mid morning. Still dawning are myriad allegations of harassment in the business workplace. Silicone Valley has already been hit and Wall Street appears to be next.
Following those will come Washington. But don’t hold your breathe for that one. Our POTUS remains in office unscathed, and Al Franken will survive his embarrassment. Both will continue to flourish because raising charges of sexual harassment in the nation’s capital would be like handing out speeding tickets on the Autobahn. And no one wants to open the lid on that one.
Then there’s the military—the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines—with 96,000 allegations of rape or sexual misconduct (15% against men) with fewer than 5,000 cases ever brought to trial and only about 900 convictions. That’s a different universe of course where angels fear to tread. And no one wants their heroes brought down, so we—collectively as a nation—still choose to look the other way.
And that’s the final point in all this. Our morality is selective. We too often blame the victim and grant almost unlimited leverage to these monsters of our own contrivance. We all worship the wrong kind of heroes and scramble in some orgy of cognitive dissonance when they inevitably fall from grace.
But now we must face up to the fact that this is the world we have made. Only we can fix it, but it will come at a cost. We will have to set new standards. We will have to listen early and often to those who stand in fear. We have to resurrect our compassion.
Mahatma Gandhi once noted that the “best measure of a civilization is how it protects those who cannot defend themselves.” The question remains: are we as a nation willing to be what we have promised to become? The rest of the world is watching. But we’ve got some retooling to do.
And thank you Harvey for the wake up call. We’ll send you some roses in prison.