I’ve heard the news about mogul Harvey Weinstein, and I’m outraged.
At the hypocrisy on the right and the left.
Despite my cute name in the title, “Hurricane Harvey-Harassment,” the facts of this case aren’t even a little funny. Sexual predator Harvey Weinstein, who paid settlement hush money to “at least eight women,” does not get one ounce of my sympathy. I’ll go further than many and say that if Harvey Weinstein was truly as sorry as he says he is, he would rip up those non-disclosure agreements that are preventing some people from coming forward even now. He was fired by his own company yesterday? Great! Run him out of town on a rail, as far as I’m concerned. But others are taking care of that, and so that’s not my first concern today.
My first concern is the narrow-minded tribalism of the GOP, and the GOP-sympathetic, who have been treating everyone to their left as if we’re all hypocrites, as if we love sexual harassers as long as they’re “ours.” I’m not the only person to react with revulsion at this, but I bet I’m the only one who can make an extended case without even mentioning our forty-fifth President (other than this sentence).
Right-wingers think that non-right-wingers are excuse-generating hypocrites because of a well-understood phenomenon called projection. Because the right never cared that predators were running Fox News, they assume that the rest of us would somehow defend Anderson Cooper if kids were found tied up in his basement. For them, the boycotts and pursuits of Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly were situational ethics-based partisan witch-hunts; for them, the left doesn’t care about abused women, it just wanted Fox News powers to suffer.
It does NOT work that way. Sorry. Nice try.
Look, clearly Harvey Weinstein was enabled by some powers-that-be in Hollywood and the media. Yes, some people deserve to be “outed” for looking the other way on his bad behavior. And normally I say you can’t blame someone for what they don’t say. But this time I’ll admit that it’s conspicuous that neither “Real Time with Bill Maher” nor “Saturday Night Live” mentioned Weinstein this weekend. They associate with Weinstein’s people, so feel free to berate them.
But don’t try to guilt all of us who are left of Tucker Carlson. No way. I’m talking about statements like John Cardillo saying “this week we learned that the left is fine with you being a sexual predator if you’re a wealthy powerful progressive.” I’m also talking about this kind of nonsense that has no basis in anything. Most of us just heard about Hurricane Harvey-Harassment. What do you think, we happen to know that Tom Hanks is a serial pervert but we’re hiding it because he fundraises for Elizabeth Warren?
Give me a break. Better yet, give me the names. We’ll “out” them tomorrow.
I have a message for Cardillos and others like him: STOP PROJECTING. Just because YOU make excuses for Bill O’Reilly for months doesn’t mean the rest of us do things like that. It’s kinda like your habit of loudly calling the New York Times fake news…uh, except when it’s writing about a fallen Democrat. Just because your agenda trumps truth doesn’t mean everyone else’s does. And now that you’ve (successfully!) demanded that elected Democrats give back or donate money they received from Weinstein, you’ve opened a Pandora’s Box of new standards that I know you’re not going to live by in the future. Typical, predictable, and outrageous.
But the problem isn’t limited to small fry like those links. Thoughtful conservatism’s arguably smartest voice, Ross Douthat, yesterday gave conservative talk-shows a week’s worth of talking points. I have a lot of respect for Douthat, but he was way out of line on this piece he dared title “The Pigs of Liberalism.” His five (and only five) named pigs were Weinstein, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, Woody Allen, and Hugh Hefner. I would love to see Douthat (and the many hosts/writers running with his article) link to one person, one single solitary feminist, who said that Kennedy’s or Clinton’s behavior “wasn’t really that bad” or words to that effect. What feminists said was that Kennedy’s one crime was partially (never entirely) vitiated by his other works, and that Clinton’s one proven crime, perjury, didn’t rise to the level of impeachment. Douthat and many others need to stop pretending that writing “lying under oath isn’t worth removal from the Oval Office” is the same as writing “Bill Clinton should sleep with all his interns.” (And if lying under oath really means that much to the right, well, I know a guy who couldn’t tell the truth for ten minutes under oath…never mind, I said I’d leave him out of this.)
Hugh Hefner and Woody Allen, who have zero history of crimes or financial settlements, may be beloved by some liberals (and certainly not all), but these two are hardly political figures in the way of, say, Bruce Springsteen, who regularly and publicly campaigns for Democrats. Perhaps most importantly, other than Weinstein, most or perhaps all of Douthat’s aspersions are based on behavior that happened last century. If this is such a problem for liberals, no doubt it’s been a problem in the last 18 years, right? What kind of 21st-century behavior have the Democrats been excusing so much, anyway? Douthat, and many others like him, pointedly DO NOT bring up Congressman Anthony Weiner, for an excellent reason: Democrats and liberals pointedly condemned his behavior. Oh, right, we who aren’t on the right don’t sit around making excuses for our guys when they get caught. That’s what bilious, double-talking, opportunistic right-wing hypocrites do.
My second concern today is a bit more nuanced, which is perfect for you, the reader who can handle more than two or three paragraphs. Weinstein’s behavior brings up a problem propagated by some liberals who are not famous or powerful. I’m basically talking about the argument Roxane Gay made about a year ago that she can’t separate art from the artist. If we’re talking about novels or paintings or sculptures, which are clearly the works of individuals (however well-supported by teams/grants), I’m not going to criticize boycotts. But movies and TV are different; I teach them, so I ought to know.
Two caveats right off the bat: first, obviously we must limit ourselves to when we know about the artist’s (accused?) transgressions; most of us aren’t retroactively slimy for watching “The Cosby Show” during the 1980s. Second, obviously seeing a movie or show is a leisure activity; nobody is forcing you to do it, so feel free to skip any particular movie or show. Those caveats out of the way, I have a sincere issue with statements like Gay’s that promote boycotting the work of a filmmaker because of her or his infractions. One reason is that any show on TV or film in a multiplex is the work of a team of at least scores of people (often more like hundreds), and I don’t love punishing all of these people. Self-conscious movie/TV boycotting like Gay’s is limited to those in thrall to auteurism, which too often sees a movie director having the same relation to his/her movie that a novelist does to his/her novel.
I teach my film students not to believe in auteurism; I also show them movies (or clips) directed by Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, and James Cameron, who have all been (credibly) accused of abusing multiple women. Should I start teaching film history without showing those clips?
Eight months ago, the Oscar press was filled with compare-and-contrast stories about why voters turned against Nate Parker’s The Birth of a Nation but conferred the Best Actor Oscar on Casey Affleck for Manchester by the Sea. (Both Parker and Affleck were, years ago, accused of, and exonerated of charges of, sexual misconduct.) Did race play a role? Sure. But those articles mostly couldn’t resolve their own contradictions, because they mostly failed to clarify that Affleck did not direct Manchester by the Sea. None of those writers were willing to ask the question I’m asking you: which job on a movie set, if performed by a sexual harasser or other criminal, justifies stigmatizing the film? If the key grip or gaffer has a rape conviction on his résumé, do we all have to stay away from that film? Or are we just limiting ourselves to above-the-line talent? (If you don’t know “the business,” above-the-line is defined as talent that gets their own title card, not shared by any other names, in the credits of the film/show.) Or just people who make more money if we pay for the film? (Or what’s called “back end points” or “profit participation.”) Or just directors? If you’re really telling me you’re not watching a given film because of a person’s behavior, what are your favorite films? (Don’t want to tell me that now, do you?) What about boycotting shows that advertise a movie by a given stigmatized artist, say last year’s Hacksaw Ridge, directed by Mel Gibson?
If we’re not allowed to see movies/shows directed/made by Mel Gibson, Woody Allen, Bill Cosby, and Roman Polanski, what about films in which they act? What if it’s a cameo? What if they write the film but don’t direct it? What if they finance someone else’s film? How many percentage points, or dollars, are too many? What’s the limit? What about association? Kate Winslet was in a recent movie by Polanski, do we stop seeing all her films now? What’s the period of infamy – how long before a contrite person can have their career again? What about pro sports? Am I allowed to watch games played in a league containing known abusers as long as those abusers aren’t playing the game I’m watching?
Most, maybe all, articles don’t ask these questions, and I’ll give you my daring theory as to why: I don’t think we’re really ready to sort out these questions. Nobody has a rule book. It’s subjective for everyone. And if you think I’m wrong, write me up a guide.
This brings me back to Harvey Weinstein, whose nickname in Hollywood has long been Harvey Scissorhands, less for his reputation for unwelcome advances and more for his penchant of re-cutting films. Surely if anyone has had the auteurist “final cut,” it’s him. So should I now stop seeing movies from Miramax or the Weinstein Company? More are coming this year and next. Do I tell my friends not to watch last year’s Sing Street, or Lion? Is it enough that Harvey was just fired, or do we hold out until all his “participation points” are taken away? Rumor has it that Bob and Harvey Weinstein get 15% of every screening of the first three Lord of the Rings films (yes, they did nothing for Tolkien except negotiate themselves a sweet deal for selling the rights to the book); if I’m flipping channels and a Lord of the Rings film comes on, do I have to quickly flip away?
You don’t know and I don’t know. That’s my point. All liberals are ultimately squishy on this, so don’t pretend otherwise.
Just to be even more nuanced, I’m not saying I would never support any kind of boycott under any circumstances. I didn’t vocally support a boycott of the advertisers of Bill O’Reilly’s show “The O’Reilly Factor” over recent charges of sexual harassment, but I wasn’t sure I was opposed, either. Likewise, if Weinstein had kept his job, I would have been open to boycotting the advertisers of “Project Runway,” the show (and spinoffs) that seemed to occupy most of Weinstein’s time in recent years. To me, the slight difference is that corporations, unlike us individuals, are severely under-regulated anyway; their baseline ethics are “screw the customer as long as you can.” The slight difference is that current advertisers are giving their current money and current imprimatur of legitimacy to these shows when corporations have so many other, more ethical options. On Saturday, in preparation for writing this piece, I learned the names of some of the advertisers for “Project Runway.” Now that he was fired (on Sunday), I’ll assume I don’t need to mention them here, for the same reason that the boycott threat of O’Reilly receded the moment O’Reilly took his (VERY golden) parachute out of Fox News? Please, correct me if I’m wrong, and while you’re at it, send along that guide to boycotting other films, shows, and sporting events as well.
Personally, I do believe in second chances for the truly contrite and for those who have paid their debt to society. Charles S. Dutton killed a man, but that doesn’t mean I won’t watch any film that he’s in. (He did his time in prison.) Indiana Jones once said “the penitent man shall pass,” and that may not always be true, but we shouldn’t rule it out, either. Let’s admit these are difficult issues! And we on the not-right-wing should sometimes stand up and admit to the right-wing that yes, we do seem to be moving the goalposts of acceptability again.
Bottom line, predatory men have gotten away with harassment and abuse of women for far too long. Let’s lift up all the rocks, expose all these roaches to daylight, and watch as they squirm and crawl and get the opprobrium and diminished opportunities they so richly deserve. Despite what some on the right would have you believe, opposing sexual predators isn’t a partisan issue. But despite what some on the left would have you believe, there is no one-size-fits-all rulebook on media consumption of works by accused and convicted sexual predators, and don’t believe any Roxane Gay who tells you otherwise. We’re all agreed that women should not be abused and men with a history of abuse should be “outed.” We are not agreed that one party or ideology is better than another at living up to this standard. We should stop pretending to have rigid standards for authors of screen stories, even as we all agree to work harder to honor the stories of victims. Thank you for listening, for a change, to the outraged middle.