On October 30th, shortly after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, I published a column — which was also published in my local newspaper, The Signal — under the title “Casting couch probably has not seen its last days”. As the title implies, I believe that once the dust settles things in Hollywood – and elsewhere – will return to pretty much the pre-Weinstein status quo.
In the meantime, though, we’re being treated to a hair-on-fire spectacle of absurd proportions, a lynch mob straight out of a 1950s “B” Western two-reeler. To paraphrase a line from the Bogart classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre, “Evidence? We don’ need no steenkin’ evidence!”
Every pat on the knee, persistent flirt, failed seduction attempt, inappropriate joke, unthinking comment, or unwanted compliment has been elevated from the level of innocent interaction or boorish behavior to the equivalent of the rape of the Vestal Virgins.
The biggest problem with all this hyperventilation is that it ends up trivializing and camouflaging the real offenders, those such as Weinsten. To paraphrase another saying, this time from the realm of civil rights, “when everything is rape, nothing is rape”.
At the Golden Globe Awards ceremony female attendees demonstrated their “courage” by vowing to wear black. I hate to be the one to break it to such vacuous luminaries, but real “courage” is putting on a camo-pattern uniform and fighting ISIS in the Middle East, not donning a black gown by Givenchy with plunging neckline and side slits from floor to derriere.
The hypocrisy on display at the Golden Globes was also breathtaking in its depth. Apparently, before Oprah Winfrey and Meryl Streep became such figures of “courage”, and spokeswomen for “oppressed” victims, they were pretty much besties with Harvey Weinstein, if we can believe pictures of them with him before his precipitous downfall. And since his “proclivities” were such an open secret in Hollywood, it’s hard to believe they didn’t know anything about his perversions before they became splashed all over the pages in the media.
The other major problem with the current hysteria is that we’ve entered a “no proof required” zone. All it takes is an unsubstantiated accusation – sometimes even made anonymously – for the outrage machine to gin up to destroy some guy’s life.
Every accuser is given the presumption of driven-snow purity and victimhood, and every one of the accused is given the presumption of villainy and guilt. There’s no effort made to consider facts or circumstances in play at the time of the alleged offense. No thought as to whether or not the “victim” was, at the time, a willing participant. Whether or not the accusation is actually an expression of “buyer’s remorse” in regretting an action that they may even have encouraged at the time. No recognition of the reality that sexual mores have changed over the last couple of decades, and that behavior that’s now considered out of bounds was perfectly routine and acceptable just a short while ago. No acceptable possibility that truly innocent words or actions were completely misconstrued by the accuser.
In other words, it’s a witch hunt.
Am I saying that there’s no fire causing all this smoke? Of course not. Weinstein alone is the only example one needs to recognize there’s a real problem, and the evidence against him is incontrovertible and overwhelming. But in no way does that justify the irrational furor we’re seeing today.
We’ve been down this road before. In 1921 Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, one of the top film stars of the Silent Era, was accused of raping Virginia Rappe, who had died after falling ill at a small party being held in Arbuckle’s hotel suite in San Francisco.
Because of the stature of Arbuckle’s celebrity and the salacious nature of the accusations – that he’d raped her with a foreign object – the event became a national scandal of epic proportions, fueled by the yellow journalism of the Hearst newspaper empire.
The San Francisco District Attorney filed criminal charges and took Arbuckle to trial… three times. The first two trials ended in hung juries, in both cases 10 – 2 in favor of acquittal. The third trial concluded with the jury not only unanimously finding Arbuckle “not guilty” after a mere six minutes, but they spent about five of those minutes composing a formal letter to Arbuckle apologizing to him for having been put through the ordeal.
But the damage had been done. The completely spurious allegations had ruined his life, and his career never really recovered. In spite of his actual innocence and acquittal at trial, the scandal alone was enough to make him essentially unemployable in Hollywood from that point forward.
Arbuckle’s ordeal should serve as a cautionary tale for everyone. There’s no “courage” necessary to be a member of a lynch mob.
©Brian Baker 2018
(Also published today in my local newspaper, The Signal )