The “Courage” of the Mob

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 )

 

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Harvey Weinstein Is A Pig, But He’s Not The Only One

I have a few thoughts on the Harvey Weinstein affair which seems to dominate so much of the news cycle currently. 

Back in my acting days (IMDB) the casting couch was a well-known phenomenon, and basically just a “given” as being part of “the Biz”. It wasn’t a guarantor of success – there were plenty of stories, whether apocryphal or not was hard to know, about people who succumbed but then ended up on the cutting room floor anyway, their careers going nowhere.

I was a good-looking guy back in the day, so I got the occasional “offer”, from both gays and straights, which I’d simply shrug off. In the “arts”, particularly show business, there are a lot of attractive people, many with the morals of alley cats, in a fluid social situation and work environment with a constant flux of people coming in and out of the setting. Opportunities for what’s nowadays called “hooking up” abounded, so human nature being what it is, there were many who exploited it for sexual gratification.

I think what sets Weinstein apart from others is his aggression, and lack of any restraint; his willingness to push beyond the bounds of “normal” sexual pursuit and engage in acts of outright perversion, and assert force against completely unwilling victims. Not only using, but grossly abusing, his position of power in a disgustingly thuggish manner. His refusal to take “no” for an answer.

Right now this issue’s getting a lot of play, and Weinstein seems to be getting his much-deserved comeuppance (though we’ll have to see how that plays out in the long run). But if people think the phenomenon of “workplace harassment” is going away, I think they’re in for a big disappointment. Unfortunately, we’re talking about something that’s part of the human experience: exploitation, whether for sex or other ends.

This isn’t unique to Weinstein or show business. We’ve all read about the same types of activities taking place in other venues: the military, the board room, the office, politics.

The Weinstein affair is getting all this attention because of the celebrity of the people involved; their notoriety, their high profiles, their magazine-cover fame. But ultimately, this dust will settle, and then what?

Frankly, I don’t think things will change very much. The Hollywood denizens will have expressed their outrage, and patted themselves on the back for their “courage” in speaking out, and everyone will go back to what they were doing before the headlines were splashed all over the place. The “casting couch” will continue, though more discretely. The Weinsteins of the future won’t go as far as actually forcing themselves on unwilling victims, but other than that the status quo will probably remain largely unchanged.

In saying this, I don’t think I’m being cynical. Simply realistic. History is replete with examples. The Fatty Arbuckle scandal of almost 100 years ago; Howard Hughes’s “stable of starlets” back in the ‘40s; Hugh Hefner, the ultimate “dirty old man”, and his revolving door of “playmates”; Bill Clinton’s “bimbo eruptions” and Lewinsky’s blue dress. Harvey Weinstein is simply the latest in a long and sordid line of scandals that have hit the public’s radar only to quickly fade away.

La plus ça change, la plus c’est la même chose.

 

Brian Baker 2017

 (Also published today in my local newspaper, The Signal).