Hollywood's Weinstein complicity

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The alleged perpetrator is getting counselling; the tarnished figure seeking help. This was what film producer and Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein claimed with each allegation of sexual harassment and abuse that began in the aftermath of articles in The New York Times and The New Yorker.

Harvey Weinstein'Multiple women,' went the New Yorker piece, 'share harrowing accounts of sexual assault and harassment by the film executive.' But the contribution by Ronan Farrow alluded to a tendency that would become violently expressive: Weinstein had been, for decades, 'trailed by rumours of sexual harassment and assault'. It had been 'an open secret to many in Hollywood and beyond' but efforts to out the points had been frustrated.

Condemnations duly flowed, stunned by that man behind Miramax and the Weinstein Company, fund raiser for Democratic party candidates, not least of all Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, a doyen of progressive causes and, even, dare it be said, women's causes.

Hollywood houses and produces its own hypocrisies. Issues are literally reduced to screen-like dimensions. Complexity vanishes. But more to the point, abuses behind the screen become apologias, the justifiable vicissitudes of having a dream industry. It entails a pact between the dream maker and participants, where all are soiled.

Figures of power and collusion have come out to wash themselves of the Weinstein factor in what can only be described as a culture of rampant complicity. Impure bodies are seeking purity, cleansing, the confessional distancing: by accusing Weinstein, by burying him in reputational ignominy, the nightmare will be exposed, and the complicity repudiated.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, in an act of minted hypocrisy, voted to expel the producer over the weekend. 'We do so not simply to separate ourselves from someone who does not merit the respect of his colleagues, but also to send a message that the era of wilful ignorance and shameful complicity in sexually predator behaviour and workplace harassment in our industry is over.'

As John Oliver of Last Week Tonight explained on Sunday, the statement was remarkable for having been released by a 'group that counts among its current members Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, and Mel Gibson'.

 

"When film contracts mattered, and sponsorship counted, silence was assured. In the subsequent horror is a hollow, opportunistic echo."

 

Polanski is a notable case in point, himself a career-making (and breaking) director who had such defenders as Whoopi Goldberg claiming that his sexual misdemeanour against a 13-year-old was not actually what it purported to be. 'I know it wasn't rape-rape. I think it was something else, but I don't believe it was rape-rape.'

The Clintons, pressured to express a view, have expressed barely plausible horror. Movie stars have miraculously changed their minds about their paternal, all conquering hero. 'Public figures who weren't vocal about the problem to begin with,' notes Dara Lind, 'get to stay silent when it's one of their friends.' When film contracts mattered, and sponsorship counted, silence was assured. In the subsequent horror is a hollow, opportunistic echo.

It is also one evident through societies where complicity pads cultures of violence and harassment, concealed by dark pacts of steel. No better example exists than that of the election in 2016 of President Donald J. Trump, whose presidential campaign was generally unaffected by the release of the Access Hollywood tape featuring the now infamous words: 'When you're a star, [women] let you do it. Grab 'em by the pussy. You can do anything.' The only genuine casualty in that entire encounter was the interviewer and host Billy Bush, who was made to leave Today.

Such cultures are pervasive. In the aftermath of the Weinstein affair, Gregg Jarrett of Fox News demanded that, 'The Weinstein Company should shut its doors.' The response from actor Alec Baldwin was immediate: pointing the finger at the mogul was a neat way of sidestepping a long Fox News practice of concealing sexual harassment in its workplace. Former Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes might be 'dead', but Bill O'Reilly was very much alive.

A social media storm has also been ignited, further spreading solidarity of sorts. The #metoo campaign, started by Alyssa Milano, was supposedly launched 'to shift the conversation away from the predator and to the victim'. But this firestorm of collective endorsement has had another consequence: revealing the sheer prevalence of such conduct with its corollary: silent and silenced victimhood.

There is no better statement of indignation than misplaced admiration, when the once noble figure is weeded out and dethroned. Moral distance can be maintained; difference asserted. Weinstein was celebrated when it mattered, feted when it counted. It was an entertainment complex that seduced the gullible, hardened the mercenaries and backed the cynics.

It also brought out the basic power disparities that exist across industries. As Lauren O'Connor would note as a 28-year-old woman attempting to forge a career, 'Harvey Weinstein is a 64 year old, world famous man and this is his company. The balance of power is me: 0, Harvey Weinstein: 10.'

Now, with tables turned and odds reversed, the silent have become opinionated and open, suggesting, perhaps with good reason, the necessary suspicions Plato directed at actors: hold them in suspicion, for they are unreliable and undeserving of being in the model Republic.

 

 

Binoy KampmarkDr Binoy Kampmark is a former Commonwealth Scholar who lectures at RMIT University, Melbourne.

Topic tags: Binoy Kampmark, Harvey Weinstein, Hollywood, sexual harassment


 

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Existing comments

Right from the first sentence this article packs a punch. So many guilty people, so much spin, so murky. Eventually victims get tired of being 'victims'. They realise they are the lowest form of life in the game of power. For that is what sexual misconduct is: a game of power. And it's not only about power but about power that grinds someone else into the dirt. Your last paragraph, Binoy, deserves careful thought about the roles played by everybody in this sordid story.
Pam | 23 October 2017


Great article Binoy. In reading this, however, I could not see a great deal of difference between this and my area of research (clergy sexual misconduct against adults https://eprints.qut.edu.au/96038/ ). Start delving a little into this same attitude and behaviour towards women (and 'lesser' men) in the Church and seriously, the politics, underlying beliefs and basic attitudes aren't that different, just camouflaged in spirituality and religion. One by one the hypocrisies and crimes of the abusive powerful are coming to light. It doesn't mean we do away with their structures, but rather to expose the abusive and self-centred beliefs, attitudes and behaviours within them and the liberal and conservative cultures that allow them to exist and fester.
Stephen de Weger | 23 October 2017


For many years, actor Cory Feldman has openly stated that the most serious problem in Hollywood was paedophilia, and that he and other child actors were abused. As a child actor he said he was “surrounded” by paedophiles. He has been mostly ignored. In 2013 he made the claim on “The View”. However he was accused by Barbara Walters, one the world’s most powerful journalists and a so-called moral authority, of “damaging an entire industry.” Perhaps after the Weinstein scandal, things may change. A couple of days ago an agent specialising in youth talent, Tyler Grasham, was fired after numerous accusations of sexual assault. And actress Evan Rachel Wood, who has accused powerful Hollywood figures of raping her, tweeted that paedophilia in Hollywood “will be the next dam to break.”
Ross Howard | 23 October 2017


Ross, what you say is so true. One of the best weapons against sexual abuse of both chidren and adults is talking about it, exposing it....the light shining in the darkness and all that...and those hiding in the corners are seen for what and who they are. So, keep talking about it, exposing it, shining the light, and for the sake of those whose voices have been muffled and strangled by threat, fear and disbelief.
Stephen de Weger | 24 October 2017


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