Thursday, November 2, 2017

The conspiracy of silence that protected Harvey Weinstein

(First published in the Manawatu Standard and Nelson Mail, November 1).

Hardly a day passes without a fresh allegation against the serial Hollywood sex predator Harvey Weinstein.

As I write this, the latest claims have come from Annabella Sciorra, who starred in The Sopranos (she played a mentally unstable woman who had a turbulent affair with Tony Soprano) and Daryl Hannah, best remembered as the mermaid in the 1984 Disney movie Splash.

Sciorra told the New Yorker magazine this week that Weinstein violently raped her in the early 1990s, while Hannah alleged that he tried to force his way into her hotel room.

Weinstein was carrying on a Hollywood tradition that dates at least as far back as Jack Warner, one of the founders of Warner Brothers, who was notorious for auditioning ambitious starlets on the “casting couch” in his office.

Then, as now, the Hollywood establishment seems to have been complicit in the practice. Everyone must have known it was going on, but chose to ignore it because the men involved had the power to make or break careers.

That’s why I can’t help feeling cynical about the sudden stream of accusations against Weinstein.

It’s not that I doubt his accusers. The weight of evidence against him is overwhelming. But it seems obvious that Hollywood protected him for decades.

As far back as 1998, Gwyneth Paltrow alluded to Weinstein’s reputation in a television interview. There were even jocular references to it in the comedy series 30 Rock in 2012 and at the Oscars ceremony the following year.

So people knew what he was doing, but turned a blind eye. Presumably they didn't want, or didn't dare, to make an enemy of him. 

All that changed when, several weeks ago, the New Yorker and the New York Times reported dozens of claims against Weinstein, ranging from sexual harassment to outright rape.  That opened the floodgates, and since then there has been a constant stream of complainants emerging into the light with accusations dating back to the 1980s. 

Suddenly, everyone in Hollywood is trying to distance themselves from this man whose patronage was once craved. Weinstein has been fired by his own company and expelled from the pompously named Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His wife has left him, his brother called him sick and depraved and his lawyer, a woman, announced she could no longer work for him.

Of course we're expected to believe none of them had a clue about what he got up to.

High-profile actors and politicians have lined up to condemn him – including, ironically, Hillary Clinton, who huffed and puffed about sexist and misogynistic behaviour but delicately avoided any mention of her own husband’s record as a sexual predator. (Remember Paula Jones, anyone?)

Mrs Clinton, incidentally, had been happy to accept Weinstein’s campaign donations when she ran for president. Did she really know nothing of his reputation, or was the money more important?

Then there’s the creepy Woody Allen, who described Weinstein as a sad, sick man. Well, he should know about sad, sick men. This is the same Woody Allen whose own sexual history is, shall we say, less than exemplary.

Weinstein helped salvage Allen’s career after he was accused of abusing his own daughter (which he denied). They worked together on several movie projects. But Allen, while conceding he had heard “rumours” about Weinstein, claimed to know nothing about the “horror stories” that have now come to light.

Cue the Tui billboards. Can we now expect Roman Polanski to also express his outrage?

The growing scandal has seriously tarnished the liberal credentials of a few Hollywood heroes.  Matt Damon, who made several movies with Weinstein, initially denied knowing anything of his sexual proclivities but has since changed his tune, calling him a monster.

Damon’s friend Ben Affleck said he was sickened and angry by what had been revealed, but was then accused by the actress Rose McGowan, one of Weinstein’s victims, of having known about Weinstein for years - because McGowan herself told him.

Other actors – George Clooney, for example – say they had no idea what sort of man he was. So where were all these people when Weinstein was at it? Looking the other way, that’s where.

Wikipedia lists 70 women who have made claims against Weinstein. Not even the most powerful man in the movie industry can rape, molest or harass 70 women without other people knowing.

If it was widely known that Weinstein was a rapist and a molester, why did no one blow the whistle to protect other women who were likely to be targeted? And why did so many women continue to work with him?

Some even appeared on his arm, smiling for the cameras at glamorous Hollywood events. They put their careers first. It’s an ugly insight into the decadence of Hollywood, where debasement is something women seem to accept as the price to be paid for fame and success.

None of this exculpates Weinstein, who apparently regarded women as sexual playthings – due reward for his position at the pinnacle of the film industry.

But the mass outbreak of virtuous disgust is almost as repugnant as the ghastly and contemptible Weinstein himself. The entire rotten Hollywood establishment stands condemned for the conspiracy of silence that protected Weinstein for so long. 

1 comment:

Scott said...

Very fair comments Karl. The only thing I would add is that the culture of liberalism that Hollywood promoted was a very promiscuous culture. So they set out to destroy the usual norms of sexual restraint and promote a culture of "if it feels good do it". So they deliberately put forth an agenda, kind of like the Playboy agenda, of sex as a very pleasurable experience that should be enjoyed by everyone as often as possible. They particularly felt that the main problem was repression and we should not repress our sexual impulses.

Now they would say they promoted a liberal culture of consensual sex. But I would argue that in the anything goes culture that Hollywood promoted, there were no real boundaries. So what's wrong with hitting on an actress if you found her desirable?

My main point is that once you remove the boundary of sexual restraint, then pretty soon the boundary of consensual sex can be seen to be a negotiable as well?

Hollywood had a conspiracy of silence for sure. But it also had a desire to remove sexual restraint and boundaries and Harvey Weinstein was the result.