Saturday, January 6, 2018

#MeToo? We All Knew

The recent wave of women accusing powerful men of sexual misconduct is a welcome, if tardy, airing of grievances that have been common occurrences, and awful, for a long time. As usual, some people wish to use the movement for mischief. 

The new tempest in a teaspoon from the Red Team is (alert the media):


The trumped-up scandal is that Meryl Streep supposedly knew all along that Harvey was doing terrible things to women, and she kept her mouth shut about it while making many movies for Harvey and his companies. When asked about it, she actually said that she’d heard rumors, but she had no real information. But really, goes the innuendo, she knew! Or perhaps it was what we in the law call, “constructive knowledge.” That’s what happens when someone either knew something, or they should have known it. Either way, Meryl is accused of being complicit!  (That’s one of our big new words this year. Trump’s administration is full of it.) Accused by the right-wing meme machine.  

I don’t know who got the ball rolling on this earth-shattering revelation, but a guy named Sabo, that’s what I’m told, spread the word with posters showing Ms. Streep and Mr. Weinstein smiling in better moments, with Ms. Streep’s eyes covered by a bar that says, “She Knew.” The Sabo guy is described as a “right-wing guerrilla artist.”  

For anyone who has been living outside the range of American media for the last couple of years, Harvey has been accused by numerous women of being sexually inappropriate with them, a euphemism that seems to cover anything from making awkward passes, or letting your hand slip down to the woman’s ass when posing for group pictures, to forcible rape, in the worst meanings of the words force, and rape. To hear it told, Harvey has been guilty of this behavior over the entire range, from the almost okay to the actually criminal, for most of his career.

People are shocked! Shocked, I say!!!

This has spread far and wide to become a thing called the “hashtag ME TOO” movement. (#MeToo) And, you know what? I believe the women making the accusations. In most cases by far, I believe the women. And in most cases, I don’t think that the women are exaggerating at all, not one little bit. It’s terrible, and it has been a problem for, well, forever. Almost any woman that you meet could tell you a story about one or more incidents in which a man or men did something sexual and unwanted, showed them something, or touched them somewhere upsetting. Most women have multiple stories to tell.

It is great that this age old societal shortcoming is being brought into the light and discussed in the open. It’s great that many of the victimized women now feel empowered to give voice to their experience in an attempt to both educate the public and to see the guilty receive some punishment, or get fired, or at least get a good razzing.

The Problem

By now a long laundry list of big names has been accused of a huge variety of acts against women, described variously as “abuse,” or “harassment,” or “assault.” The big names are, so far, all men. Some are accused of actual, on-the-books violent crimes, like rape. Other accusations are often merely gross, or weird; some are disagreeable enough to make a sensible person wonder why on earth anyone would do such a thing, like into a potted plant, for instance.

For some of the accused, our reaction is one of recognition: oh, I can totally imagine him doing that stuff. But other men accused by the #MeToo gang do not seem like good candidates for the position. Like Garrison Keilor, for example. Who’d have thunk it? Al Franken, “Giant of the Senate,” got caught up in it as well. First he was ambushed by a former colleague with a photo that was an obvious set-up, and then a few other women accused him of low-level wandering-handery.  Also among the accused by now is (exclamation point!) ex. President George H.W. Bush! Which is not as strange as it sounds, actually. His name has been raised in this context since before he was elected president, both in Hollywood and in Washington. 

Shocking! Just so terribly shocking!

It’s not only women making these accusations, either. This new rush of alarming news bulletins includes allegations that certain powerful men, or they might just be actors, are actually gay, and they’ve been inflicting unwanted or otherwise objectionable sexual demands on boys over the years. That this receives so much less attention than the accusations of women betrays a deep prejudice in society that men are victimizers, and women are victims.  Not to mention the prejudice that all gay men are Cha-Cha Queens who can’t get enough anyway, so “so what?”

I do not believe that any men have as yet come forward to accuse powerful women of abusing them or making unwanted sexual demands. Hollywood is now full of powerful women, and we may be certain that this happens. Many of these modern women executives are just as power-mad as their male counterparts, and just as liable to seek to inflict their power on subordinates.

The responses of the accused men have been interesting. They vary from mild to wild, from insincere apologies to voluntary abandonment of a senate career. There have been guys who ran for cover after a brief public statement, and guys who dragged out the old “sex addict” excuse. And a lot of “deny,” of course.

But stick to the topic, Fred! Meryl Streep! Her response should be a resounding, “fuck off!” Like any of this was her fault! The idea is ridiculous.

We All Knew

Most of this stuff is alleged to have happened in the movie business, so let’s consider the day to day reality in Hollywood for a moment.

All of this stuff in the recent allegations is true, and an awful lot more besides. It’s true as a phenomenon, even if any small number of accusations in the current tidal wave happen to be less than true. And it’s all true in ways and for reasons that add up to a much bigger problem than is supposedly being grappled with already. For every woman who has come forward, there are thousands of women through history who did not or have not. They have their reasons, and we should respect them.

Not only everybody who has ever worked in the movie business (or TV), but also everybody who has ever lived in Los Angeles, knows all about it. If you live in Los Angeles, you know plenty of people who are in the picture business, or the entertainment business. They live in your neighborhood; you play golf with them; you borrow tools from them; you provide services of all kinds to them; you see them while shopping; you meet them at parties. What’s more, you do all of those things with lots of people who work AROUND the picture business. People who work for catering companies; people who park cars; people who remodel kitchens. You get the idea. And you hear stories, oh, do you hear stories.

Of course, we all feel bad for famous women who are degraded by creeps, creeps who are often older and/or ugly. Creeps who smoke cigars while the girls service them, “just pull the zipper down, honey, pardon me if I take this call while you work.” They don’t want sex like a normal person, they want to exercise their power over others and prove what big men they are. There’s a lot of pay to play in Hollywood, we all know it. We’ve all known it forever! The casting couch! There’s a term for it! The actresses don’t like it, but they have put up with it. For their own reasons, who are we to criticize?

The casting couch is usually for the newer actresses looking to get into bigger roles, although the most powerful studio executives seem to be fond of degrading even very successful actresses, just to prove that they can.  The circle of our concern, however, must be much wider than women who are already in the movie business.

This next bit is, for me, the most awful.

Women come to Hollywood every day in the desperate hope that they can become successful movie actresses. They bring themselves, a few articles of clothes, and that’s it. All they know is that they’ve always been the best-looking woman around, around their town in Nebraska, around their high school, around the mall where they worked. Hollywood, here they come! They have to get some little job, waitressing or something, and they start to look around trying to meet people. It’s easy for beautiful women to get invited to parties, and that’s where the girls really go to work. And at most of these parties, the movie industry people in attendance are not producers, they’re not agents, they’re not big shots at all. They’re sound guys, and grips, and lighting assistants. They’re in the business, though, they are actually making pictures. And they know people! A lot of the guys take advantage of the naiveté of the wannabe actresses, and that’s not nice. The sex, though, is very likely to be consensual. A lot of those country girls will cheerfully fuck the eyes out of a sound tech just to get invited to better parties where they might actually meet somebody who could help them. And so forth.

The girls hang around town for a couple of years, get passed around, get a drug habit, maybe go on an expensive vacation with an assistant producer, and try to smile and cajole and fuck their way up the power ladder. In the meantime, they might make a commercial or something, or do walk-ons as extras, but that’s usually all it comes to. They never get an agent, never speak a line, and they never come close to any quality work. It’s a hard business to break into, intentionally so. After a couple of years, all they’ve got to show for their time are an extra suitcase, some new worry lines, and one or two sexually transmitted diseases (Chlamydia, HPV, and herpes seem to be endemic). The system has abused them, their cooperation notwithstanding. The power imbalance alone makes all of the sexual transactions awful. It wouldn’t matter if the girl initiated the interaction.

This is the real tragedy of sexual misadventure in the movie business, and in the larger culture in general. Women gravitate to powerful men, hoping to gain some advantage. Men are only too willing to take advantage of them. It’s true not only in the entertainment business, but also for politicians, professional athletes, and musicians.


So, let’s leave poor Meryl Streep out of this. She had no duty of care to try to clean up the entire dirty system single-handed. And let’s support the #MeToo movement, because it’s tough for girls out there, in any business, and in any situation. And let’s shame some of these guys right out of whatever business they are in, let’s banish them outside the city walls. Not just the real criminals, like the roofie artists, and the violent rapists, either. You know their names, the famous ones. They, of course, should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law and sent to prison. The men who are abusing their power in order to take advantage of women in situations that do not rise to using force or drugging women, well, when they are identified, they should be banished, or shunned. They should pay a price. They should be sued, if possible, and I would hope that my brothers and sisters in the law would assist the women in this process. They should at least suffer the loss of our respect in toto and the loss of most or all of their careers.

What about the things that are going on that are just weird and disgusting? You know what I’m talking about, things that are not about sex and not about power either, they seem to be about successful men embarrassing themselves or sabotaging their own careers and relationships. Yeah, let’s banish them, even though it seems to be what they want. They had a good career, some of them, and they blew it. If I were doing things in front of women that are too indelicate for me to discuss right now on a silly little blog, I’d expect to be banished and I’d probably welcome it.

About the men whose transgressions fell short of even a solid grope, maybe we could see our way clear to call them on the behavior while allowing them to continue supporting their families. This isn’t the Spanish Inquisition. One famous man got in trouble recently for suggesting something like this, some degree of mercy for the lesser offenders. That did not go well for him. But really, there are babies, and there’s bathwater, and it never makes sense to send it all down the plug-hole together. All generalizations are wrong (including this one).

Finally, as the power imbalances in our society grow more spectacularly unequal week by week, we should try to show more compassion for everyone who gets stuck with the short end of the stick, in every power transaction, every day. That includes most of us by now, so what I am asking for is that we try to be nicer to each other. As divisions in our society grow deeper and begin to border on violence, we must all take a moment sometimes to notice the terrible changes that we are living through. I have friends, and FaceBook friends, and family members, with whom I do not agree on political matters, etc. 

Nevertheless, I love them, and I try to make that obvious even when we are in the middle of a disagreement. We all find ourselves adrift on a sea of negativity, and my dearest hope is that some of us might even decide to go in a different direction. Make these decisions yourself, don’t listen to people on TV or at church. I trust you more than I trust them. I can guarantee you that love is possible. This current climate of hate is not irresistible; it does not represent an inescapable future.

My main rule-of-thumb in life is that if I can do a certain thing, anybody can do it. This is why I still trust people. You can jump off the hate bandwagon. My confidence level is high.  

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