I had some thoughts on recent events involving famous men accused of sexual harassment and assault. They aren’t the most coherent thoughts I’ve ever had, and I get to them in a rather round-about sort of way, but bear with me on this if you choose to read on.
I have a funny opinion, I suppose you could call it, on the HBO series Real Time with Bill Maher. If the guests can refrain from shouting at each other, I find they can have some good conversations and I like the show. I just can’t stand the host. I’ve never thought he was particularly funny, and he comes across as generally insufferable, arrogant, and smug. I do somewhat like “New Rules,” but when he and his guests won’t let each other speak, it’s not something I enjoy.
Anyway, this past Friday, Maher’s final “New Rule” started off on movies involving cars. In particular, Maher said he had recently seen Baby Driver and was unimpressed because almost any adult can drive a car, and driving isn’t inherently exciting. There was so much I felt was wrong with his analysis, starting with the fact that while many people do know how to drive, that doesn’t make everyone a good driver, and that I don’t think Maher’s own ability behind the wheel automatically makes him eligible to drive for NASCAR, plus a good chunk of the fun from Baby Driver dealt with timing everything to the soundtrack in ways generally reserved for musicals…but the point is, while many people can drive, not everyone can drive like a stunt man or a race car driver.
Then again, Maher a few months ago was blaming superhero movies for Donald Trump by saying they gave conservative voters the idea that one special man can fix all our problems for us, ignoring 1) how many left-leaning voters thought the same of Barack Obama and 2) the idea of a lone hero saving the day was hardly invented by superhero movies.
But then Maher, after his slamming on something simple, turned the point to something bigger as he is wont to do and focused on powerful men recently accused of sexual harassment and assault, suggesting that maybe if people like Harvey Weinstein put some effort into improving their overall appearance and maybe being a little nicer, they could score more often.
So, here’s the thing: I somehow doubt George Clooney met his wife by asking her up to his hotel room to discuss business and insisted they talk while he was in the shower. Plus, Weinstein, like many of the men accused, was married at the time and probably shouldn’t have been trying to seduce anybody.
In the wake of Weinstein, we’ve heard about a number of men in various positions abusing their underlings, and a number of very famous women have stepped forward to make these accusations. The #metoo hashtag showed how many women, famous or not, have suffered from sexual harassment and abuse. The majority of the women in my Facebook feed seemed to use it. Heck, it wasn’t even exclusive to women when a few men stepped forward; men like Terry Crews and James Van Der Beek had stories of their own. That’s not to belittle the women at all. There are far too many with horrifying stories of how men have treated them. Rose McGowan has perhaps been the most outspoken of Weinstein’s accusers, but the list of women who have a story is far too long, especially if you (correctly) believe that one is too many.
Except Weinstein, who seemed to be operating as some kind of open Hollywood secret, didn’t invent this stuff. Heck, he isn’t even the first powerful man to fall in recent years. Bill Cosby, a beloved institution for many people of my generation, isn’t a beloved institution anymore since he’s been exposed as a sexual predator. Fox News recently fired a number of men in front of and behind the camera for this sort of thing (eventually, in the case of Bill O’Reilly). It could be society has finally had its fill of men treating women like garbage.
And Weinstein hasn’t been the only man to go down recently. Sometimes it isn’t even a particularly well-known person, like the creator of Honest Trailers, or a vice president for NPR, or the head of Amazon Studios. And it isn’t just heterosexual men who’ve been swept up in this, as Kevin Spacey chose to come out after the first of many accusations against him surfaced. Spacey got a lot of well-deserved grief for the timing of his coming out, but it isn’t like he’s the first gay man to try to use coming out of the closet to distract from a scandal.
Part of this leads to questions for people, like how do you view these men? Does it taint everything they’ve ever done, or can you separate the art from the artist? That’s a challenge I was taught in grad school. It’s hard to appreciate some of the great works of literature if you know what some of the men and women who created them were like. That’s the only reason anyone would include noted fascism-enthusiast Ezra Pound in a poetry anthology. A part of me suspects its harder to do for an actor in the modern age. Producers, directors, and writers do their work behind the scenes. Actors are front and center. Separating the art from the artist is why I can still claim my favorite American movie is Chinatown while still acknowledging Roman Polanski is a utter sleazeball who should have gone to jail.
Now, I don’t know if this recent spate of public disgrace will have any real lasting effects. Polanski is still a free man, and accusations against Woody Allen have largely been ignored for years. Mel Gibson, caught on tape saying awful things, seems to be making a career comeback (unlike Polanski, I can’t extend my “separate the art from the artist” to Gibson…don’t expect a review for Daddy’s Home 2 from me anytime soon). We’ve seen pro-athletes hit their wives and girlfriends and then see bigger fines and punishments go out for deflated balls or on-the-field conduct that didn’t result in some woman being knocked unconscious in an elevator. I’ve seen speculation that these events are a result of Trump winning the election, and people seeing that when a man caught on tape saying awful things can somehow go unpunished by the electorate, well, if those people can’t remove Trump from office, they can clean up their own houses so to speak. And these are the high profile cases. We’ve all probably at least heard of videos where some woman will tape herself walking down a city street and seeing how many times a man will proposition her or just plain follow her for no reason.
If you haven’t, here’s one:
Is this sort of behavior cultural? Is it just how some overly aggressive men just see themselves as untouchable and do as they see fit? I would hope that the majority of men don’t do this sort of thing. I’ve never been on the receiving end of this sort of thing, so I can only at best imagine what it’s like, but how can a person not know this is wrong? Is it too hard to remember the Golden Rule?
I have some hope things are improving. Society changes, and what is and is not acceptable changes with it. We’ve seen stories like The Handmaid’s Tale and Bitch Planet come to the forefront as a means of showing the effects of toxic masculinity, how such forces hurt everyone in a society, not just the women at the center, though those women are obviously hurt the most and the most directly. Like most issues in society, there really aren’t any easy answers to these problems. I know I don’t have any. Maybe it really is just some people need to realize that you should treat other human beings like human beings and leave it at that.
Sadly, that may be asking too much from some people.