The Days of Weinstein and Roses
Harvey goes down but the culture of that made him blossoms and flourishes.
In these crazy times, I think most of us assumed that somehow Harvey Weinstein would buy or bully or extort his way out of jail, that somehow evil would triumph.
But amazingly, the leading ogre of all Hollywood nightmares, Harvey Weinstein, is going to jail, with or without his fake walker.
So let’s celebrate that outcome, and then I would say, “but before we turn the page . . . .”
Hollywood has long since turned the page on the Me Too era. This is not a drama still unfolding; we’re now just mopping up the damage.
Which isn’t to say that nothing has changed. Some things definitely have. And some certainly have not. But the days of upheaval, the new ways of working, the tortured self-examination (I kid)—we moved on from that a long time ago. The period of bringing down the worst offenders is behind us. Since Les Moonves, a year ago, has there been another high-profile revelation?
The organizations created to deal with the whole culture of harassment—Time’s Out, the Anita Hill Committee— have long since taken their bows and ridden off into the sunset.
As for what’s changed: The mind-shift is not nothing. A person reporting harassment at the workplace can’t just be swept under the rug today. People with known histories of harassment can’t just be put atop publicly traded companies. Hollywood can’t just pretend it’s exempt from everything that has happened to society since 1947. There have been a few predators brought low, and a few more women elevated.
On the other side, the messy issues of what sort of consequences do people accused of bad behavior deserve, how to sort out the merely disgusting from the serial criminals, to the tiny extent that the community ever grappled with those, that effort has ceased. The status quo remains: Let’s see how big a fuss social media makes, and we can deal with it then. That's going to be the law for the time being, because no one wants to get into the messy issues if you go any deeper.
So the Harvey verdict isn’t so much a milestone as what we’d like to think of as “closure.” Not closure in terms of coming to terms with what happened, why it happened, and how we can be better, but closure more like “we’re going to close the door and move along.”
The exorcism of Harvey from the heart of the filmmaking world was a public burning of a demon in our midst, with the hope that by tearing out this piece of evil, evil itself will be removed. But the problem for Hollywood is that while the horrors of Weinstein are exceptional, they are not an aberration. That is to say, while we hope there aren’t other serial rapists operating freely in our midst today, his crimes are a world apart in degree, but not in kind. There’s a reason that Harvey Weinstein chose the entertainment industry and not in the auto industry or pharmaceutical industry to behave as he did. There’s a reason why he was able to enact his personal American Psycho drama without hitting so much as a speed bump here for decades. Those reasons have only been touched at the edges.
Hollywood remains a buyer’s market for all manner of abuse and exploitation. It remains an industry which draws the uniquely vulnerable on one end, and the outsized egomaniacal on the other, with too few guard rails to protect the former from the latter. It is an industry that people grow up dreaming of breaking into in a way that the tech world, no matter how many disrupters they hatch, can’t approach. And it’s an industry that has given enormous leeway to the people at the top, extending a free pass for an artistic temperament as an accepted part of the creative process, even when it’s the impulses and rages of executives and producers.
Add into that this Boomer elite cabal who have firmly kept their hands on every job that matters for 30 years now, and still, even 2.5 years into Me Too, circle the wagons to protect their own.
And if you think the tech world is going to change this, bringing on the industry that has the greatest authoritarian hero worship of its leadership of any on earth isn’t exactly going to make our own megalomaniacs feel like now they’ve got to behave, no matter how much HR rigamarole the techies bring with them.
Remember how right after the Harvey revelations there was going to be a whole top-to-bottom housecleaning on the culture of abuse and enabling? Remember how the reporters at the NYT who broke the Harvey revelations did a whole huge article about CAA’s complicity in enabling Weinstein’s abusive machine?
Two years later, have the heads of CAA even had to answer questions about the charges in this piece? Have they even been asked about them? Or sat for an unrestricted interview? Or any interview?
Were the heads of all the agencies forced to deliver concrete plans on how they would ensure their companies would never ever be complicit in such a thing again?
If similar charges were made about the heads of a firm in just about any other industry, you can imagine if those CEOs didn’t immediately resign, they would have to submit to one of those six-hour, live-on-the-air press conferences where they answered every single question anyone could come up with, then answer it 20 more times.
In Hollywood, two years after Me Too, the heads of one of our major companies can still just brush such questions aside, and not even deign to respond, and certainly, never ever be asked about them by your tireless industry watchdogs. Or have their routinely fawning coverage tarnished one bit.
From assistant starvation wages as salaries at the top soar to writers prodded to churn out free spec work to child labor to sexual harassment to old fashioned day-to-day nasty abuse of underlings, the tradition of treating the non-giants amongst us like chattel is alive and well in Hollywood, clipped away at the margins, but still going strong. Far too much, the little people continue to exist for the entertainment, abuse, and enrichment of our poohbah class. The tech way of consolidating even more wealth and power at the top is only going to exacerbate that.
Harvey may have been a demon amongst us, but he didn’t spring out of nowhere. The truth, of course, is that by the time of these charges, he was largely a spent force as a producer. Which is perhaps why these charges were able to emerge at this point. Never loved, largely diminished as a power in the industry, pointing to Weinstein as the demon and offering him as a sacrifice didn’t cost us much.
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