Music, Movies & Moods is a regular free-form column in which Matt Melis explores the cracks between where art and daily life meet. Today, he takes a deep breath and tries to make sense of life since the Weinstein scandal broke. Any views are his own.
As of writing this article, 45 celebrities, including Harvey Weinstein, have been accused of sexual misconduct since the initial October 5th report in The New York Times made the masses aware of the Hollywood heavyweight’s long, disturbing history as a casting-couch sexual predator. Some have argued that the weeks since have been the darkest days in Hollywood history. That’s a difficult claim to argue against. It’s true there does seem to be a long, black cloud above that threatens more rain with each passing news cycle. What’s more, after several weeks, we’ve become conditioned to expect more rain. It’s become just another part of life. Dark times, indeed.
However, others, myself included, might argue that despite the disturbing number of allegations amassing, the absolute darkest days of the entertainment industry finally began lifting when Weinstein was outed. What was once a terribly kept but oft-ignored industry secret now sits exposed in all its ugliness thanks to victims who have bravely spoken out. It’s the courage of these women and men who have spoken out against now-confessed predators like Weinstein, actor Kevin Spacey, and comedian Louis C.K. that has given strength to other victims, exposed a culture of sexual misconduct within the entertainment industry, and helped insure that powerful Hollywood figures, like these men, won’t continue to prey on others so easily.
In any case, our country’s been thrust into a difficult discussion — one that most of us aren’t quite sure how to have. Part of the issue stems from so many of us coming to the topic of sexual misconduct from such drastically different levels of knowledge and experience. For many, especially males, the recent events have been totally mind-blowing and -opening. For many women, sexual harassment (or worse) constitutes a part of regular existence, sometimes to the point that they have, I feel, almost not kept the true tally on the countless indignities they’ve endured. And that’s more than understandable. Personally, I have my own #metoo experience, which I’ve shared via social media over the past few weeks. It’s out there. Not that I’ve endured what others have — or anywhere near it — but I have felt violated, ashamed, angry, and then embarrassed when reporting the matter — and all of those soul-tugging emotions even as a then-32-year-old.
So, all of that said, here might be the most useful column I can offer right now. A small, good thing. A moment to breathe and reflect on what the tumultous last several weeks have taught some of us and reminded others.
We Live in a “Culture” of Sexual Misconduct
Whenever incidents arise, the old “a few bad apples” argument rears its ugly head to try and shrug off accusations of a more widespread, systemic problem. The flood of allegations that has burst forth against Weinstein and others has knocked that argument off the table for good. This is not, nor was it ever, a case of a few bad apples. Clearly, the powerful of Hollywood — producers, directors, and veteran actors — have made it a predatory habit of exerting their influence in order to pressure others into sexual acts — in some cases, the victim not even being old enough to legally consent. And the term “power” should be defined with context in mind. For example, in the alleged incident taking place between Kevin Spacey and an underage Anthony Rapp, power didn’t necessarily mean holding an Oscar and millions of dollars over another. In this case, it was a veteran actor and adult in the industry being only a couple pegs above a young actor and child just breaking in. That can be enough leverage for a predator.
It’s also important to acknowledge the parameters of this culture. It doesn’t end at the Tinsel Town borders. Again, not to generalize, but many of us men have gotten a rude awakening over the past several weeks. We’ve seen the barrage of #metoo stories across social media, and most of these women are not aspiring actresses. They’re co-workers, mothers, sisters, daughters, and students from all walks of life coming forth to tell us that sexual misconduct has affected their lives as well. So, we must finally acknowledge as a whole society that this epidemic, this culture exists where we live and harms the people — male, female, and all other identifications — in our lives. Vigilance, listening, and helping to create safe environments for our loved ones, friends, and peers should all be mandatory duties.
We Must Believe and Listen to Victims
We must believe victims. I can’t make a statement that guarantees accusers are always telling the truth. And I’ll catch flack for that reticence. However, I can say that 99.9% of the time they have zero reason to be lying. This is an issue that many of us struggle with. We don’t want to condemn the accused without hard evidence, but we actually end up ignoring the great risk victims take — psychologically, emotionally, physically, and professionally — in order to finally confront an abuser, and, in doing so, we further tilt the playing field in favor of the more powerful party. It’s how abuse works. The powerful rely on their victim not to risk outing them, but, at the same time, even if they do summon the courage, history tells us that society will usually believe the more powerful of the two. Until non-victims can begin understanding, or at least appreciating, how truly difficult it can be for a victim to come forth — why it can sometimes take a lifetime — not believing victims or listening sincerely to their stories will always be an issue.
One positive thing that has come out of the allegations against major entertainment figures is confirmation that victims tell the truth. While Harvey Weinstein took no real responsibility, in any adult sense of the word, for his crimes; Kevin Spacey performed a disgusting bait and switch that conflated homosexuality with being a pedophile and sex predator; and Louis C.K. attempted to pervsplain away his habit of masturbating in front of non-consenting women, all three at least admitted to some level of wrongdoing. Even if their admissions, in some form, were power plays — assuming their statures could allow them to survive the fallout, pick up the pieces, and carry on as usual — they all confirmed that the men and women bringing allegations against them were telling the truth. That seems like a minor victory, but during a week when many Republicans are siding with a congressman (backed by a boasting sex predator in the Oval Office) accused of crimes against multiple teenage girls decades ago and most predict Alabamans will vote for him anyway, further proof that victims tell the truth matters more now than ever.
Entertainment Choices Don’t Define Your Values
A lot of people I know are concerned about what their viewing habits might suggest to others post-Weinstein scandal. After all, all of our DVD collections, Netflix queues, or lists of favorite filmmakers and actors have been tainted by this ongoing fallout. I wrote this message to one reader who asked my opinion:
“Choosing to watch or not watch a movie or television show says nothing about your values. It’ll never be the litmus test for whether or not you are a good person. Don’t let any internet blowhard tell you otherwise. In your heart, you know how the last month of disturbing allegations have sickened you and probably even made you reflect on your own life and conduct. Maybe your eyes have been opened; maybe you’ve committed to being a better listener and advocate for others; or, like me, maybe you found the strength to share your own #metoo story so others (adult males, in my case) will know they’re not alone. How do I know all of this about you – that you’re a decent person? Simple. Because if you have been struggling with this issue, as many have, you’re truly concerned about how your choices and actions may affect other people. And that’s precisely what separates us from the Weinsteins, Spaceys, and Trumps of the world. Watch or don’t watch. Just make sure you’re part of the solution when leaving your living room and going out into the world.”
That’s about the best advice I can offer. Some have suggested, for instance, that nobody should ever watch a Weinstein-produced film again. I have no problem with that stance. And if I was willing to forgo ever seeing an old Tarantino movie again, I might take it myself. But that’s a personal choice. I brought up Netflix earlier today and found House of Cards in my queue. Robin Wright’s character appeared on the thumbnail, but when I scrolled across the icon, an image of Kevin Spacey as President Frank Underwood immediately came into view. Will I ever watch that show again? I’m not sure. It might turn my stomach too much. But I’m glad Netflix respects my ability to make a decision, and I hope others who know me will extend me the same good will. Some will tell you that compartmentalization (separating the art from the artist) equates to complicity. Again, you’re lucky to be able to agree or disagree with them however you choose.
We Need to Use Social Media Positively
Social media has become the main way in which we communicate and relate what issues matter most to us. After the Weinstein allegations surfaced, the #metoo campaign spoke volumes. It sent a clear message from victims of sexual misconduct to each other and to the rest of the online world that the problem extends well beyond Hollywood. The courage exhibited by so many in sharing their stories, or merely the fact that they’ve also been hurt by this social plague, no doubt changed lives and raised awareness like few other methods could. At the same time, I’ve seen social media separate people on this same issue. Passions often run high, users come from different knowledge and experience bases, and the result is often would-be allies becoming enemies. It’s one thing to call out someone for an offensive viewpoint or poor information, but it’s quite another thing to, say, label them an enabler because they haven’t set fire to their first season DVD collection of House of Cards. We need to ask ourselves if we’re using these far-reaching platforms to spread awareness and build a coalition against sexual misconduct or if we’re really just stroking our egos by shaming decent people. Internet tough-guys come in all shapes, sizes, and sexes.
None of Us Knows What Comes Next
Let’s not forget that this is the most important thing: the truth has begun to surface; the industry, society, and, in some cases, the legal system have begun taking steps to levy punishment where guilt has been, or could be, established; and, most importantly, victims are being listened to, believed, and given reassurance that the disgusting acts committed against them were unequivocally wrong and that their perpetrators need to be brought to justice in some form. That’s about where we’re at and what I hope we can all agree on.
What none of us really knows is what comes next. Obviously, the well-being of any victims must be put first. But what about those confessing to sexual misconduct or facing allegations? Do we simply cast them out forever, or do we make allowances for people to sincerely apologize and take responsibility for their actions, get any help they need, and pay their debts? Our ideals have never been to ostracize people and allow them no chance to redeem themselves to whatever degree possible. I’m not saying Weinstein should ever produce another movie, Spacey should ever star in another one, or that Louis C.K. should ever tape another television special. I am saying that we are a country that believes in second chances. Should any of these men prove themselves worthy of a second chance, I can only hope they use it to start the long process of trying to pay for their sins and making sure others don’t abuse their power as they once did.
Free, confidential help is always available 24/7 at the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-4673