(And whom to blame)
In the movie “Casablanca,” Captain Louis Renault of the Vichy Police surveys the Café Américain and tells owner, Rick Blaine, “I am shocked — shocked — to find that gambling is going on in here!” The irony is that a movie would provide the metaphor for each of the Hollywood power elite’s statements suddenly claiming no knowledge of the serial sexual assaults of Harvey Weinstein. They all knew. There is no way they did not. In fact, those first to claim they did not know, Clooney, Streep, Damon, and the others, simply echo the dashing Captain Renault. Were they not actors, they would have been compelled to wink, as Claude Raines practically did. And the speed and clarity with which they pronounce their ignorance is proportionate to how much they knew and how long ago they knew it. Or as Jessica Chastain said about her start in Hollywood, “I was warned from the beginning. The stories were everywhere.”
We here in Washington did not need to read what Ms. Chastain had to say. We know it, because there is a nexus between Hollywood and the Nation’s Capital, what many have called “Hollywood for ugly people.” They are both one-industry towns, with closed ranks, informal office structures based on power, and with a veritable intranet of gossip that operates more effectively locally than the worldwide web. When Senator Bob Corker announced that President Trump appalled his Republican colleagues, it was a well-known fact inside the beltway already. Here, we all know that Bernie Sanders is an unstable crank, by the unimpeachable local standard that any Member of Congress who is that notoriously brutal on his staff, the people most likely to treat him with respect, is unlikely to be able to play nice with the other kids. Most everyone in Washington at the time simply nodded and smiled when the news finally broke that Gary Hart had a zipper problem.
I once made a joke about Freud to my late friend, the great, brave journalist, Marie Colvin, along the lines that Freud said that everything was about sex. Her riposte was, “Yes, it is. But sex is about power.” This may neatly sum up another nexus, that between Freud and Nietzsche, but it is in fact the other way we can all be sure that everyone in Hollywood had heard of hairy Harvey’s heavy breathing antics. This kind of sex and power predatory transacting is freaking rampant almost everywhere. In my experience of listening to female friends in thirteen years on Capitol Hill, it was certainly there, just as news reports seem to indicate that it is widespread in Silicon Valley. In fact, the one place where it may be most under control is in large old line US corporations, the ones that are not in Silicon Valley, and which have a tradition of stiff business comportment and also have robust human relations departments. And that is at the base of this case, as well.
Weinstein ran Miramax partly as a seraglio, until Disney bought it. Weinstein then bolted Disney and started his own, new company, and ran it as he had run Miramax before Disney. And then he ran it into the ground, which is why the private stockholders gave The New York Times the go-ahead to run the story. It was a power play, to save the value of the Weinstein Company. We here in Washington also know that no such big story ever breaks, unless it is leaked and that the leak serves some power equation. (In fact, some of the power that had protected Weinstein had come from his fundraising for Washington politicians.) The power equation no longer added up to protecting him.
The real Weinstein story is not the fascinating one about a powerful old satyr opening his bathrobe to some of the most beautiful women in the world who rejected him. The real story is those other women who willingly made that sex/power transaction, and became famous movie stars for their, I hesitate to say, effort. When those women come forward, and make their admission, we may see some change. But that will not happen. Even though the impulse-addicted Mr. Weinstein blabbed their names to prospective targets and it is undoubtedly another Hollywood open secret, those women will remain protected because they are now part of the power structure.
So, generally, there will be no revolution that will move the casting couch out of every producer’s office. The open secret of Harvey Weinstein’s behavior was kept under wraps because that served the Hollywood power arrangement. Once it no longer did, the story came out. And that will be the case from now on. This sort of thing will only come out as part of some power play. And it is far more extensive than is even being reported, in at least one other important way. Much of Hollywood is gay. One may be assured that young men are also being subjected to this treatment. Hollywood, Silicon Valley, and Capitol Hill will never be General Electric or Proctor and Gamble. As long as they are small domains that maintain informal power configurations, this will always happen, just as it will in some small businesses, professional offices, and other workplaces without strict corporate human relations practices.
We have been too well civilized for so long that we forget that we are not all that civilized and have not been for most of history. Around most of the world, and over almost our entire history, far worse is and has been done to women. Shakespeare teaches us that even though such impulses are evil or wrong they are more simply part of our nature. We tend to stand aghast, and act like Harvey and his ilk are an anomaly. But we too are then like Captain Renault.
The right seems to want to blame the whole thing on Hillary Clinton, as if it were a much sexier version of Benghazi. Maureen Dowd seems to want to blame Gwyneth Paltrow. The left seems to want to blame the Trump voters, many of whom are self-proclaimed Christians who seamlessly forgave their Führer after he confessed to the exact same kind of sexual assault. But the issue of blame is both simpler and more complicated. It is a complicated civil rights issue, one that is hidden within the varying power structures all over our society. You can say we have monetized or in some other way granted power to beauty and youth. And as long as that is the case, mostly women, and in some cases men, will be subject to harassment by those who hold the real power, who will use power to transact with beauty. It is in some sense part of the same impulse that elected Donald Trump, the impulse to denigrate women and reduce them to some element of a transaction, a hidden and unacknowledged sexism.
The blame may also be stated more simply, in echoing the words of the famous Civil Rights activist and attorney, Charles Morgan, Jr. If you have ever leaned over to your buddy, nodded in the direction of a woman and said, “I’d hit that,” you are to blame. If you have ever made a catcall or been caught staring at an attractive woman on the street, you are to blame. You are to blame if you ever told a colleague she is beautiful, or you stood to close to a woman at a bar. If you have ever not taken “No” for an answer, you are too blame. If you have raised your daughter to think that her looks matter and have raised your son to think that his accomplishments matter, you are to blame. If you have ever told a friend that some woman was hot, or that some woman was not, you are to blame. You are to blame if you ever left the birth control question entirely to your woman. If you have ever promoted an attractive woman over an unattractive one, you are to blame. You may also accept the blame as a woman if you have ever used sex to get ahead, or to sell records, or to sell deodorant, or to get a part or a promotion, or anything else.
We can wag our fingers at old horny Harvey, but in an important sense, we are all to blame.
(Gerald Weaver is the author of the novel, The First First Gentleman, August 2016, London Wall Publishing. It is among other things a sly tribute to almost all the novels of Charles Dickens. His well-received first novel, Gospel Prism, was published in May 2015. Each of its twelve chapters paraphrases a great work, by Cervantes, Montaigne, Shakespeare, etc. Harold Bloom said it was “remarkable” and “charming but disturbing.”)