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Hollywood is Now Responding to Sexual Abuse Like It’s a PR Problem

By Tom Carson
Hollywood is Now Responding to Sexual Abuse Like It's a PR Problem: jesadaphorn/Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH
jesadaphorn/Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH

Three weeks after a New York Times investigative report outed Harvey Weinstein as a serial sexual predator, the story is still rolling along like a giant snowball—one that keeps acquiring more pairs of legs sticking out of it as it accelerates down a crowded ski slope on the way to smashing into the Hollywood sign.. undefined

In addition to Weinstein’s fellow perps, a whole lot of clay feet are also on display, from George Clooney’s to Quentin Tarantino’s. Whether they’re claiming ignorance of their friend and patron Harvey’s malevolent treatment of women or, as in Tarantino’s case, remorsefully conceding that they did know about some of it and just didn’t man up, every XY-chromosomed actor and director who has ever benefited from Weinstein’s hard-driving largesse is now getting hard looks for being an enabler.

The paradox is that Clooney’s disingenuousness makes it likely he’ll skate away unscathed, while Tarantino’s struggle to be relatively honest makes him seem more complicit. Even though Clooney has often said he’ll never run for office, he could give most professional politicians lessons in how to regurgitate the right pieties. Nimbly shifting the topic from his own association with Weinstein to valorous bromides about How We Must All Make Sure This Behavior Won’t Be Tolerated Anymore is his game plan, and a good one. That’s why it’s being widely imitated.

Weinstein is a handy reminder that whether powerful men present as liberal or conservative is most often irrelevant to how they treat women behind closed doors.

Partly because mea culpas aren’t his style, Tarantino’s October 20 NYT interview about the scandal was a lot more credible. “Anything I say now is going to sound like a crappy excuse,” he said, admitting that he’d heard about Weinstein’s crude sexual coerciveness for years from, among other people, his onetime girlfriend Mira Sorvino, one of the many actresses who’s gone public with her tale of abuse. But Tarantino chose to “marginalize” the incidents because “I would have had to not work with him” otherwise—and Weinstein, of course, was nothing less than the man who’d turned him into Quentin Tarantino. Downright poignantly, he also simply said “I hope not” when asked if Weinstein’s exposure would taint people’s perceptions of his own movies, which is a far cry from the Tarantino you’d have expected to do his blustering, manic best to not only scoff at the idea but reject its premise.

He was the exception, though. Whether they were formerly affiliated with Weinstein or not, most of Hollywood’s male A-listers have opted for Clooney-style boilerplate instead. That’s symptomatic of how the movie industry is already shifting from expressing feigned or real outrage to viewing Weinstein’s downfall primarily as a PR problem, not a goad to seriously recalibrate movieland’s tolerance of the pervasive sexism that Weinstein’s predatory conduct merely makes manifest at its crass worst.

Even Kate Winslet, who was quick to denounce Weinstein earlier this month—and congratulate herself for pointedly refusing to thank him when she won her Oscar for The Reader in 2009—balked when a Variety reporter suggested that a certain amount of double-think was involved in doing so while singing Woody Allen’s praises in the course of promoting his (and her) upcoming movie, Wonder Wheel. “We’re always as actors going to say the wrong thing,” she primly fibbed. “I think it’s better to respectfully step away from the discussion.“

Translation: Can we all please move on? In some ways, Tinseltown seems unlikely to get that wish anytime soon. Besides having his own shabby sexual history exhumed in the wake of Weinstein’s downfall, Allen himself is already getting well-deserved heat for the alleged sex scene between middle-aged Jude Law and Elle Fanning as a supposed 15-year-old girl in the movie he’s currently filming. Proving he’s back in his jailbait comfort zone, Selena Gomez is in the cast too, although which dirty old man she could wind up getting pawed by is unclear. On top of that, Roy Price, the head of Amazon, which is distributing Wonder Wheel, had to resign last week after being hit with sexual-harassment charges of his own.

The big snowball isn’t even confined to the movie business anymore. One of the more unexpected culprits exposed in Weinstein’s wake was New Orleans celebrity chef John Besh, who turns out to have not only conducted a “coercive” relationship with at least one female employee but, according to some 25 complainants, presided over a harassment-friendly environment at his multiple restaurants for years. To NOLA-ites, the handsome Gulf War vet turned family-man restaurateur always did seem to be too good to be true, and what do you know? He was. Weirder yet was the posthumous outing of Auschwitz survivor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, who died in 2016, as a compulsive ass grabber and boob fondler in his old age.

The message from Trump’s win is that not only can you get away with this behavior. You can exult in it.

Then, of course, there’s that old reprobate Bill O’Reilly, who got back in the news this week when it was reported that Fox News renewed his contract back in February right after he’d paid an astounding $32 million settlement to a network analyst he’d harassed. As we all know, Fox News did get around to dumping him in April, albeit with a $25 million severance bonus as lagniappe.

But big bad Bill is one Catholic who’s never learned how to spell “contrition,” and he’s still convinced he was unfairly done in by a liberal media out to get him. Better yet, he recently declared on his webcast that he’s “mad at God” for not giving him “more protection.” Left unclear was what form the Deity’s protection should have taken: a plus-size belt O’Reilly could loop over his hands to cinch them in when he was getting dressed for work? Or just an anvil dropped from a high building on any female Fox News employee on her way to file a complaint?

Between them, O’Reilly—not to mention Roger Ailes—and Weinstein are a handy reminder that whether powerful men present as liberal or conservative is most often irrelevant to how they treat women behind closed doors. (Bill Clinton is obviously another example.) Naturally, right-wingers were quick to zing liberals for all the money Weinstein has raised for Democrats over the years and demand they denounce him unequivocally, something that Hillary Clinton, among others, should indeed have done quicker. But how does that jibe with the right-wing embrace of our own Pussy-Grabber-in-Chief, who’s paid no penalty whatsoever—not even Weinstein’s glib week in much publicized rehab—for his own unrepentant sexual abuse?

That all this is happening with Trump in the White House does add a certain toxic tang to things. But Trump’s example may also provide the ultimate rebuke to anyone hoping the Weinstein scandal will seriously alter how Hollywood—let alone society in general—treats and mistreats women. After all, everyone thought Pussygate would sink him, but it didn’t. He won and it’s just chaff in the rear-view mirror now. Countless men who wouldn’t know Harvey Weinstein from a flaming pile of dog poop got the message from Trump’s win that not only can you get away with this behavior. You can exult in it.

That’s why, very much against our own preferences, we’re betting that the giant snowball currently grabbing up toesies right and left will melt away eventually. Weinstein will end up ostracized as a unique transgressor, rather than a typical one. And years from now, when their brave “Me too” posts from the fall of 2017 start popping up on Facebook Memories, millions of women will burst into tears and scream with rage because nothing, absolutely nothing, will have changed.