Monday, November 6, 2017

LIZ SMITH: The Weinstein Effect

“A GOOD reputation is more valuable than money,” said the Latin writer Publilius Syrus, way back sometime between 43 and 85 B.C.
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

The Weinstein Effect — Hollywood, Silicon Valley, The British
Parliament and the average construction worker, shudder! 

INDEED. I’d venture many of the at least 25 prominent men so far embroiled in various accusations of sexual harassment — from rape to groping to pinching a behind (wheelchair-bound President H.W. Bush!) would gladly give away some of their valuable money and lovely material goods to regain a bit of good reputation — or at least a bad reputation that just floats out there and is taken for granted. 

But that horse has left the barn and closing the gate seems impossible now. (I am writing this on Friday. By today, I expect at least three more careers to be compromised to the max — Kevin Spacey, your house of cards has  collapsed! — or at the very least, accusations made that will be difficult to deny as the torches and pitchforks head for Grauman’s Chinese Theater.)
Last week’s Hollywood Reporter put Harvey Weinstein on its cover — a gross illustration that showed the ruined movie producer with fangs, literally. The issue was packed will all sorts of stories — women in the business telling their stories, what the industry (all industries!) can do, etc.  (Carolyn Giardina’s report on women behind the scenes — camera and sound crews, assistants, crafts people — was particularly painful.  It’s not just “glamorous” up-and-coming actresses — or handsome actors — who are victims.)

With the length and breadth of Harvey’s misdeeds it  seems to be impossible for him to ever achieve that vaunted American second act of redemption and forgiveness. Had this story been confined only to himself, he might eventually have been, if not “forgiven,” then allowed to work and exist in this world again.

But the astonishing domino effect has just about killed that.  The investigation of him has snowballed and has brought ruin to many. While some deserve it, I feel others are being painted with a vastly unforgiving broad brush, and more than a whiff of “me too.” And I don’t mean the excellent #MeToo social media campaign encouraging abused women to speak up.

But it’s all very Salem witch trial now: a perfect storm to denounce liberal Hollywood, although  harassment and abuse, even “bullying” (as Alec Baldwin put it, in his own recent mea culpa) is endemic in millions of men. How they are brought up, how they see women — in every occupation, in countless  homes, bars and on construction sites.

It’s been coming for a while, in a world of increasing political correctness, but now, guys — don’t catcall, don’t whistle, and in an office situation, keep your thoughts about your attractive co-workers to yourself, harmless or flattering as you might think it is. Forget about opening doors for women. Don’t open your mouth. And don’t touch, even if you’re just that nice, non-threatening “huggy” kind of fella.  Life has altered, irrevocably; it has been, for some time, and the stupidity and arrogance of men in this evolving society astounds me. (On the other hand, I am sure there are many men who are simply at a loss — “What, I can’t say she’s pretty?  I can’t observe in a time-honored male way, a woman’s body?)
So Harvey will never work in this country again.  In fact, I wonder who will even literally stay in a room with him now. Every single person — man or woman — who was ever photographed with HW is being judged.  If a man — was he also an abuser or an enabler?  If a woman — was she abused? Did she fight?  Did she consent?  Was SHE an enabler? 

Remember, in today’s world, right at this moment, nobody contemplates the cathartic phone call:  “You don’t remember me — or maybe you do.  You did this — 20, 30, 40 years ago.  I’ve never forgotten.  I hope you don’t do that sort of thing anymore.  All that’s been in the news has brought it up again.  Goodbye.”  I suppose it is more cathartic to name your abuser, watch him fall and watch his projects and livelihood — which involves many other innocent people, collapse. (I suppose we could posit an existential query on the nature of innocence and who truly is?  Eh — another day.)

The Weinstein brothers. Photo: JIMI CELESTE/
However, two things in The Hollywood Reporter issue bothered me.  One was an article by Gavin Polone, a producer and THR contributor.  He listed all the people and companies who should resign or be investigated — Bob Weinstein ... The Walt Disney Company ... The New York District Attorney’s Office ... NBC News ... The New York Post ... The New York Times.  It is too complicated to go into why Mr. Polone believes ruin should reign down on these entities, but he makes his points concisely. 

However, he makes another point, and I quote: “If I and many others knew, is it possible that Bob Weinstein didn’t?  Yes, it’s possible. The likelihood is about as equal to that of Bill Cosby’s 50-plus accusers all being liars.” 

Wait — am I reading this correctly?  Polone says “If I and many others knew…”   You knew?  Well, geez, fella, you knew?  When did you tell?  Because if you didn’t, is that not complicity? Or was it just “none of my business?” Or did you hear what we heard — Weinstein was a pig, but not a criminal, not a rapist. Perhaps Mr. Polone (and THR) should refrain from willy-nilly encouraging investigation and ruin of others. 

The other Hollywood Reporter item that raised my eyebrows was a sidebar from Rebecca Sun. It was a sort of Do and Don’t for actors dealing with those in power, and how those in power should properly relate with those who have no power.
Illustration by Hanna Barczyk
All fine except for one thing.  Ms. Sun quotes employment lawyer Ann Fromholz, who says that “Hollywood conducts business in hotel suites during film festivals and at after parties, but “that doesn’t mean all bets are off” adding that “beds should be avoided and bathrobes are never okay.” 

Wait. A. Minute.  Listen, if nothing at all has been learned by this scandal, one thing seems clear to me — Don’t take a meeting in a hotel room! Unless you are Meryl Streep or Michelle Pfeiffer or Jessica Lange or Julia Roberts or someone on that level. 

Hotels have bars and restaurants. (Best to stick to the latter.)  No matter how famous, how powerful, how “nice” the man is.  No matter how much you need the job. 

An office?  Go with an agent.  Or get a friend to pose as an agent. Insist the door be kept open. If these demands lose you the job, you’ll have saved something far more valuable.

Oh, yes, I know; no women should have to make these demands.  Men in power — and that means your boss at Walmart, too! — should act decently, know better, they should change. 

Well, when war is over, when poverty is erased, when we all have equal healthcare, we’ll know men have changed.  Until then, tell Mr. Producer/Director/Fashion Photographer that you don’t need to see the fruit basket in his hotel suite.

A banana is just a banana, even if sometimes it’s a plantain. Either way, there’s nothing new under the sun, or under that bathrobe.
Contact Liz here.