Nobody in search of a truly rotten culture needs look much further than Hollywood. It is a town which embeds, perpetuates and thrives on an effort to make double-standards institutional.
Its publicity campaigns invariably feature already impossibly beautiful men or women, their bodies and features further airbrushed so as to take away any imperfections or evidence of age. The viewing public will often recognise these people not just from the posters and the films they are in, but from endless public information campaigns and media interviews in which the same people call upon us, the public, not to feel body-shame, but to love ourselves for who we are.
Often the people in the posters will be carrying guns. Not in a way that suggests the endless, bloodied misery that they help cause around the world, but in a sexy way: people sliding down roofs with a hot piece tucked down their trousers – that sort of thing. Hollywood shows hot people made hotter by guns, as in the movie ‘Mr and Mrs Smith’ (2005) in which Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt star as a hot couple constantly trying to shoot everything in sight (including each other, they are spies, don’t ask) and going to bed in their spare moments. Again the public can generally watch these same people, outside of the world of film, imploring governments to stop gun-violence.
‘Well Hollywood is only Hollywood’, is an obvious response. ‘Who listens to them?’ One answer is that Hollywood probably has a broader reach – for good and ill – than any other cultural milieu in the world. It knows this, and it uses it. Not only in movies, but in the political pronouncements which actors and others in the movie business issue as some excuse for careers that must come to seem odd for grown-ups.
For instance, nearly every award ceremony since Donald Trump was elected President has included condemnations of him, including attacks on his treatment of women based on the recording of a vile private conversation in 2005.1.
At January’s Golden Globes Meryl Streep warned about the new President:
“When the powerful use their position to bully others we all lose.”
Which is true. Except that in 2003 when Roman Polanski won an Academy Award for best director for The Pianist, Streep was among those who led a standing ovation for the director.
Yet the Harvey Weinstein scandal Hollywood may be getting its most comprehensive, town-encompassing scandal to date. The whole façade of the town seems to have been peeled back in ugly, high-definition detail.
As the facts of the case emerge it is clear that on one level the circle of silence included absolutely everyone who had ever heard of, or seen, Weinstein. It is hard not to be somewhat cruel in making the following point, so let us get it over and done with. But who, when seeing footage of this slovenly, ill-kempt, toad-like figure did not notice that he tended to surround himself with some of the most beautiful women on the planet? And who having noticed this fact did not wonder whether some among them may have found their way into his favour and he into theirs through means foul as well as fair? True we may not have all foreseen that his habits included (in one of the year’s most un-erasable mental images) inviting an actress to watch him masturbate into a plant pot. But few people when seeing Weinstein could have thought that the world’s most beautiful women flocked to him for his charms.
What is more striking is that within the community of people Weinstein lived among, the fact that Weinstein felt he could ‘help himself’ to any actress within reach was clearly open knowledge. Since the first actress broke her silence, each day has brought forward a further stream of women saying that, yes, similar things had happened to them.
Two things stand out in all this. The first is that those who have now accused of Weinstein of sexual misdemeanours include some of the most famous, rich and powerful women on the planet. Angelina Jolie, for instance, is not just a celebrated actress, but a Special Representative for the UN. When she decides to take up a political issue – such as rape in war – political leaders, including Britain’s former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, flock to share her star-wattage. Yet for years, Jolie appears to have been willing to do nothing other than whisper things quietly about Harvey Weinstein.
I wouldn’t blame a young woman of no professional standing for staying quiet. She could easily be dismissed, discredited and ruined for speaking out but – as Shelagh Fogarty argued two days ago – harassment of the scale that is being revealed:
“…is a social injustice like any other [and] so speaking out and acting forcefully and together must be our response. The law, politics, the workplace needs those voices if this is ever going to change.”
But in Ms Jolie we have someone who has encouraged women in warzones to face their rapists but was not willing to call out a mere movie producer in the same town as her.
The other noteworthy factor is the behaviour of Hollywood’s men. Like Jolie, Gwyneth Paltrow has revealed that she had un-warranted advances from Weinstein at an early stage in her career3. Apart from shared mistreatment, the other thing these giants of the movie industry have in common is that they are both exes of Brad Pitt. It appears that when they were still together, Paltrow told Pitt about Weinstein. As Jolie did later. A ‘source’ now claims that Pitt had strong words with Weinstein back then and even ‘poked him in the chest’ about the unacceptableness of his behaviour. Behaviour that was so unacceptable that Brad Pitt continued to make movies for Weinstein for years afterwards4.
Personally I find most of Pitt’s recent movies unwatchable because they all just show him taking on the entire Wermacht single-handed, killing all but a few of the last Nazis before the bastards get him and he heroically expires again. For a man who makes a living by showing himself standing up to the entire Third Reich it’s quite something that bravery should come redefined as poking someone in the chest after your partner claimed he’d molested her.
A sympathetic observer might say that all that has happened is that the music stopped and Weinstein was the one left with his pants down. A less sympathetic observer would simply note, however, that Hollywood has demonstrated that it is not just an industry, or a town, but a cult. If it was a religious institution we would all recognise precisely what has been going on here. Like many before them, the members preferred enforcing silence and allowing abuse to continue rather than allowing their ‘dirty laundry’ to be aired in public.
Well now it’s aired. And at future awards shows the sermons of the Hollywood A-listers will be listened to that little bit less. Not because they didn’t live up to our expectations, but because – as many a fallen cleric has found before – they preached lessons that they didn’t believe they needed to follow themselves.