We­in­stein worst ex­am­ple of a ma­jor prob­lem

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ISSUES & IDEAS - Bar­bara Kay Na­tional Post kay­barb@gmail.com Twit­ter. com/ Bar­baraRKay

Ilunched last week­end with friends, both in the film busi­ness, one a suc­cess­ful doc­u­men­tar­ian, the other a pro­ducer. Nat­u­rally, the tsunami of sex­ual as­sault charges un­leashed by the Har­vey We­in­stein af­fair came up for re­view. I asked if they had ever ex­pe­ri­enced We­in­steinian mo­ments. In­deed they had.

Co­in­ci­den­tally, both in­volved bathrobes that “slid open” to re­veal erect penises. Friend A’s in­ci­dent oc­curred in a ho­tel suite dur­ing a “busi­ness” meet­ing. She re­acted to the sight of the ex­posed mem­ber and the amorous fol­lowup with firm direc­tions to re­treat to the bed­room and dress. Which he meekly did. Friend B’s story was creepier, also in­volv­ing a “busi­ness” meet­ing, but in the man’s home of­fice; she had greeted his wife and chil­dren en route to it. That story also ended with a calm re­quest to back off, and com­pli­ance.

So of course my next ques­tion was, “And did you ever say any­thing to any­one?” No, they hadn’t, so we dis­cussed that for a while. They hadn’t con­sciously thought about it at the time. In ret­ro­spect they sup­posed that since their re­spec­tive projects were in progress, and erod­ing these piv­otal re­la­tion­ships could eas­ily have aborted them, it made sense to draw a veil over the in­ci­dents. Then they en- sured that they didn’t put them­selves in sit­u­a­tions where they were alone with those guys again. A fa­mil­iar pat­tern.

We agreed that the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try is uniquely fer­tile soil for this kind of be­hav­iour. First, it’s a mar­ket­place with rel­a­tively few “buy­ers” and a tremen­dous glut of “sell­ers.” And not just any sell­ers, but sell­ers who are par­tic­u­larly in­vested in a prod­uct — tal­ent — whose value to the world is fun­gi­ble, and which tends to de­pend ( dis­pro­por­tion­ately to other prod­uct mar­kets) for pub­lic aware­ness on self- pro­mo­tion by the young, the at­trac­tive and — too of­ten — the cred­u­lous.

Ta­lented hope­fuls are of­ten as­sured by their boos­t­er­ish fam­ily and friends that they de­serve fame, so they come to the “ne­go­ti­at­ing table” wrapped in un­re­al­is­tic hope, im­pa­tient dreams and even delu­sions of in­stant celebrity based on fa­mil­iar leg­ends whose near- freak­ish rar­ity they con­ve­niently ig­nore.

And so in this in­dus­try you find boys and girls, young men and women, pre­pared to make the kind of sac­ri­fices in pur­suit of their dream that most other young peo­ple would stop short of. It’s also an in­dus­try in which — some­times no­to­ri­ously — one finds am­bi­tion- thwarted par­ents living vi­car­i­ously through their chil­dren, sup­press­ing their role as nat­u­ral pro­tec­tors in what they tell them­selves is their child’s in­ter­est. How could such an in­dus­try fail to ex­cite the imag­i­na­tion of preda­tory men?

It was good to see the “ev­ery­one knew” dam come burst­ing open. This Augean sta­ble needed a thor­ough cleans­ing of its sex­ual sewage. We­in­stein seems a par­tic­u­larly egre­gious ex­am­ple; he was known to be a ter­ri­ble bully in gen­eral, as se­ri­ously abu­sive to men un­der his con­trol, some­times phys­i­cally, as he was to women sex­u­ally. Most Hol­ly­wood and me­dia bad boys, I am in­fer­ring from anec­dotes like those of my friends and from the nar­ra­tives I have been read­ing in the press, may try it on, but re­treat un­der de­ter­mined re­jec­tion.

Not to ex­cuse their be­hav­iour, but can any­one claim to be sur­prised? By all “cast­ing couch” ac­counts from the early days of the film in­dus­try on, sex­ual quid pro quos were ac­cepted mar­ket­place cur­rency on both sides. Why else would Whoopi Gold­berg have been moved to say in 2009 that direc­tor Ro­man Polan­ski’s 1977 rape of a 13-year old ac­tress wasn’t re­ally “rape-rape.” It was a bru­tally harsh and un­fair state­ment, but it didn’t come from nowhere. She lamely elab­o­rated with, “We’re a dif­fer­ent kind of so­ci­ety, we see things dif­fer­ently ...”

Well, she wasn’t en­tirely wrong, was she. Polan­ski’s vic­tim had al­ready been pho­tographed top­less at Polan­ski’s re­quest with her mother’s per­mis­sion, and the rape took place at ac­tor Jack Ni­chol­son’s home. So in that sce­nario there are three com­plicit adults. One could say the mother was naive, but one could also won­der if the mother was wil­fully naive, such is the lure of the glit­ter­ing prize.

It takes two to tango, my mother used to say, re­fer­ring to what her gen­er­a­tion called han­ky­panky. In the case of these en­ter­tain­ment-in­dus­try scan­dals, it was more like a cir­cle dance: the male sex­ual op­por­tunists ( ex­ploit­ing both young men and women); the stage- door par­ents who, wit­tingly or not, en­abled pe­dophiles; show­biz as­pi­rants who were will­ing to pay a sex­ual price for what they as­sumed would be a short cut to suc­cess rather than plod­ding through the ranks; and of course the “rap­er­ape” apol­o­gists, who knew, but kept sh­tumm.

There’s no busi­ness like show busi­ness. The adage still rings true, but irony has cor­roded its wonted pep­pi­ness.

The Har­vey We­in­stein af­fair has been fol­lowed by sev­eral other al­le­ga­tions of sex­ual as­sault by well­known stars in the en­ter­tain­ment world and in Hol­ly­wood.

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