We­in­stein and the cul­ture of en­ablers

Santa Fe New Mexican - - OPINIONS -

Hye­nas can­not help their own na­ture. But the work of a morally sen­tient so­ci­ety is to pre­vent them from tak­ing over the sa­vanna.

Of all of the dis­may­ing and dis­gust­ing de­tails of the Har­vey We­in­stein saga, none is more de­press­ing than this: It has so few he­roes.

There is a sto­ry­book vil­lain, We­in­stein, whose re­pul­sive face turns out to be the spit­ting im­age of his pu­tres­cent soul. There are vic­tims, so many of them, typ­i­cally up-and-com­ers in an in­dus­try where he had the power to make or wreck their ca­reers, or bully or buy their si­lence, or, if some al­le­ga­tions are to be be­lieved, rape them.

But mostly there are en­ablers, both those who fa­cil­i­tated his pre­da­tions and those who found it ex­pe­di­ent to look the other way.

The en­ablers were of all sorts. Cor­po­rate board mem­bers who de­clined to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of his sex­ual be­hav­ior and now claim the news comes as “an ut­ter sur­prise.” As­sis­tants who acted as “hon­ey­pots,” join­ing meet­ings be­tween We­in­stein and his in­tended vic­tims to give them a sense of se­cu­rity — and then leav­ing the preda­tor to his prey. Re­porters who paid him trib­ute with awards, did his bid­ding with fawn­ing cov­er­age, or went af­ter his en­e­mies with hit pieces. A lav­ishly paid Ital­ian stu­dio ex­ec­u­tive whose real job, ac­cord­ing to for­mer Times re­porter Sharon Wax­man, was “to take care of We­in­stein’s women needs.” (A lawyer for the ex­ec­u­tive re­port­edly de­nies the al­le­ga­tion.)

And then there was the rest of Hol­ly­wood.

We­in­stein’s depre­da­tions were an open film in­dus­try se­cret, the sub­ject of an on­stage joke by Seth Mac­Far­lane at the 2013 Os­car nom­i­na­tion an­nounce­ment. Ev­ery­one laughed be­cause ev­ery­one got it. Some of his vic­tims, such as Gwyneth Pal­trow, be­came Hol­ly­wood pow­ers in their own right but never pub­licly rang an alarm un­til this week. The ac­tor Ben Af­fleck, who owes his start to We­in­stein, is an overnight laugh­ing­stock be­cause he acts sur­prised by the pro­ducer’s be­hav­ior. He won’t be the only celebrity do­ing his best Claude Rains “shocked, shocked” im­pres­sion.

Even some of the os­ten­si­bly good guys in this saga can­not be let off lightly.

In The New Yorker, Ro­nan Far­row re­ports that Ir­win Reiter, a top We­in­stein Co. ex­ec­u­tive, sought to con­sole one of the of­fice as­sis­tants ha­rassed by We­in­stein by say­ing the “mis­treat­ment of women” was a long-stand­ing com­pany is­sue and that “if you were my daugh­ter he would not have made out so well.” But Reiter never went pub­lic.

Per­haps it should come as no sur­prise that an in­dus­try built around pre­tend char­ac­ters and sce­nar­ios could have pre­tended for so long that noth­ing was amiss. Per­haps it should be no sur­prise, ei­ther, that its con­cept of ethics is ev­ery bit as er­satz and in­con­stant as most ev­ery­thing else in Tin­sel­town.

The out­rage over We­in­stein also has a whiff of op­por­tunism. In re­cent years, notes New York mag­a­zine’s Re­becca Trais­ter, We­in­stein has “lost power in the movie in­dus­try” and is no longer “the in­die mogul who could make or break an ac­tor’s Os­car chances.” Lame horses get shot.

It’s in this con­text that one can mount a de­fense of sorts for We­in­stein, who in­hab­ited a moral uni­verse that did noth­ing but cheer his golden touch and wink at (or look away from) his trans­gres­sions — right un­til the mo­ment that it be­came po­lit­i­cally in­con­ve­nient to do so.

Con­ser­va­tives are try­ing to make hay of the fact that We­in­stein do­nated lav­ishly to Demo­cratic politi­cians, backed pro­gres­sive causes and dis­trib­uted films such as The Hunt­ing Ground, a doc­u­men­tary about cam­pus sex­ual as­sault.

But the im­por­tant truth about We­in­stein isn’t his moral hypocrisy: In movies as in pol­i­tics, hypocrisy isn’t just an ac­cepted fact of life but also an es­sen­tial part of the job.

The im­por­tant truth is that he was just another li­bidi­nous cad in a lib­er­tine cul­ture that long ago dis­pensed with most no­tions of per­sonal re­straint and gen­tle­manly be­hav­ior.

“I came of age in the ’60s and ’70s, when all the rules about be­hav­ior and work­places were dif­fer­ent,” We­in­stein wrote in his mea culpa to The Times last week. “That was the cul­ture then.”

That line was roundly mocked, but it con­tains its truth. Like those other li­bidi­nous cads — Bill Clin­ton and Don­ald Trump — We­in­stein ben­e­fited from a cul­ture that often cel­e­brated, con­stantly de­picted, some­times en­abled, sel­dom con­fronted and all­too fre­quently for­gave the be­hav­ior they so often in­dulged in.

Hye­nas can­not help their own na­ture. But the work of a morally sen­tient so­ci­ety is to pre­vent them from tak­ing over the sa­vanna.

Our so­ci­ety, by con­trast, fes­tooned We­in­stein with hon­ors, en­dowed him with riches and en­abled him to feast on his vic­tims with­out se­ri­ous con­se­quence for the bet­ter part of 30 years. The old saw that all that is needed for evil to tri­umph is for good men to do noth­ing was never truer than it was in We­in­stein’s case.

It may be that We­in­stein’s epic down­fall will scare straight other sex­ual mis­cre­ants, or at least those who tol­er­ate their be­hav­ior and are li­able for its con­se­quences.

Don’t count on it. Our be­lated in­dict­ment of him now does too much to ac­quit his many ac­com­plices, and too lit­tle to trans­form a cul­ture that never gave him a rea­son to change.

Bret Stephens The New York Times

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