Harvey Weinstein & Hollywood's Complicity
By Myles E. Johnson
The melancholy in this cultural moment is not in what shocks you, but what fails to shock you. More than the tragic drama America was once known as, the empire is now a type of cartoon in 2017. The sadness and the ridiculousness have met. And the scandal of the year belongs to Harvey Weinstein. The mogul has been accused of both rape, sexual harassment and sexual assault. When we think about how we empower rich, white men to not only dominate but seek new forms of power this new piece of information about Weinstein fails to be surprising, but routine. That’s where the sadness lives.
When the Weinstein scandal was just unraveling to the public, celebrity attorney and women’s advocate Lisa Bloom took a surprising action, to some. She advised Harvey Weinstein. The media and the general public immediately put their magnifying glass on Bloom’s decision. How does one go from women’s right advocate to morally negotiating with someone who has empirical proof against him that he has harmed women on multiple occasions? Even Lisa Bloom’s mother, famous lawyer and women’s right advocate as well, Gloria Allred, publicly highlighted how she would only represent victims of sexual harassment and assault, not the accused. This functioned as an indirect critique of her daughter although when asked directly, she affirmed her daughter’s skill in law so as to not be seen directly defaming her daughter in public. Weinstein’s case, even for the casual observer can feel overwhelming and long, but it has not even been a full month since the scandal touched our lives. In that short amount of time, Lisa Bloom took back her services publicly, “I thought that this was an opportunity to work with somebody on the other side and try to get them to behave better. I don't usually have opportunities like that, and I got tired of the old playbook. I thought that we would do something different, and it would be an improvement. But obviously it was not well received.”
This quote reads unsettling and dishonest for such a critical, sharp, media-trained entity like Lisa Bloom. Surely, a woman like Bloom thinks hard about her decisions and thinks about the multiple outcomes. Risks do not come to people like Bloom without time and marinating on the decision. In this case, in just moments, Bloom agreed to represent Weinstein. She said she does not usually receive opportunities to help men behave better, but this is a lie. Lisa Bloom’s clientele is largely celebrity. She has access to both celebrity survivors and celebrity abusers. She is constantly presented the opportunity to “work with someone from the other side and try to get them to behave better.” This moment was special, but why?
Lisa Bloom’s book “Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It” was optioned by Harvey Weinstein’s The Weinstein Company. This is a special detail when we wonder why Bloom did not choose to see if she could advise Bill Cosby, Bill O’Reily, or Donald Trump into behaving better, but did invest in Harvey Weinstein. It is clear that when money was on the table, Bloom’s politics and morals were warped. It is also clear that any type of public correction that Bloom partakes in is more brand preservation than some kind of moral redemption.
Lisa Bloom is not unique in her behavior. Her actions beautifully highlight liberal media and Hollywood’s failure in times of crisis. You can not do what is right when you collude and benefit from what is wrong.
There were innumerable amounts of times for liberal media to take a clear and unwavering moral and political stand against Donald Trump, but numbers could have went down. If they decided to not platform him, television shows might have risked ratings. If they decided to actively and unequivocally dissent against Donald Trump, they risked breaking the all too important marketing rule that political and moral neutrality is the most profitable because it does not alienate any audience. This is arguably true and inconsequential when selling bread or detergent. It feels amoral to apply this rule when healthcare, fascism, and rape are what we are speaking of.
Many liberal entertainment media programs and individuals had absolutely no problem targeting and denouncing individuals such as Bill O'Reilly when details about his sexual assault resurfaced. This same liberal Hollywood culture fails time after time to effectively denounce and take away Woody Allen’s platform as pointed out by Dylan Farrow, a survivor of Woody Allen’s abuse. This seems to be more than just the intersections of race, gender, and class giving a person that ability to do harm (they are both rich white men). It appears to be about not losing the ability to profit being the most important thing. The liberal, white entertainment world will denounce a cruel person or a toxic behavior as long as it won’t compromise the ability to perpetuate stardom and to gain profit. Unfortunately, for them that is not always how justice works.
Even to return back to the Harvey Weinstein scandal, you can not ignore the delay that it took for certain programs and individuals to react. It was as if everyone was looking to the other person to get permission to be righteous in public. Once one person did, it became easier to talk against Weinstein’s behavior and show solidarity with the survivors of Weinstein. I’m afraid that most of the talk we see in Hollywood at this moment against Harvey Weinstein is not political and moral conviction, but brand preservation. It is not good business at this cultural moment to not have a point of view on Weinstein’s behavior.
This type of thin moral fiber even informs the solution that liberal, white Hollywood has produced: we need more women in charge. It is true that women do not enact violence on people at the rates that men do, but it is not because women are inherently more peaceful. It is because women systemically lack access to power to get away with such behaviors in today’s society. And even when a woman does arrive in a high-power position in today’s society, she knows the punishment for enacting violence if caught will be more intense. Women who are interested in enacting violence usually do it to people they can dominate and silence, both physically and socially when risk levels of getting repercussions are relatively low.
Knowing that, we know that simply replacing one gender with another will not change the patriarchal environments in Hollywood. Capitalism has no gender. Patriarchy has no gender. We know that there are patriarchal women interested in power and profit more than facilitating safe spaces that are complicit in the violences described in this Weinstein scandal. In order to truly see change, we have to change the culture of Hollywood, and really American culture in general, that allows the pursuit of power and greed to inform what we do, what we silently witness, and who we decide to advise.
Until we address these larger truths and motivations that inform these scandalous events we can continue to be melancholy when these events happen, but we shouldn’t dare be shocked.
Myles E. Johnson is an black, queer writer and editor existing at the nexus of race, sexual identity, gender, feminism, and justice through content creation and cultural critique.