The Harvey Weinstein scandal is truly appalling. He is, of course, denying the allegations against him. But the fact that it is in the public domain that he reached settlements with numerous women over the years – in other words paid them large sums of money to keep quiet – makes it difficult to treat his denials with any degree of credibility.
It has also emerged that his contracts with production companies contained clauses dealing with how accusations of sexual abuse against him were to be dealt with. They would pay the settlement, and he would later reimburse them, along with a “fine” of a quarter of a million dollars for the first case, half a million for the second, $750,000 for the third, and a million for the fourth and every subsequent case thereafter. It is hard to explain such things being in the contract of anyone other than someone who was likely to offend in such a way.
But Weinstein is only one man – even though a man who did untold damage to many, many women. His downfall, however, exposes wider issues. One of these is the fact that it has become plain that it was well known exactly what kind of monstrous behaviour this man was engaged in. Victim after victim is coming forward with further shocking revelations; and for every one of those there seems to be dozens of stories, all from industry insiders, making it clear that the tales of this man’s misdeeds have been told and retold for decades in the Hollywood community. The truth is that they all knew what he was up to. It was, as they say, an “open secret”. And still it went on.
Why? Because he was a powerful man who could damage careers if he were challenged. And all those insiders who knew what was going on put their own interests above those of the women he was hurting. I don’t blame the women he assaulted for keeping quiet. Victims are entitled to their privacy if that is what they want. But the others who knew and did nothing bear some responsibility for those he hurt after they knew what he was up to.
Hollywood celebrities, after all, are well known for jumping on every bandwagon under the sun. But when it came to serious wrong-doing in their own industry they were strangely silent. This is blatant hypocrisy when one considers the slew of films to come out of Hollywood wagging the metaphorical finger at others for their alleged moral failings and yet refused to deal with the horrors going on in its own house. The words of our Lord admonishing those who thought themselves to be righteous to first take the beam out of their own eye before speaking of the speck in the eyes of others spring to mind.
The hypocrisy is doubled, and also magnified by a large dose of irony, by the fact that Hollywood regards itself as a purveyor of moral and ethical values in the modern world. It is very open about the way it sees itself as having a major role in “educating” people with the doctrines of this new orthodoxy – a system of values that stands very much opposed to the traditional values of Western society, values rooted in the Christian faith. Every film and every television programme to come out of it has had a fairly overt agenda – to undermine the values of previous generations and promote those of the liberal elites, values largely born of the sexual revolution.
It is hard not to see, knowing what we now know, a large element of “grooming” in all this: the fantasies of a totally liberated sexual culture being played out on the big and small screen at the behest of the predators behind the scenes to make it difficult for their intended victims to object to their advances and complain once they were done with them. With the actual predators, of course, being aided and abetted by a swarm of sycophants who didn’t care what happened to the targets of these men as long as their own careers were advanced on the back of it all.
And let it be clearly understood: most of these Hollywood celebrities and insiders knew. The settlements, the contracts with clauses specifying how future settlements were to be dealt with, make it clear that it was known. This was, as has been already stated, an open secret. The committee for the Academy Awards, as they were expelling Weinstein from among their ranks, called it a culture of complicity. But complicity might be too light a word for it. Facilitation might be better. Hollywood knew he had done it before. It knew he would do it again. And its response was contracts in clauses and whispered warnings to stay away from the man if they knew what was good for them – to those who were lucky enough to get them.
But that culture, that complicity, that facilitation extended far beyond Weinstein’s crimes. For generations the term “casting couch” has been synonymous with Hollywood. Maybe people before now didn’t think too hard about what that term meant. Perhaps they even saw it as consenting adults ‘exchanging favours’, the powerful mogul helping the wide-eyed innocent get her career started while she shared his bed in return, if not out of love then at least out of gratitude. Well this affair has blown the lid off any sentimental ideas of what the casting couch involves. And what it involves is rape and all kinds of other forced sexual activity, with powerful moguls and others within the cinematic industry using their position to abuse others for their own sordid gratification.
So there are surely countless other predators out there. And the victims are not only women, but undoubtedly men also. And children. The legendary Shirley Temple spoke in her autobiography of an attempted assault on her when she was eleven by one of these predators. Eleven! And the 80s teen-star Corey Feldman has been talking for decades of the paedophile rings that are rampant among the Hollywood elite that particularly target adolescent boys.
No one listened to him, of course. But maybe they’ll start listening now. Not just to him but to all the other victims. Weinstein may have been the first to be exposed; but he shouldn’t be the last. And maybe the one good thing this man will have done with his life is that his downfall will help expose the rottenness at the heart of the industry in which his predatory behaviour thrived.
The Rev. Patrick G Burke is the Church of Ireland rector of the Castlecomer Union of Parishes, Co Kilkenny. A regular contributor to Position Papers, he was formerly a broadcast journalist with the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network. He blogs at http://thewayoutthere1.blogspot.ie/