Harvey Weinstein is an abominable man: his crimes are countless and his existence corrosive. Yet he is a pawn, despite his power. Who is his master? The social institutions that have normalised this kind of behaviour behind closed doors. More specifically, it’s the embedded patriarchy within our public functions, endeavouring to make a quick scandal out of an issue that is as essential and standard to the structure of organisations like the Academy, like Hollywood, as is finance and consistent film production.
What the condemnation of Weinstein has achieved, if I’m brutally honest, is to divert our attention from wider problems, through the fetishisation of revelatory disgrace. The natural order of things has led us to jump on Weinstein, tear his career to shreds, leave his company in tatters. All of this is completely necessary, yet this action is one of finality, a teleological stamp of approval. Hollywood and the Academy, and to a more cynical extent, our society, needs this issue to be neatly tied in a bow, so as to produce no momentous change, comforting us in our normalcy, but to fulfil us and leave us relieved that we did the right thing: we punished the pederast.
So we locked away the criminal. But who wins in this scenario? It’s not us. Our unconscious abidance of patriarchy makes us believe that it is us. But it isn’t. It’s the Academy. It’s Hollywood. It’s the System. Weinstein isn’t the first and he certainly won’t be the last. And people know this. Accusers of Weinstein have even brought up the molestation of other directors, other producers. Why are these names not revealed?
I admire the women who stood up to Weinstein, who spoke against his offences. But I sympathise deeply with them for a reason that does not involve the act of rape, or objectification, or manipulation. It is within them that the issue arises: they believe that they have to commit these acts in order to succeed, and even if they refuse it, they understand, or unconsciously coerce themselves to apprehend the fact that they cannot take the issue any further as it could endanger their careers, their social standing, their own unbearable bondage to the System.
There is an unconscious illness within us, to perpetuate the degradation of women. We salute Mel Gibson and his return to form with Hacksaw Ridge: his artistic efforts excuse his anti-Semitism and misogynistic rants. We welcome Polanski back into the Palme D’Or competition, with his recent Cannes effort, Based on a True Story: his contributions to the history of American cinema, with Chinatown and Rosemary’s Baby, let him off the hook for his habitual sexual assault of women. All of this can be accounted to the need for solidarity: we can’t deject a man, based on his crimes, because it just wouldn’t be right, it wouldn’t be fair, it would upset the democratic status quo. There’s a redemptive quality to these two individuals’ stories, as we all love a good emancipatory arc. Good on Gibson and Polanski, they might say. Time has been kind to them.
But why is forgiveness and redemption still such a prevalent factor in today’s society? Why are we so quick to dismantle one man, yet refuse to identify his problem as a fragment of a much larger problem, consisting of a wide array of incidences of a similar ilk? Because capitalism thrives off of a guilt complex: we like to turn the tables over and welcome the sex offender back into our arms because ‘he’s suffered enough’. Enough. That sense of finality again. And yet women go on as they always have done, at the service of a world that enables masculinity to go hand-in-hand with power. Power and knowledge are interlinked. And men have the knowledge because it’s their System. Men like Harvey Weinstein prey on women, not because there’s something inherently psychotic or damaged about them, but because it’s simply a natural phenomenon, a continuously hidden fact of our reality: they believe they’re allowed to do it, and do so habitually as though it were a chore. There’s always a chance that one of them could be the next Harvey Weinstein, the one to become the next spectacle for self-gratifying condemnation. But more than likely, they’ll be another shadowy spectre, hidden in plain sight.
I think of the golden statue of the Oscar. That symbol of glossy achievement in the entertainment history. I think of Weinstein victim Gwyneth Paltrow walking up to the stage to collect hers for Shakespeare in Love, the Weinstein production that also took away the Best Picture Oscar. And for a split second, I wonder what goes through her mind when she picks it up. Does she think she deserves it? Does she conjure up images of her family and friends, how proud they will be of her for getting to this point in her profession? Or will she think: was it worth it? This glistening figure that is Oscar, bearing his sharpened sword, the patron saint of an industry built upon a disgracefully organic process of victimisation: sacrifice for the sake of success.
I’m not going to propose a revolution: I’m hardly fit to take on the role of Marx, as a literary and film student. I’m just the messenger. We’re all blind to this kind of action because we choose to be: it’s easy for men to just move on for the sake of pleasure. Yet pleasure never reciprocates. It’s just a little voice in the back of your head, telling you it’s fair to accept the world as it is. But that world? It’s now staring right back at you, begging you to make a difference. A balance of women and men in the film crew, in the Academy, in the director’s chairs, this is the best start we can muster to making a serious difference. Not a claim to the betterment of man or woman in terms of artistic credentials, but the only chance we’ve got to give women a chance to choose and act for themselves.