LEONARD QUART: A comeuppance for predatory men

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By Wednesday, Nov 15 Viewpoints  8 Comments
REUTERS/Danny Moloshok
At the 89th Academy Awards Oscars Vanity Fair Party in Beverly Hills, California, Producer Harvey Weinstein and his wife, fashion designer Georgina Chapman.

New York — The revelations about the contemptible behavior of Harvey Weinstein and other male power wielders are not too surprising. For the casting couch existed in Hollywood throughout its history; one remembers from fiction and film the stereotypical image of aging, porcine, cigar-smoking producers taking advantage of starlets in exchange for offering them movie roles.

The overweening power of ruthless men like Weinstein and the active collaboration of subordinates and others–their managers, publicity people, lawyers and the victims themselves, who were often too frightened about the fate of their careers–has helped preserve an ominous public silence for many years. (Weinstein has gone further than others that were exposed, pushing back and hiring a firm started by former Mossad agents to gather unflattering material on his accusers.)

Of course, we shouldn’t automatically believe every charge made against these men, and there is a need to distinguish between innocent flirtation, or low-key harassment, and truly horrific sexual behavior. Though one knows that as the accusations proliferate in the media, some distinctions will get blurred, and a few innocent men may painfully be thrown to the wolves. Still, one is gratified that the Weinsteins, Cosbys, and Tobacks — the predators of the world — pay for their many years of transgressive behavior. And I am somewhat hopeful the recent disclosure of these squalid encounters will result in creating a greater equity between men and women who work together.

Louis C.K. at the Toronto Film Festival this year.

Other quandaries present themselves when male predators are creators of good art. How do we separate the work of art from the character of the artist? For example, how does one deal with I Love You Daddy, the new film of the gifted comedian/director/writer Louis CK? He has taken belated responsibility for past abhorrent sexual behavior, and done so probably more openly than any other man caught up in the scandal (not an action that should absolve him for the many times he indulged himself with impunity.) But his new film itself is about sexually inappropriate behavior — a 68-year-old producer who likes young girls — and it also pays homage to Woody Allen’s Manhattan, another film about an older man’s queasy relationship with a 17-year-old girl.

NY Times critic Manohla Dargis writes that on her first viewing the film (not yet available, to the rest of us, and it possibly never will be) “made me laugh at times uncomfortably, but part of its power was that it also seemed confessional.” On a second viewing she found the jokes “cruder” and “uglier.” But she did not call to withdraw it from distribution, however distasteful she found it.

In my view one can condemn the behavior of the artist, and find his vision distasteful (e.g., the blatant sexism of Norman Mailer’s fiction, the anti-Semitic outbursts and gratuitously violent films of Mel Gibson), but only in the most extreme cases should we think of banning. A director like Roman Polanski may be a sexually rapacious figure, but he has made some very fine films (e.g., ChinatownThe Pianist, Repulsion), and in the end is one of many first-rate artists who have behaved badly or brutally towards women over the centuries. It’s an old debate — shades of the lengthy discussions about banning the films of the Nazi fellow traveler, and in this case a woman, Leni Reifensthal (Triumph of the Will) — who was a great filmmaker, and who had, at the same time, vile dangerous politics that permeated a number of her works.

President Donald Trump has been accused of harassment of women.

Serious works of art simply don’t follow prescriptive guidelines or offer sanitized emotions — we honor them for this. They are complicated and yes, sometimes destructive and odious. The instincts and feelings that serious art is rooted in defy being controlled. We can analyze and condemn the artists’ perspectives, but their freedom to express their vision and continue to be published, screened and exhibited must not be interfered with.

The public exposure of the predatory politicians, actors, TV personalities who harassed girls and women (and boys) should have happened a long time ago. But since men in most cases held and still hold power — nothing was ever done, and too many women have had to suffer. We have seemingly reached a moment in history where the predators and harassers will finally have to pay for the acts they have committed over the years. It’s hard to imagine that this sort of sea change in the relations of men and women may happen in an era dominated by a macho President who himself has a history harassing women. Let’s hope the time comes when Trump’s actions are also unmasked and he too is punished.


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8 Comments   Add Comment

  1. Steve Farina says:

    Leonard, I appreciate and respect your views on many things. This subject is extremely sensitive, and is not easily broken down and isolated between the “artist” and the actions. Much reflection is needed on this. Additionally since you moved from art to politics…don’t forget Bill Clinton too! Leonard, I am sure you realize the former President was accused of rape. He was also accused of other serious harassment by many women…and, of course, there is the well known abuse of authority in his liasons with a young intern…

  2. Stephen L. Cohen says:

    It is difficult to imagine banning any work of art. People can respond by not going to the performance, or protesting peacefully outside of a theater. A response to “bad speech”, or to “speech” made by bad people, is more speech. Leonard is, as always, eloquent and thought provoking.
    I am not sure why Mr. Farina raises the reprehensible conduct of President Clinton, but perhaps he wishes to deflect the attention of Leonard’s readers from the main point of the article, even though Mr. Farina does recommend “much reflection”.

    1. Steve Farina says:

      I bring it up because he changed topic and brought up President Trump…did you not read the complete article?

      1. Steve Farina says:

        Not tooic, but he digressed from his own main point.

  3. Steve Farina says:

    It continues to amaze me how many people leave their intellect at the political divide.
    What is this article about? Predatory men being held accountable for their actions even into decades past “the predators of the world — pay for their many years of transgressive behavior”. In the case of artists, whether their art should be respected in spite of predatory actions of the artist.
    The author then can’t help himself and must throw in a swipe at the current President, whom the author’s previous writings indicate a strong disdain for. One can only wonder if the swipe is out of actual concern for the alleged victims, or merely a political swipe. Assuming it is concern for the victims, and given the boundary of Presidential politics (had he mentioned Congressmen, the article would be pages longer), then it would seem “the predators of the world — pay for their many years of transgressive behavior” would include our recent living Presidents. In this case, our most prolific Predator-in-Chief has been President Clinton. President George H.W. Bush also had some complaints, but I guess his years as the head of the CIA taught him how to make those disappear.
    So, in this case, we are down to two.
    Mr. Cohen, instead of questioning my motives, perhaps questioning the moves of the author would be more appropriate.
    The author is welcome to weigh in on this. I would like to understand your motivation for not mentioning all the living Presidents who have a history of this behavior.

    1. Joseph Method says:

      Steve, I thought that you were deflecting too, because I skimmed the beginning of the article and didn’t see the last two sentences. I think it’s fair to include Clinton in this list. There is a growing consensus on the left that we made a mistake in not holding him accountable at the time. Although ironically his impeachment was over an inappropriate but completely consensual relationship, not the sexual assault allegations which to my mind are much more serious and relevant. In other words, I think you will find that the left is ready to throw Bill Clinton under the bus. I could point you to many, many editorials calling for just that. The question is, is the right willing to do anything, anything at all, about the allegations against the sitting president?

      1. Steve Farina says:

        The allegations against the sitting President will likely go nowhere….just kept buried in the swamp like so many others

  4. Leonard Quart says:

    It seemed perfectly logical to mention Trump, because of the irony of all these revelations coming out when a known harasser like him is is in power. I felt no need to mention every politician who behaved in a predatory manner in the past, since the essay was not about politicians, as it wasn’t about Trump. But the shameless Trump is still in power, and can tweet about everybody else’s transgressions. Mr Farina if you want to attack Clinton that’s fine.

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