Have you seen the surging, trending topic on Twitter under the hash tag #MeToo yet? Take some time to read through it. It’s heartbreaking. In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein revelations, massive numbers of women are chiming in with their own stories or those of friends and family members who have been victims of rape, sexual assault, harassment or intimidation. It’s been picked up and popularized by some very high profile celebrities such as Alyssa Milano.
This has led to a couple of questions which were lurking under the covers from the beginning of this mess. First and foremost, what are the odds that Harvey Weinstein was the only one in Hollywood behaving like this, or even one of only a handful of outliers? If your answer was next to zero, give yourself a cookie. The industry seems more ripe than most for the abuse of aspiring young starlets, the vast majority of whom never achieve any measurable level of success in that factory of broken dreams.
Now let’s get to the more uncomfortable question. While Tinseltown may be one of the most likely industries for this to happen in, how much of the same thing goes on everywhere else? I’m not so blind as to believe that it’s virtually unknown in publishing, retail sales, food service or energy and utility companies. (Yes, there are women working in all of those as well.) But here’s the problem. The only way Weinstein went down was for a relatively huge number of women, many of them well known, high profile players in the industry, to line up behind the first woman to come forward this time. Were it not for that snowball effect we’d likely have been back to the same old, he said, she said story where too many would either be willing to allow Harvey the benefit of the doubt, suspect the accuser of sour grapes, or simply be too afraid to speak up.
Now transfer this story to the much smaller environments of local offices in all those other industries I mentioned. If one female worker stands up to make such a claim, there generally won’t be enough others willing or able to do so to make a difference. Those same doubts, suspicions, and fears I mentioned above will be in play without a blazing tide of other credible voices to tamp them down. And if so, deleting Harvey Weinstein from the swamp of Hollywood, while an admirable step, probably doesn’t even scratch the surface.
So with all that said, why would the title of this piece have anything to do with Woody Allen? Here’s where this opinion piece takes a sudden turn and likely becomes harder to read for some of you. First, check out this piece from the WaPo about Allen’s response to the Weinstein scandal which was, I fully admit, several orders of magnitude beyond tone deaf.
[Woody Allen] didn’t just step into the cauldron that has upended Weinstein’s career and sparked a wide-ranging discussion on harassment and assault in Hollywood and beyond.
Allen dumped fresh gasoline on it.
Over the weekend, the 81-year-old director told the BBC Weinstein’s downfall was “sad for everybody involved.”
But Allen also warned about a “witch hunt atmosphere, a Salem atmosphere, where every guy in an office who winks at a woman is suddenly having to call a lawyer to defend himself,” Allen told the BBC. “That’s not right either.”
Yes, Woody Allen is an unlikely candidate to be speaking out about this. His very name tends to give some of us the creeps. His fixation with (and later marriage to) Mia Farrow’s adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn was creepy as all get out and did involve him violating his marital vows, even if Previn wasn’t a blood relative. I don’t know if we’ll ever know the truth behind the allegations of child abuse during his break-up with Farrow, or if he was the sort of dirtbag who was assaulting other actresses in Hollywood like Weinstein. That’s not a charge you seem to hear about him. If either the child abuse or the Harvey-style rapes and assaults took place then he’s a monster who should be brought to justice, but I don’t know that for a fact yet.
So why bring him up at all? If the campus “rape culture” narrative has taught us anything it’s that even in the midst of a legitimate crisis like the one being experienced by women in Hollywood at the hands of some men (and likely everywhere else as well), it’s still not all men. Not even remotely close to it. Most men don’t even have the type of power to get away with such wide-ranging abuse even if they are detestable enough to do it. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be accused. And some of those accusations, as we’ve seen, wind up being labeled as things like rape and sexual assault even when they were cases of miscommunication, misunderstandings, teenage indiscretion or, in the worst of them, complete fabrications.
When it comes to the worst of those, if you thought “Jackie” of Rolling Stone fame or “Mattress Girl” were the only ones, or even vanishingly rare exceptions, you haven’t been paying attention to the news. Such misreported or fraudulent instances, thankfully, are also not rampant. But they happen. So the thing to keep in mind here is that, as the accusations fly, we can’t allow the cloud of valid claims and possible, or at least as yet unsubstantiated allegations to merge into some sort of fog of war and not fully validate them. We’re still talking about crimes here. Very real, exceedingly dangerous crimes. And it doesn’t matter if the charges are brought against some masked pervert in an alley with a knife or a well-heeled, internationally famous movie executive with a showcase full of awards. Each allegation must be taken seriously and investigated properly by law enforcement while the rights of both the accuser and the accused are guarded throughout the process.
So there’s the unpleasant part of the discussion which invites you all to throw rotten fruit at the stage. The #MeToo effect has brought an important reality forward and opened the door for more justice and a chance to clean up the filthy human sewers churning below many industries. But we must also be mindful not to allow this to turn into justice under mob rule, even if you happen to be rooting for the mob this month. Next time the shoe may be on the other foot. So with that in mind, Woody Allen was probably the worst possible person in all of Hollywood to speak out about this, but in his own way, he was delivering a reminder of something we shouldn’t collectively forget.