The wild and unsettling thing about the last six months is both the pervasiveness of abuse and harassment, and how what’s at the heart of an open secret often turns out to be much worse; there is a sudden realization that maybe something terrible has been lurking beside you all along. Because it’s apparently at the ballet, on the manufacturing floor, inside the massage parlor, in jail, at the Olympics, on the morning show, at the theater, on the radio, on the court, on Capitol Hill. This is where you can end up wondering what the point of a “civic institution” even is. And on the most basic level — in the most amateur-hour intro philosophy seminar way — isn’t the idea that any one of these institutions (the church, the military, the government, the media, any of them) is meant to give people place and purpose, and to judiciously amplify some virtue in men (strength or kindness or charity), or to bend our collective power toward some common benefit (safety or prosperity), and above all, isn’t the idea to blunt wickedness? But here you have the agents who kept taking women to Weinstein, the studios that didn’t look at his finances, parts of the tabloid machine under his control, the way everyone seemed to know, and it’s like a blood disease — everything an institution is supposed to do, but corroded, and turned in on itself.
And then there’s all of us, consuming this weird year through our phones, living inside new institutions that are mind-blowing in scale and horribly ill-equipped for the task of handling us. Whatever it was that happened — the election? — something has shifted in the way the media, lawmakers, and even some people on them view the platforms.