The physical characteristics of an individual sometimes are necessary to bring context to a news article or, as here, a newspaper column. But near universal editorial standards of propriety in mainstream journals dictate that, with quite rare exception (and offhand I cannot think of one), the features of men and women not be described in crude or insensitive language. The scarred survivor of a house fire would not, for example, be compared to Freddy Kruger, the demon of those Nightmare slasher movies; thus, to continue in the Hollywood vein, would Orson Welles, in his closing years, be styled as “heavy” or perhaps “portly,” not fat — though fat he indisputably was.
Comes now an exception, for it involves a man who not only is crude and insensitive, but in profound legal trouble, exiled from the company he co-founded, and banished, for at least the near future, from the industry in which he was a titan. And, yes, we’re still in the Hollywood realm.
Harvey Weinstein is ugly. Tall but ungainly, paunchy, a slob despoiling a bespoke tuxedo. Thinning hair (nobody’s perfect). The mug of a never-a-contender heavyweight who hadn’t the brains to give up the ring after the fifth time his nose was broken by a fighter on the way up. A jowly face shaven only every few days, evidently a bid for the Hollywood “stubble chic” cool that isn’t cool on actors who would otherwise be cool. Weinstein was only as cool as the millions upon millions he made as a savvy motion picture producer. And now he’s hot, and not in the creative or commercial sense. Hot, as in radioactive. Glows in the dark.
It is not difficult to envision Weinstein as a child, an adolescent, a teenager — overweight and awkward, unattractive and socially clumsy, teased, bullied. The bullied became the bully, bellicosity and aggression masking his insecurity and interior pain, his want of affection and respect. Such are the components of the character, or pathology, unmasked by disclosures of the millions of dollars he or his company have paid to some of the five dozen women who have alleged sexual harassment by Weinstein.
Still other cases are pending. The movie mogul has acknowledged — for the record anyway, and only after his offenses were made public — that he needs professional help, and claims to be obtaining it. He also is in real need of his lawyers, on both coasts and another continent, whose Hollywood and white shoe and Queen’s Bench fees will further drain his accumulated box office grosses.
Weinstein’s real ugliness is within. None of his donations to liberal causes and candidates, nor his storied social activism, can ameliorate the casting couch conduct that has prompted the film community to expel him and friends to shun him. That others of his stature are said to lie awake nights, fearing a process server disguised as a kid delivering the next morning’s Variety, offers him little comfort and no reprieve.
The ugliness is apolitical: Weinstein’s woes were delivered by the very sort of maelstrom that beached Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly of Fox News.
It also extends beyond the screen, large or small. Corporations, the clergy, Congress (and, yes, the White House), professional sports, schools and universities — sexual harassment has been alleged, if not always documented, in every corner of American life, in every state. Including ours.
I was witness to it. Many years ago I worked for an Arkansas company where a senior editor was notoriously, sometimes openly, abusive to female employees. Not merely in assignments and promotions, the stuff of workplace gender discrimination, but in language and gesture, overtly carnal. And actionable, even then. But the offended, young and fearful for their careers, were subordinate to the offender; and the centuries-old hyper-masculine ethos of the newsroom was only beginning to fade. Today those women would own a hefty piece of the company and the wallet of their (former) supervisor.
The culture has changed. It was too long in coming. There will be, already have been, abuses, unfair or wholly unjustified charges. Leave it to the system to determine the spurious from the serious. In all of it the message, to power brokers in La-La Land down to the shift supervisor in Lonoke, is simple: Women employees (and some male counterparts) are mad as hell. And they’re not going to take it any more. Stop the ugliness. Now.
Steve Barnes is a native of Pine Bluff and host of Arkansas Week on AETN.