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© 1987-2017
Scott R. Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

An open non-secret

To answer your first question, yes, I do realize what I did in my previous column. To answer your second question, yes, I do realize that I continue to call these online scribblings “columns” even though the rest of the 21st-century world calls them “blog posts.”

But back to the first question. Yes, I realize that I managed to bring up the topic of Harvey Weinstein, only to immediately switch the subject to something else (specifically, my new book) which allowed me to discuss attractive young actors. The irony is not lost on me.

Actually, there is a serious point to be made by that juxtaposition. A key component of the performing arts is the physical beauty of the human form. And for many, that beauty will always hold an attraction and—for those in position of power—a temptation, in the best of cases, and an exploitative opportunity, in the worst of cases.

Perhaps the most unsettling thing about l’affaire Weinstein and all the other accusations—notably those relating to Kevin Spacey—in its aftermath is the extent to which we had deluded ourselves that the world had somehow changed since the bad old days of early Hollywood and the infamous casting couch. Some of us may have deluded ourselves that decades of education, enlightened attitudes, social progress, feminism and “political correctness” had changed, if not the entire world, then at least the modern liberal cultural centers of Los Angeles, New York and London. What we find, though, is that actors we have admired for years and who have been outspoken on behalf of liberal causes now declare that they have either been victims themselves or had heard the stories about what went on with Weinstein and his ilk. If they, of all people, felt they did not have the power to speak out and draw attention to a rotten system, then where are we to look?

From literally one day to the next, we are forced to adjust our perception of reality. We assumed those new fresh-faced young actors got cast purely on ability. Was something else required of them as well? That talented actor we liked a few years ago—do we not see her anymore because she chose to work less or did she refuse to play the game? Was it just the luck of the draw that so many presenters on Fox News (the news media, after all, are essentially extensions of the entertainment industry) were blondes in the prime of life? Seems now like maybe not.

Those questions were always in the back of our minds, but we did not want to consider them. We just wanted to be entertained and see the work of serious artists. Now that our rose-colored glasses have been cracked, there is something truly unsettling to deal with. During the first decade of this century, for reasons of parenthood, I spent way more time than I care to acknowledge watching the Disney Channel. Every broadcast hour yielded an unending supply of fresh-scrubbed moppet talent. I never knew there were so many working child actors in the known universe, but every program presented us a fresh new crop of smiling, wise-cracking adolescents and pre-adolescents.

In bygone times, we heard horrible stories of the lives of child actors working in Hollywood. Surely, that was all in the past. Surely, safeguards were now in place to protect the interests and safety of this pre-pubescent workforce. Certainly, modern parents were much more sophisticated and able to monitor their children’s welfare.

Sadly, we already know how forlorn that wishful thinking was. Three years ago documentarian Amy Berg’s film An Open Secret was released. It shed light on the experiences of aspiring young actors and models, focusing particularly on abuses of clients by Marc Collins-Rector’s Digital Entertainment Network. Berg’s doc played at a few film festivals and then promptly sank like a stone. No one wanted to see it. Apparently, that has changed since actor Anthony Rapp has gone public with his story about Spacey. Reportedly, purchases and rentals of the film have gone viral. Good.

Let us hope that this portends a more serious, hard-headed attitude by everyone involved in making and consuming entertainment. The fear for us cynics, though, is that this is just one more reactive swing in the cultural pendulum. As a society, we seem to go from one extreme, where freedom and tolerance and “sophistication” reign and we are told to lighten up and not be prudes, to the other extreme, where righteousness and morality reign and every infraction (e.g. unwelcome flirtation) is lumped in with crimes like rape and assault. The fact is that the line between crime and boorishness is not always a clear one and, on top of everything else, we have to remember that an accusation is not a conviction. Can we not just find some reasonable middle ground and stay there?

This would all be so much easier if there were not sleazy people who are also very talented. There are a pile of movies without which the world would be much poorer and which would probably not have been made without Harvey Weinstein. Likewise, the body of work of Kevin Spacey speaks for itself. The oeuvre of Roman Polanski is so admired that many people have argued for years that we should be sophisticated like the Europeans and overlook the fact that he drugged and raped a thirteen-year-old girl back in 1977.

What is the best civilized and moral way to respond to the fact that some people are very talented and make art that we wish to see but who also sometimes behave reprehensibly and even criminally? Boycott all their work?

I certainly do not have the answer, but maybe here is a good place to start. Let us boycott awards programs. How many years have we watched the Golden Globes and the Oscars and seen directors and actors sycophantically kiss up to Weinstein in their acceptance speeches?

Someone had a darkly hilarious tweet a couple of weeks back. It went something like this: next year there will be a movie about the Harvey Weinstein scandal and it will be showered with awards and the usual Hollywood suspects will be falling all over each other to congratulate themselves on how brave they all are.

It would be funnier if it were not so sad and so true.

-S.L., 9 November 2017

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