Kris Tapley reports over at Variety that the Academy has responded to the #MeToo movement in much the same way they responded to the #OscarsSoWhite movement in recent years: with calm resolve and promising to take action. What that action might be, according to their statement, won’t be investigative but will be proactive in responding to cases brought before them.
This week, James Franco was photoshopped out of the Vanity Fair Oscar issue, erased and replaced from the conversation the same way Kevin Spacey was scrubbed from All the Money in the World and replaced with Christopher Plummer, who now has an Oscar nomination. James Franco had been pegged for an Oscar nomination and when that failed to happen, the hive mind on Twitter felt justice had been done, believing they had blocked it. Then it was Casey Affleck announcing he would not be presenting Best Actress at the Oscars. Justified or not, response to these developments by the nervous and jumpy press indicates that they themselves don’t want to catch heat — no one really wants to be a target of the angry hive so no one says anything, even if they disagree with what’s happening. They either join in or keep their heads down and mind their own business. As David Poland pointed out on Twitter, even the NY Times seems to be bending its coverage of Woody Allen to satisfy the growing fear.
Mass panic, or “hysteria” (not the kind that was used to destroy the legitimate feelings of women in the Victorian era) occurs wherever the reaction to rising fear leads to suspicion and accusations where people you know – even your neighbor – might be “one of them.” For a beautiful rendering of this phenomenon, watch the episode of the Twilight Zone called The Monsters Are Due on Maple Street.
One of the worst fears for human beings is fear of a thing that we can’t clearly see or define — sometimes a thing that we imagine to be true. That fear intensifies, feeds off the tensions of group anxiety, and before long it gets to the point where no one wants to be seen with, or have any sort of association with whatever the thing is. The unclean evil in our little town right now is sexual harassment, or assault, or misconduct — and even in some cases men just behaving badly on a date. For so many years — centuries, really — women had no voice, no power to stand up to abusive men. But once a few brave women came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of having assaulted, or raped them, it unleashed the hidden and buried feelings of many online who used two words to join in: Me too. The common cause turned out to be so widespread, so ubiquitous that by the time it reached a peak there was the idea that all men were somehow implicated — and that any sexual impulse, any request for a phone number or a date was seen as potential harassment. That is how we deal with something we can’t see: we imagine the worst because we’re driven by fear.
People often mistakenly regard witch trials or witch hunts as persecution of innocents. But what drove witch trials, not just here but all over the world, was fear of the unknown, fear of something we could not see — in the 17th century, it was the devil, or evil. A handful of young girls began having spasms in Salem and were thought to be bewitched. They were then given enormous power to decide who lived or who died by pointing their tiny fingers at other children old women, men, and even animals. Purity was the goal in Salem, and powerful evil forces were coming to disrupt it. That’s not all that different from what’s happening on the left overall, a kind of need for stringent purity — in politics, in film, in advertising, even in the things people say. If you make one mistake, if you step outside the line of purity ideals you will be called out harshly by the hive mind, descended upon by hundreds on Twitter, eventually have think pieces written about you, everyone on Facebook will comment on it until you either apologize (an apology that’s rarely accepted) or else you are somehow banished. Forgiveness is not a thing that happens anymore. If you are accused of a thing you become that thing. Even if what you did happened 40 years ago. Even if what you did happened when you yourself were a child. You are the thing you are accused of being. And there is no way out of it. You are unpure and therefore must be purged.
When Trump won, it turned up the volume because he had openly admitted, even boasted, that he could sexually assault women whenever he wanted because he was famous. We could do nothing about it. Now Republicans have begun to dismantle everything we held dear or had confidence in, like environmental protections, like caring about what happens to immigrants or refugees, like caring about mass incarceration. Helpless to do anything about that, which is the real fear, we have begun to turn it on ourselves, where we do have power. That isn’t true of the #metoo movement. But it’s true of the left overall in the shadow of Trump.
The problem is not our reaction to Harvey Weinstein on the sudden awareness of women who have been victimized. Anger, fear and panic was the right reaction, the natural reaction. The problem is the punitive phase, the lack of due process, the idea that accusations can simply be made, fingers pointed, and suddenly the accused are seen as evil, pure evil. The edict is issued. Margaret Atwood was scorned for speaking her mind about how she believed things were getting somewhat out of hand, and if anyone knows what a dystopian future of angry mobs looks like, it’s her.
What has happened to Aziz Ansari because the journalist writing the story was inexperienced and young, sprung from the pages of Tumblr and ready to take aim without careful consideration from an editor, bled into the SAG awards where it was clear that not only did no one clap for him, not only was his face plastered all over social media as the poster child for sexual assault, but he was accused of being a rapist. The Babe.net journalist believed her subject had been assaulted even though it seemed clear that it was awkward sex gone wrong, a situation where women are required to speak up. It wasn’t assault. It wasn’t rape. It was two consenting adults where one wasn’t reading the signals of the other and made the other one feel uncomfortable. She endured it, then left in tears. But here’s the thing. She confronted him the next day via text, telling him he’d made her uncomfortable. He apologized. Then a year later it’s an exposé on Babe.net. He seemed to be being punished not for what he actually did but how that story didn’t square with the image our culture had accepted – our acceptance of him depended on that image. When Samantha Bee said that of course people knew the difference between rape and assault and what happened on that date. But they don’t. They didn’t. His career if probably over. So maybe you think, well he deserves it! That is the part we should all be worried about, taking the course of justice and retribution in our hands with a single account of a single night in the hands of a pumped up inexperienced journalist who went into the story believing it was assault. The same week Donald Trump was calling Syria a “shithole” country, the left was comfortable with using the image of Ansari, a Muslim, as the thing that must be purged, the thing to fear. It was grossly irresponsible, vague and unfair.
Former Senator Al Franken’s resignation is a great loss to the Democratic Party. It was seen by some as a fair trade to avoid accusations of hypocrisy as Democrats (successfully) fought the election of Roy Moore. But I’m not so sure the trade was worth it; few would say that Franken’s misconduct approached the scope and degree of Moore’s grotesque behavior. Yes, the Democrats now have a Senate seat in a Deep South state for the first time in decades, and Doug Jones is as accomplished of a public servant as they come. Yet the forcing out of Al Franken by his own caucus — before an ethics investigation was even started, much less completed — sets a very dangerous precedent and put the Democrats at a distinct disadvantage in losing the one senator other than Bernie Sanders with genuine star power.
It seemed for a time that the movement was getting off track. When you see stories like Weinstein or Dr. Larry Nassar you remember why it’s important. You remember how bad it got for women and how no one did anything about it. Now we’re all aware. Guidelines will be put in place and women are hopefully better equipped to be seen as equals rather than objects.
At any rate, the Academy has now instituted formal safeguards, but no one is sure where it will go. Right now it feels like a car that has no driver but a gas pedal pressed to the metal. There will be pressure to start purging their ranks of wrongdoers, both confirmed and perceived. There could be pressure to take back the Oscars of men like Roman Polanski or Woody Allen. If it goes that far, what next? Would actors who won Oscars working with Woody Allen be asked to give back their Oscars as well?
Women today have seized long-deserved power to have their voices heard. That is almost too good to be true. But we must all bear in mind the impact of that awesome power and use it wisely. Accusation alone is often enough to destroy someone’s career. In most cases these accusations are credible and the consequences seem clearly justified. Some cases are more ambiguous and those deserve our thorough consideration and concern. We just better be sure is all. You come at the king, you best not miss.
Here is what the Academy has said:
This afternoon, the Board of Governors approved the next phase in our Standards of Conduct initiative. This document outlines how individuals may report claims of workplace misconduct by Academy members in violation of our standards. You can review the document here. The Academy’s goal is not to be an investigative body, but rather ensure that when a grievance is made, it will go through a fair and methodical process. This process will determine whether a claim will be brought to the Board for possible action regarding membership status.
Since the depth of this issue came to light, our Board members and staff, led by Governor and Academy Officer David Rubin, have spent countless hours speaking with experts, gathering information, and weighing options to get us where we are today. This is a difficult time and a challenging process that will not be solved overnight. Our work continues and will require us to be nimble and refine our procedures as times demand. This is only a small step towards the larger goal of encouraging workplace environments that support creativity, equality, and respect, and align with the Academy’s mission.