How About We Shift the Harvey Weinstein Discussion Up a Notch?

Even driving around the canyons and hollows of the Rocky Mountains as we were last week, it was impossible to avoid the Harvey Weinstein story. Every local TV station and newspaper had something on him, because after all, celebrity and sex are a sweet spot of American culture. (If there was a way to roll football and shopping into the story the rest of the planet could have exploded and no one would have noticed.)

Having put in several years of service observing the folkways of Hollywood, I too am engrossed with the sheer horror of Harvey. But, having seen the system up closer than many and having interviewed celebrities like Melanie Griffith and Lauren Hutton, to name only two, who were remarkably frank about their career strategies, I’m still left with the feeling that there’s another facet of this outrage that isn’t out on the table for indignant dissection.

It’s been noted that the Hollywood casting couch is such a hoary cliché the fact so many supposedly worldly media types are treating the Weinstein episode as a surprise is in fact the biggest surprise of all. I mean, what world have they been living in? As everyone who follows the movie industry knows, legendary tycoons like Jack Warner,  Louis B. Mayer and Sam Spiegel essentially operated harems of aspiring actresses for their personal amusements. Fat, piggy Harvey was merely following a well established tradition.

I’m with the skeptics who find it impossible to believe that savvy operators like former Disney chief Jeff Katzenberg, a friend and business confidante of Weinstein’s for 30 years, knew nothing of Harvey’s open secret of a reputation. Likewise, the pro forma notes of dismay sounded by people ranging from George Clooney, Matt Damon and even Barack Obama ring a little hollow. Anyone successful in any business is also in the business of knowing. The question here is what did they accept as a cost of doing business?

Which is close to the discussion that isn’t (currently) being had. And it’s this: For all the women who were rightfully, legitimately horrified at what Weinstein put them through, he wouldn’t have kept at it for 30 years or more if there weren’t at least an equal number of other women who wrote off submitting to Harvey as a cost of doing business. Which isn’t to say they weren’t disgusted by the sight of him and with themselves for going along with it. But if the legal issue is consent they — who we may never hear from — consented to a long-accepted Hollywood tradition.

Like a lot of businesses, Hollywood is a highly transactional environment. You have something he wants. He wants something you have. You make a deal. A deal horrifying to puritans and god-fearing protestants in Peoria, but damn close to normal in an industry where sex or at least sex appeal is the commodity that delivers the cash.

Part of the fascination with Harvey Weinstein is that the guy is in visual terms, central casting’s idea of a repulsive pig. The sort of guy few if any women would give a second look, if it weren’t for the fact he could put them in the movies. I can’t help but wonder how reaction to the story might be different if Weinstein looked like Ben Affleck? (In that context it’s hard to imagine Affleck having to resort to the bathrobe and massage shtick time after time.)

Point being, while Weinstein is a caricature of a disgusting dilemma — “Do I do it to get it over with? Or do I scream and run for the door?” — hundreds of other producers, directors, agents and other purveyors of influence and dreams look like they could model of GQ. The calculation over sullying your self-respect for career advancement becomes a bit different when the “predator’s” appearance doesn’t disgust you.

I’m hoping the discussion turns to what a lot of people — not just attractive young women — submit to, in terms of gross violations of traditional ethics and standards of behavior just to move a step up the career ladder. Such submission doesn’t have to mean snogging a porker like Harvey Weinstein. It could be as utterly routine as shutting up and being “a good team player” when every red light and alarm in your conscience is screaming that the boss or company you’re working for is engaged in legal or moral fraud. (Take, for example, the thousands of Wells Fargo employees who consented to the big bank’s series of outrageous frauds. Or take Enron, or Countrywide Financial, and on and on)

The current “me too” movement is a unique and valuable response to sexual harassment and assault. There are Harvey Weinsteins in every company from Main Street to Wall Street, and no woman should be required to weigh her option whether to submit to lechery or not. But while we’re at it, can we talk just a little, amongst ourselves, about how often ordinary people, us “little people”, are required to violate our basic ethical standards just to keep that next check coming?


2 thoughts on “How About We Shift the Harvey Weinstein Discussion Up a Notch?

  1. As most always, you give me new insights and ideas. I think you are right that this is an opportunity to take the conversation further, looking at the workplace closely and honestly. In Bill George’s book, Authentic Leadership, he has a great list of questions re: leadership, including this one, “How can I be true to my values when there are so many pressures to compromise?”

    Thanks for another thoughtful blog!! Mary (Hanson)

  2. A great story? None of my business, but I felt I had to say something. The media just keeps on making the most of what it sells, with peoples’ obsession of the rich and famous, and how they can be cut down and put into their rightful place. I’m sure Harvey Weinstein was a louse, and used his position to take advantage of women.

    I will refer to Abraham Maslow’s psychological paradigm of the hierarchy of needs. When a person successfully progresses above their basic needs of sustenance and safety, on to the psychological needs of rewarding relationships and high self esteem, they reach a phase of becoming self-actualized person – aspiring towards one’s full potential. Begin to realize their true personal power. Human nature, being what it is – this can readily become self-serving and morph into the realization of one’s power over others, and being able to get away with it. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on your perspective), most of us are too involved with meeting our everyday needs lower on the hierarchy scale to implement our full potential, and be tempted to do the same. There must also be the wisdom of having a compassionate concern for others as a holistic approach to becoming self-actualized. A repulsive pig? You are obviously a male who appreciates a person’s physical beauty, but not the virtue of having a large bulge in your pants . . . I ‘m referring to the back hip pocket of course. Welcome to the material world.

    I also find it a bit rich that all these women have now decided to come out of the woodwork, decades later, to persecute this man. There’s the saying: “The slave has but one master. The ambitious man (or woman) has as many masters as there are stepping stones to his or her success”. These women did what they had to do to get where they wanted to go, in accord with Maslow’s paradigm. Now, after “making it”, having their hand and shoe prints exhibited on Hollywood Boulevard, they decide to avenge the indignities on their journey. If they didn’t do what they had to do then, they would have been “parking cars, and pumping gas” . . . . on the way to San José. That’s what ambition will do to you.

    There is a Buddhist saying that everything is exactly what it should be, despite first impressions. That we decide our destinations as masters of our own fate, and need to look in the mirror to remind ourselves of that.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *