Al Franken, Come On Down.

And now it’s Al Franken’s turn. While he has, first and foremost apologized, then asked for an investigation of himself and promised to cooperate, the chips are still going to have to fall where they may, regardless of his advocacy for issues vital to women and liberals. It’s the new normal. It’s a fact of life we’re all going to have to get accustomed to. If you’ve behaved like a pig, (although in this case not criminally so), chances are good you’re going to get outed.

Having met and interviewed Franken a number of times I can’t say that I, like Claude Rains in “Casablanca” (which I saw again last night at the Icon Theaters in St. Louis Park) am “shocked, shocked” to hear that Al the celebrity behaved badly.

This situation strikes me as very similar to the actor Richard Dreyfuss, who after being accused last week issued a statement saying:

“I want to try to tell you the complicated truth. At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole–the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die’. And flirt I did. I flirted with all women, be they actresses, producers, or 80-year-old grandmothers. I even flirted with those who were out of bounds, like the wives of some of my best friends, which especially revolts me. I disrespected myself, and I disrespected them, and ignored my own ethics, which I regret more deeply than I can express. During those years I was swept up in a world of celebrity and drugs – which are not excuses, just truths. Since then I have had to redefine what it means to be a man, and an ethical man. I think every man on Earth has or will have to grapple with this question. But I am not an assaulter.”

Franken may not have had the same cachet with “all women” as an Oscar-winning actor, but the “asshole” part may well apply. A constant with a lot of the characters outed to date is a sense of being drunk on fame and power, of being transported by manic ego to a realm of impunity for behavior unconditionally unacceptable to others. (Although, lord knows, millions of common guys have pulled the same stunts).

Comparisons are already being made to liberal women’s regard for Bill Clinton, who was without question a reckless womanizer. At Vox, Matt Yglesias goes on at length about why Clinton should have resigned following disclosure of the Monica Lewinsky affair. But he didn’t and he wasn’t forced to because a majority of Americans, not just liberals, made a value judgment that he was doing more good for them than bad, and that the Lewinsky thing was the sordid culmination of a decade-long witch hunt by opponents who had no better option to offer.

Clinton’s um, “interaction”, with Lewinsky was wrong by every measure, and despite leaving office with a higher approval rating than (St.) Ronnie Reagan, Clinton and Hillary have paid quite a high reputational price for it. But … unlike Roy Moore, Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump … even Lewinsky describes their fling as “consensual” and in no way (that we know) did Clinton require sex as a ticket to employment or advancement. So it is with most of the other ladies he is known to have cavorted with in his drunk-on-fame binge.

The episode with Juanita Broaddrick, which she describes as rape, has always been clouded by her way-too tight association/exploitation by the same semi-deranged Clinton-haters who tried to convince us a money-losing Arkansas land deal was a Constitutional crisis. But that isn’t to say it didn’t happen. (This one is an example of a “consider the source” accuser.)

The point, with reference to Al Franken and liberals, is that we are now in an era when what was once secret is being laid out on the table for all to see and judge. I’ve voted for Franken twice, because he votes my interests, which I’ve always thought is the best reason to vote for anyone, not because I liked him personally. And if a full investigation concludes that this supposedly semi-comic groping kissing business was the full extent of this incident I’m inclined to vote for him again.

More to the point, the revelation about Franken, (and we already know about his coke-snorting days), comes in the early moments this “cultural moment.” There’s a lot more to come. You can feel it. And we’re seeing quite a range of skeezy behavior. Some far … far … more ugly than others.

I’ve been trying to imagine the frantic contacts and the amount of hush money that must be changing hands right this moment in every industry from Hollywood to Silicon Valley to to Detroit to Capitol Hill as famous men with a whole lot to lose, (think Bill O’Reilly’s $32 million), buy off the victims of their years of being an asshole.

 

Bad Boys, Dumb Boys, Roy Moore and our “Cultural Moment”

Is there a male alive today who doesn’t cringe at every new revelation of sexual misbehavior? God we look bad. Whether blatantly criminal, like Harvey Weinstein and Roy Moore, or farcically oafish, like GOP Rep. Tony Cornish here in Minnesota, the male “brand” is taking a brutal beating in this “cultural moment.”

And for the (very) most part that’s a good thing. We’re witnessing an astonishing outing of perverts, boors and dorks. It’s a comeuppance that is generations-to-centuries overdue. As I’ve said before, since we live under the minority rule of gun fetishists, we’re not going to do anything about our weekly assault rifle slaughters, so maybe all this attention being paid to male sexual/ego dysfunction will accomplish something positive.  (Clearly, the gun slaughter thing has been reduced to: A week of news coverage, “thoughts and prayers” and “let’s move on”.)

Having become a fan of Yuval Harari’s books on human evolution, I’ve been wondering how much of this predatory sexual behavior is a modern invention? And by “modern” I mean post-agricultural revolution?

Did adult males in our hunter-gatherer days lurk malevolently around adolescent girls — like a pervy Fred Flintstone at the Bedrock Mall — and force themselves on them against their will? Was violent rape a common occurrence?  Did sexual fantasies of power and domination control male behavior? Sexual interaction between males and females of “breeding age” was common. We know that. But what about the violence part? The literature I’ve seen recently is mixed, but trending to the belief that this twisted, contorted notion of male dominance is yet another example of a large percentage of the human population — most notably the males — failing to adapt to the exponential increase in population, competition and discordant cultural messages.

Pretty much every culture war issue can be broken down to a diminishment of the archetypal male role. Our big muscle skill set began to be less important to species survival when we stopped having to spear and wrestle mastodons to the ground. Likewise the need for us males to spread our seed to as many females as possible has been making less and less sense species survival-wise since we settled down to farming and began producing more off-spring than we could feed.

A friend the other day mentioned he was called into a faculty meeting at the college where he teaches. The topic? You guessed it. Sexual harassment in the work place, (and by extension everywhere else.) He correctly saw his role at that meeting as, “Shut up and listen.” The women had plenty of venting to do, and this is their time to do it. No mansplaining required or allowed. (It’s fascinating to see the level of passion coming from media women on political chat shows. They are truly seizing the moment to clue — men — into all the crap they’ve been putting up with since junior high but until now have quarantined to lunches with their girlfriends.)

There’s a worry among the usual retrograde types — Sean Hannity, Alabama Republicans, etc. — that not only are fine Suth’n gentlemen like Roy Moore being tarred without a trial — but every male is now going to be treated like a criminal pervert.

That of course is part and parcel of the usual hysteria from the perpetually aggrieved, a description the Trumpist right wears round their necks like a medieval scapular. With male attention — sought an unsought — playing as large a role in women’s lives as it does (the reverse being at least as true for men), I’m not too concerned “the gals” will have a hard time making out the qualitative difference between getting raped (Harvey Weinsten), preyed upon and groped (Roy Moore and Donald Trump), being shocked and disgusted (Louis CK), inappropriately seduced and abandoned (Bill Clinton), aggravated and annoyed (Tony Cornish) or semi-amused and filled with pity at the average guy’s generally clueless and clumsy come ons.

Women have made a science of male behavior. Think of us as simple, one-cell/one track paramecium being observed under a microscope. The Harveys and Roys and Louis of the world are no surprise to them. All that’s going on now is that evolution has ticked up a notch to where (western) women can say out loud and with less fear of male repercussion what they’ve been saying to each other for, mm, several thousand years.

 

 

What Did Bill O’Reilly Do to Give a Woman a $32 Million Pay-Off?

Let’s imagine for a moment what you would have to have done to pay another person $32 million to go away and forget the whole thing? I don’t know what it was, and Bill O’Reilly, as usual, is screaming “bull[bleep]” and claiming that he is the real victim. But if a pig like Harvey Weinstein was in the habit of tossing $150,000 of chicken feed to shut up women he sexually harassed, it’s reasonable to think O’Reilly is into “either a dead girl or a live boy” territory.

Says Debra Katz, a D.C. attorney in a Huffington Post story this morning,

” ‘This is unprecedented’, she said. ‘It’s a shocking figure’. The settlement, Katz said, indicates that O’Reilly ‘felt extremely exposed’. ‘There was obviously strong and compelling evidence that had to be of a very embarrassing nature that he did not want to become public, and that’s why he’s paying this extraordinary sum’, she said. ‘You don’t pay a $32 million settlement if you’ve engaged in no wrongdoing’.”

The astonishing boorish-to-criminal behavior of guys like O’Reilly and his boss Roger Ailes, a mob of other Fox executives, Weinstein, movie director James Toback, Bill Cosby, Roman Polanski and on and on (and on and on) may actually have ignited something that produces real change … just when you thought progress and improvement were quaint notions held only by sweet nattering aunts. The #metoo movement has the feel of a cathartic event that if it doesn’t put an end to O’Reilly/Weinstein-ism, (of course it won’t), will at least continue to embolden women (and their lawyers) to drop the hammer more often than they have in the past.

I mean, when the astonishing machine gun slaughter of 58 people at a music concert In Las Vegas rates only a week’s worth of attention, because no one expects anything to change, the power of so many women collectively calling out the arrogant, diseased-by-power dudes who regularly make their lives miserable seems a far better bet for forward movement.

But back to O’Reilly, and the toxic, consistently misogynistic culture promoted in the right-wing media environment. $32 million is the kind of money you pay to someone who has the kind of irrefutable proof of behavior so heinous it guarantees your existential ruin. Not murder, and maybe not actual rape, but … well there was the, um, unusual mention of O’Reilly sending the woman in question gay pornography. I have no statistics on how many desperate guys get anywhere with the women of their desires by impressing them with their gay porn collection, but I’m thinking it’s in the low single digits.

Bill O’Reilly unmasked as a bona fide bi-sexual/closeted gay predator would be really … really … tough on the macho, “No Spin” branding campaign, wouldn’t it?

Josh Harkinson at Mother Jones wrote a fascinating piece last winter that bored into the psychology of the target audience for FoxNews, O’Reilly and Trump. (A comment on Weinstein in a moment.)

“Revelations of Trump’s sexist comments and his bragging about grabbing women’s genitals only helped forge stronger ties between the racist and sexist wings of the alt-right. After the bombshell revelation of the Access Hollywood tape, Spencer said it was ‘ridiculous’ and ‘puritanical’ to call Trump’s behavior sexual assault, adding, ‘At some part of every woman’s soul, they want to be taken by a strong man’. Far-right blogger RamZPaul responded to the Trump tape by saying, ‘Girls really don’t mind guys that like pussies, they just hate guys who are pussies’.”

His colleague, Kevin Drum, quoted that graph and reacted to it saying,

“A big chunk of the alt-right is populated by social misfits who have been repeatedly rejected by women and are bitter about it. This makes them suckers for leaders who assure them they aren’t misfits. What’s really happening—and this can be a very beguiling story—is that women toy with them and laugh at them as part of a deliberate ploy to emasculate strong men and keep them from their rightful leadership positions. Because of this, a bitter resentment of women runs through almost every strain of the alt-right.

“I don’t know if the alt-right is a truly important new development or just a passing fad—a new name for a lot of the same old resentments that have been around forever. But to the extent the alt-right is important, it’s worth knowing how central this particularly toxic brand of sexism is to the whole movement—even if it doesn’t often get a lot attention. This is also why it’s not right to simply call them racists or neo-Nazis. A lot of them are indeed that, but they’re so, so much more.”

Hollywood’s Weinstein problem is bad. The movie/TV industry in general has too few qualms about relating masculinity to violence and selling sexual stereotypes marinated in a lot of pretty juvenile male fantasies. #metoo will have a tougher time adjusting corporate/studio calculations of “what the public wants”. But I’ll bet gross-pig behavior will get more immediate and louder blowback than before.

But toxic masculinity — based on victimhood, grievance and domination — is a staple of The O’Reilly Diet Plan. A staple so lucrative and satisfying Bill-O and “scores” of other boys at FoxNews apparently became addicted to it.

Which leads me to Steve Bannon. Given everything we know about this manifestly damaged, bitter personality, how long do you think before we find out what or who was dissolved in acid in his hot tub in Florida?

Bonus link: A (possibly bogus) site claims Bannon’s joint, (supposedly occupied by his third ex) was used to cook meth and shoot porn videos.

You want to say, “That’s crazy.” But with this crowd everything is plausible.

 

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?