Harvey Weinstein is the latest. But he isn’t the last.
The news that Weinstein, a prominent movie producer and one of Hollywood’s biggest power players, is at the very least a serial sexual harasser of women and at worst a multiple rapist has been met with varied reactions. It’s not exactly shocking; Weinstein has long been rumored to be one of the most dangerous predators in an industry that was practically built on casting-couch exploitation. His influence and wealth protected him for decades, and those who had the courage or resources to avoid working with him were few and far between. But we live in a time when the traditional ways sexual abusers had of hiding or normalizing their crimes are beginning to fall away, and while he may escape actual punishment, his career is already in tatters, and some of his closest allies (and, let’s be frank, beneficiaries) are rushing to distance themselves from the poison that is his name.
Like many before him — the names Woody Allen and Bill Cosby are beginning to be paired with his, a lucky break to the dozens of corporate executives who made their millions in anonymous business — Weinstein probably won’t serve any time in jail for rape. The reason why isn’t hard to figure out; he’s rich, and the rich are very rarely made to answer for their sins in a way that’s hard. Even if someone presses charges against him, and the fact that no one ever did before is very much attributable to his enormous wealth, he can easily buy his way out of punishment, or at the very least litigate the charges endlessly with expensive lawyers. He will probably die a free man, while millions rot in prison for the crime of being less connected and having fewer powerful friends.
Wealth alone, though, cannot buy a man his freedom and reputation for so long. What that takes is the concentration of wealth with wealth, of power with power, in their own mutual defense. One of the most frustrating things about life in a capitalist economy is that the rich have always understood the concept of class solidarity far better than the poor, and you can always be assured that they will snap to the defense of one of their own the moment any questioning begins. This doesn’t happen without the persistence influence and dedicated efforts of an organized body that actively works to insure that any harm they inflict on the rest of us is subordinated to the prevention of harm to themselves. This is the essence of the game: the game must be protected no matter how badly the players misbehave. And most of all, it depends on the cooperation and sustained support of the media class, whose jobs depend on the good will of their beneficiaries. We can talk all we want about the freedom of the press and the sacrosanct nature of journalism, but so long as their jobs depend on the largess of an ownership class without whom they cannot survive, they are worth only as much as their class loyalties — and those do not lie with their victims.
Whatever you perceive, in this country, to be ‘authority’ — big business, government officials, the military, the police, cultural elites — you can rest assured that any time they engage in any kind of bad behavior, they will be instantly subjected to a brutal campaign of media scrutiny. In fact, calling it ‘scrutiny’ gives it a legitimacy it does not deserve; what we are speaking of is nothing more than a prolonged propaganda effort whose purpose is to crush the whole notion of resistance to, or even responsibility from, the people in power. Have you been raped by a powerful producer? Then it must be asked before the whole world why you didn’t speak before, or why you didn’t just quit the movie business, or whether or not you knew about his bad reputation. Have you been murdered by a policeman? Then we all must know how you dressed, how you acted, whether or not you had even a whiff of a criminal record. Have you been wronged in one of a million ways by a wealthy corporation? Then your financial situation, your personality, your associations, and everything about you must be constantly called into question. It doesn’t matter how badly you got fucked; all that matters is that you are the threat. Nothing that was done to you could possibly be worse than the danger that you pose for giving the game away. And as long as the rules of the game are allowed to remain, the outcome will never change, and all we will see is an occasional change in the players. You are not indispensable to the outcome, so you can be minimized, or ignored, or even destroyed.
It is shocking how complete is the illusion that some people are immune from this treatment. Wealth and fame, maleness and heterosexuality, even whiteness cannot fully protect against it; the gutters and graves of American history are littered with the bodies of people who thought the system was on their side until they saw or experienced the one thing they simply could not abide. They spoke up, thinking their participation in the system would shield them from the backlash. But they were wrong. They will always be wrong. They will always be the ones who stand agape, wondering why their names were dragged through the muck when all they wanted to do was expose a rapist; why their child is being called a thug and a lowlife when all they wanted to do was demand justice; why they’re being dragged off of an airplane when all they wanted was to buy their ticket and take their ride. The only way to ride, though, is in silence and compliance. It is defiance against the whole show, or it is nothing. The system will never consider you more importance than itself. It happened to them. I will happen to you.