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Culture

Is Bashing Hollywood’s Hypocrisy a Sufficient Response to a Scandal?

From the first Morning Jolt of the week:

Two Cheers for Oprah Winfrey

Look, I enjoy bashing hypocrisy as much as the next guy. But is bashing hypocrisy a sufficient response to a scandal?

Last night, Hollywood held the Golden Globe Awards, and with almost everyone dressed in black, the hosts and winners and audience tried to grapple with the scandal in its own sometimes narcissistic, sometimes self-congratulatory, sometimes-off-key way. Yes, it’s likely that a significant portion of the people in the room knew about the “open secret” of Harvey Weinstein – and/or heard the rumors about Kevin Spacey, and Louis CK, and numerous other figures in the industry. Maybe there was some guilt behind that fancy black attire and the “Time’s Up” pins.

But does being insufferably smug mean that anything they said about the need to end sexual harassment wasn’t… you know, right and true? If “hypocrisy is a tribute vice pays to virtue”… doesn’t it still mean something that virtue deserves that tribute? If you want to scoff, “oh, Hollywood was always notorious for the ‘casting couch’”… Yes, it was, but what if the women (and some men) of Hollywood want that unsavory tradition to end? If there’s an effort to reform a corrupt institution, should we on the outside applaud or snicker that it will never change?

If you want to say their words are insufficient, fine. It would be nice to see Asia Argento, Mira Sorvino, and other women who had their careers derailed by Weinstein to start getting some jobs again.

This morning, quite a few people are buzzing about Oprah Winfey’s speech, and speculating whether it’s a veiled indication of presidential ambitions. John Podhoretz revved up the bandwagon about this a while back. I doubt it; she’s no doubt heard similar cries throughout her career, and one has to wonder if she wants to spend 2019 to whenever getting briefings on the throw-weights of intercontintental ballistic missiles.

From Winfrey’s speech:

I want to thank the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. We know the press is under siege these days. We also know it’s the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice. To—to tyrants and victims, and secrets and lies. I want to say that I value the press more than ever before as we try to navigate these complicated times, which brings me to this: what I know for sure is that speaking your truth is the most powerful tool we all have. And I’m especially proud and inspired by all the women who have felt strong enough and empowered enough to speak up and share their personal stories. Each of us in this room are celebrated because of the stories that we tell, and this year we became the story.

If you feel like the line “the insatiable dedication to uncovering the absolute truth that keeps us from turning a blind eye to corruption and to injustice” is an attack on Trump… well, that says something about how you see Trump.

A couple people object to the wording, “speaking your truth” as opposed to “speaking the truth.” If Oprah means that as a full-throated endorsement of relativism, that “truth and falsity, right and wrong, standards of reasoning, and procedures of justification are products of differing conventions and frameworks of assessment and that their authority is confined to the context giving rise to them” – then yes, she’ll deserve the criticism she will get.

But did she mean it that way, or is “speaking your truth” another wording for “trusting your instincts”? Picture working or living in an environment where certain behaviors that strike you as wrong are widely accepted. Imagine, say, a loose, laid-back working environment where profanity or “your momma” jokes are common. Or teasing that is supposedly “just having fun” but doesn’t feel fun for the target of the teasing at all. As I noted, everyone who encountered and worked with Weinstein considered him to be a violently tempered, verbally abusive egomaniac who enjoyed humiliating subordinates.

The consensus “truth” of the workplace is that these behaviors are acceptable and do no real harm, but our “truth” – maybe those quotation marks should be removed – is that it is not acceptable and does violate some aspect of our social code.

Now, perhaps “speaking our truth” isn’t always the most powerful weapon we have. (Confronted with a home invader, I’d rather have a Smith & Wesson than the power of speaking my truth.) But I think Oprah’s point is that standing up for what we know to be true and right can be powerful, because it can inspire others to do the same, until the intolerable is genuinely no longer tolerated.

Look, we’re conservatives. We’re supposed to believe in propriety and decency and manners and decorum, all of that old-fashioned stuff that allegedly makes us “squares,” prudes, “bluenoses” and Bourgeoisie Babbitts. Whether or not we’ve ever felt sexually harassed, we no doubt know what it feels like to be outsiders, to feel rejected or derided because we don’t live up to other people’s expectations of what we should be. We’re the uncool folks that the cool comedians mock, and maybe, just maybe, the fallout from the Weinstein scandal is pushing our society to grapple with the long-simmering unspoken cultural consensus that being “cool” excuses bad behavior.

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