The Need to Challenge Power
The Harvey Weinstein revelations shown a light on one of Hollywood’s dirty “open secrets” and kicked off a huge barrage of allegations against other stars. The ripples continued far beyond Hollywood to reveal a whole array of predators in business, politics, and in between.
The wary chalked the initial onslaught up to false allegations made by grudge holders and opportunists, even though allegations made through official channels are held to a very high standard making false allegations both exceedingly rare and very harshly punished, very harshly punished. But unless there is something seriously wrong with you, the sheer number of people affected is disturbing and upsetting.
In the aftermath, our conversation has been all about men and masculinity. And I get it. I do. What the #metoo movement has done well is show us how many women have been victimized in some form by men. If you spend any time at all on social media and have women in your friends list, especially women under a certain age, you can’t help but see how many of them are angry, afraid, and distrustful of men. And that needs to be addressed by everyone, including men.
But the conversation I’m not seeing is the conversation about power — and that is the conversation we need to have because that’s the only way to stop the Weinsteins of the world.
We need to talk about power because we’ve allowed ourselves to suffocate under a system of unfettered and unchecked power that has not only produced unprecedented inequality and suffering, but also created an entire class of people who believe they can do whatever they want to whomever they want. Our entire culture now so obsesses over and venerates these figures that as a whole, we’ve traded the future of our society for the false promise of someday sitting at the fancy table. Not to mention voting one into the office of president.
We need to talk about power because Harvey Weinstein knew he could get away with his crimes, he got away with his crimes, and he kept getting away with crimes because he had the power to get away with his crimes. The thing no one seems to have paid attention to is that Weinstein’s crimes were an: “open secret.” Seriously stop and think about that–OPEN SECRET. Consider exactly what that means–OPEN SECRET. Not an open secret among men, but an open secret amongst everyone in Hollywood. That means men, women, straight, gay, black, white, Asian, Latino, pick a type of person it doesn’t matter what you pick because everyone knew what was happening and no one fucking did anything and that's a failing of our society.
And why didn't anyone do anything? Power.
Weinstein pressured, harassed, and assaulted women because women were his thing and that was how he exercised his unchecked power. It could have just as easily been kids (like Jerry Sandusky or ex-Republican Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert). Or men (See Kevin Spacey). Or drugs. Or violence. Or hunting endangered animals (pick any number of rich, privileged assholes). Or humiliation. Or any number of other terrible and degrading things.
Part of this has to do with the very nature of capitalism. Forget whatever narrative you're telling yourself now about crony capitalism or whatever you want to call it, there is only capitalism and this is exactly how it function. It creates an extremely unequal relationship between persons, puts profits over people, and breeds suffering. This is doubly true of late capitalism when corporations have taken over the government like a parasite in order to cannibalizing our entire social safety net.
And it is a system that let’s predators thrive. It’s easier to prey upon another person if the predator can identify them as something lesser or there is something already one-sided about the relationship that gives a disproportionate amount of control to one party over the other. It’s why serial killers choose the victims they chose. Capitalism needs this power dynamic in order to function. This innate inequality found under capitalism becomes even greater when you dominate the industry your entire city runs on.
Make no mistake, one of the chief reasons why Weinstein’s depravity finally saw the light of day is because his stock fell and he stopped being the Guy.
It is for this exact reason that we saw the flood of accusations that followed — if accusations are finally sticking to the big dog…And this is why you need to understand that if Weinstein were still making the big deals and rolling out the hits, he’d still be assaulting women and no one would be doing anything. (Look how quickly all the allegations against Bryan Singer and Joss Whedon vanished.)
This inequality gets notched up again when the different systems of power bleed together and the checks on that power are stripped away. This is why a head of an industry can freely dominate his company, his town, local politics, federal politics, and international events. It’s why no one blinks anymore when a business CEO who was appointed to a governmental position to regulate and police their own industry, leaves their appointment to return to the very industry they stripped of oversight. It’s why you see journalists who socializing freely with the very people they’re supposed to be objectively covering. It’s why journalists don’t even recuse themselves when their spouse works for the people they’re supposed to be covering. It’s why NBC tried its damnest to bury the Weinstein story. And it’s why Weinstein got away with being a monster for as long as he did.
Over two hundred and forty years ago we fought a war based on the radical notion that we do not need kings or nobles, and now we’ve allowed a new noble class to arise. We’ve allowed immense wealth, power, and, in many cases, political offices to pass along family lines. And we shower these people with adoration as if it was their own hard work that got them born to the right family, all mostly for the hollow promise that someday we may have some immense success of our own, built on the backs of our brothers and sisters. And this is a class that looks out for each other — not you, not me, not us but each other. Weinstein donated big money to the Democrats. You think they were clueless as to the nature of their benefactor? This was an open secret, remember?
Let’s stop for a moment and consider why people don’t do bad things? At the most basic level, there’s the internal, right? I’m talking about that combination of a person’s conscience and the nature/nurture cocktail which produces someone who actively considers right and wrong, considers other people, and whose behavior is naturally checked by feelings of guilt/remorse.
The next level is all consequence. And it’s a big level because not only are there people who have no conscience at all, but, as human beings, we have the ability to rationalize and justify anything. But it is this fear of consequence that keeps a lot of people in check. The consequence can come from a higher power, parents, friends, society, law enforcement, losing some kind of standing, or be purely monetary. In most causes, for most people, it’s some combination of those working together.
But for this class we’ve allowed to arise, there is no consequence from anyone or anywhere. And without consequence these people do whatever they want.
Harvey Weinstein harassed, groped, demeaned, and assaulted women for years and no one did anything because he made the studio gob tons of money, he was in charge of a machine that bestowed money, power, and fame. We cannot use the very structures that allow monsters with no conscience to hold power to reign those monsters in. You cannot use the structures who by their very existence kept these men in positions where they answered to no one and faced no consequences to prevent them from exercising their worst desires. So capitalism will not stop this. The magic angels of the free market will not stop this. Capitalism functions on profit. Profit over people. Profit over morals. Profit over happiness.
You see this time and time again. When a corporation does actually fire one of their long-time predators, the firing comes only out of corporate self interest and only when the cost of keeping that asshole outweighs the amount of profit the monster generates for the company. This is why Bill O’Reilly was able to remain at Fox so long despite the company shelling out millions a year to buy off his victim’s silence.
Have you read the horror stories of the people who worked for Weinstein? If not, you should. Because Weinstein did not make any of this happen on his own. He wasn’t the monster born in our popular consciousness and gritty entertainment, lurking in the bushes, stalking women quietly, and planning a blitzkrieg attack. He wore a suit and worked in a office and had power lunches and forced his assistants to make hotel reservations for his sexual assaults.
One of the seldom talked about reasons there is such push from on-high to keep wages stagnant, health care virtually unaffordable, and college something you’ll be paying off for the rest of your life isn’t because any of those things are unworkable or destroy the economy–it’s because those things keep you quiet, they keep you compliant. They keep you working at a job that treats you like shit. They keep you working for a boss who’s an outright monster. And they're part of a culture that tells you to keep you mouth shut and be thankful you have a job.
If you and I are on equal footing, then there is reason for us to work out our conflicts in ways that benefit us both. Not so in capitalism. The history of the labor in the United States is often downplayed or outright forgotten -- especially as it concerns women. But every right you have as a worker, someone fought for, someone bled for, and someone died for–including the right not to be abused, groped, or assaulted. Those were not given to you out of the kindness of the boss’s heart. They were not brought about by a liberal sprinkling of free market fairy dust. Those were not won by a hastag or a seminar on how to improve administrative practices.
Everyone in Hollywood failed these women but none moreso than SAG-AFTRA. One of the main causes that drew women to labor unions, and even saw the creation of women only labor unions (like the Lowell Female Labor Reform Association in the 1840s), was to make known and specifically enforce a woman’s right to work without being harassed, groped, or assaulted by her supervisor or coworkers. But because of the system we have in place, because of the power we've allowed to be removed from the hands of the people, because of our blind adoration for the wealthy and our corporate paymasters, the monsters do whatever they want.
So, yes, we do need to be talking about masculinity. But the real conversation should be about power, because the only way for us to not fail more women, more children, and more men is to challenge power.
* Originally appeared at Disinformation.com