Harvey Weinstein: two narratives

The Harvey Weinstein scandal has given rise to two main narratives. One is favored by conservative, one by liberals.

Conservatives say the scandal shows that Hollywood is morally corrupt and in no position to preach to America. This is a big deal for conservatives because Hollywood is major player not just in the resistance to President Trump, but in the demonizing of conservatives generally and even center-right Republicans.

It’s easy to forget that Hollywood went after George W. Bush almost as viciously as it now attacks Trump. If Americans cease to take Hollywood seriously as a moral force and political arbiter, the benefits to conservatives will be enormous and lasting.

To be sure, the misdeeds of one man, however disgusting or even criminal, aren’t enough to harm Hollywood substantially. But the scandal isn’t just about Weinstein’s misdeeds. It is also about Hollywood’s complicity — about an ecosystem full of accomplices who assisted him and an industry that knew about his behavior but wrote it off as “Harvey being Harvey.”

Nor is the news about Weinstein likely to be the end of the story. Other major Hollywood players have already been accused of similar sorts of abuse. There is more to come, almost certainly.

The bigger the blow to Hollywood, the better for conservatives.

Liberals, especially feminists, are promoting a different Weinstein lesson. They want to use this scandal to revive and heighten concern about sexual harassment in the workplace.

Victim status is the coin of the realm for leftists. Lately, with all of the Black Lives Matter nonsense, women have not held their own in the victim sweepstakes. This is true mainly of white women, but even black women seem like second class citizens when it comes to Black Lives Matter because they tend not to have violent encounters with the police and are not incarcerated at anything close to the rate black males are.

The Weinstein/Hollywood scandal provides the opportunity for feminists to reclaim major victim status for women. To do so, they must argue that the problem of sexual harassment extends well beyond Hollywood, into employment relationships in all sectors.

The argument is true, up to a point. Sexual harassment remains a serious problem in the work place. Harvey Weinstein is a monster, but an all too human one. Conservatives would be fools to argue that this type of man is a stranger to power, and its exploitation for gratification through women, in ordinary work relationships. Nor is anything to be gained by such an argument.

But much will be lost if the left is able to portray the Weinstein/Hollywood scandal as typical of what goes on throughout the working world. If Hollywood is seen as just like many other industries when it comes to sexual harassment, its moral authority may not erode much. Thus, the left will seek to use the feminist narrative to limit the damage the Weinstein scandal threatens to impose on perhaps its most treasured power center.

In fact, however, the Hollywood exposed by the Weinstein scandal is a special case. I have litigated sexual harassment cases, advised corporations about the issue, contributed a chapter to a book about the law of sexual harassment, and read (I’m guessing) a few thousand court decisions in which harassment was alleged.

I can think of a few cases where an executive was accused of acting as viciously as Weinstein over a period of years. But I can’t think of any in which the behavior was condoned on such a widespread scale — one that went beyond a single employer to penetrate an entire industry — much less condoned so broadly for decades.

Quid pro quo sexual harassment — where a boss demands sexual favors in exchange for a job, promotion, raise, or assignment — can occur in any employment setting. But in Hollywood it occurs frequently enough to give rise to an industry-specific term — “casting couch.” That term captures not just the widespread existence of the phenomenon, but the extent to which it is accepted.

Conservatives must therefore insist that Hollywood is different. It’s an easy argument to make, both in general and with regard to the case at hand.

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