Sunday, October 15, 2017
Deconstructing Harvey Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein sounds like a dog or a pig.
According to media accounts, he wielded his immense Hollywood power to manipulate, sexually abuse, even sexually assault women.
He definitely conjures up canine- and porcine-like images.
And yet, while Weinstein quivers in his Arizona “rehabilitation” facility, the broader culture faces risk by solely vilifying him.
Weinstein’s infamy, splattered over print and broadcast news alike, represents, in part, the psychoanalytic concept of projection. The abused women, the outraged public, and even many of his colleagues focus their ire onto him. He has been fired from his own corporation. He was banned from the motion picture academy. His legal expenses will hit stratospheric proportions. He may well never work in Hollywood again.
What’s the risk of projection?
Weinstein’s entertainment colleagues, as well as the rest of us, may evacuate our dark places into Weinstein.
We might successfully consider the problem as existing only outside of us.
In truth, Weinstein’s loathsome behavior represents an extremely complex problem involving biology, psychology, culture, history, and more. We are all involved.
Starting with biology, Ken Wilber, a contemporary American philosopher, once described testosterone as eliciting the cognitive narrative,
Fuck it or kill it.
Men, particularly younger men, are tortured by their sexual drives. I personally consider its lessening the only positive benefit of aging. It is liberating to feel the gradual lessening of the agony caused by testicular chemicals.
Alongside the powerful biology of male sex hormones lies the corrupting effects of power. The psychological effects of power have been written and spoken about since the Pre-Socratic philosophers. Greek and Roman writers observed its corrupting influence in their own leaders. Their political writings influenced the authors of the constitution of the United States. The US presidency, for example, mimics a monarchy in many ways—except for checks and balances intended to constrict its power from corruption.
Sadly, Weinstein manifests the testosterone combined with the power—in a big, dangerous way.
What about cultural influences? Weinstein weakly suggested that his behavior represents the culture of the era of his childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.
It could be true.
Until the early 20th century, women were still considered chattel in most of the world. During the 1960s when Weinstein grew up, he probably lived in a household where women performed the housekeeping chores and men worked. An improvement from the 19th century, for sure, but women were still regularly objectified, demeaned, and diminished.
Weinstein probably accurately complains about cultural influences of his early days in Hollywood. The culture there likely lit up his own internalized one in bright, neon colors. It may provide answers to other relevant questions:
Why didn’t other men speak up earlier?
Several male actors, producers, directors and other men in the industry—well-known to all of us—have also only recently raised their voices in concern.
And why have most women only spoken up since Weinstein’s fall?
Because the culture of the entertainment industry proclaims:
Don’t mess with a success like Weinstein.
Another contributing factor—possibly leading to my own public execution— concerns the way some women played into the culture. Undoubtedly—and here comes the dangerous part—some may have played into the sexual game themselves.
Likely the “casting couch” is a male creation, but how many women consciously made use of it? If they did, they were also influenced by the same dynamic arrays of variables just noted. Nonetheless, they represent part of the problem, if only a small one.
The cultural factors intermix with the historical ones. According to art historian Camille Paglia, some of the earliest cultures were dominated by women. Their warmth emanated a form of power all by itself. And then, she argues, men came into prominence as they left women and children in the comfort of caves while they hunted, gathered, killed game, or otherwise supported their dependents.
Let’s jump centuries forward:
Until the industrial revolution, most families remained together. Afterwards—and now we’re talking just two centuries ago—men travelled to villages, towns, then cities to work, providing ample opportunities for seducing women while their wives labored at home. The objectification of women spread from the home to the workplace to the culture at large.
Thankfully, the culture has radically changed. When I was a kid in the 1960s, hardly any of my mother’s friends worked. Now, some 80 percent of American women work outside the home.
However, that change has occurred in only one generation.
It’s still new, brand new.
In the final analysis, while we go about stringing Weinstein up, excommunicating him from the world, and ruining him financially, we might make sure we look at ourselves in the mirror.
Are we entirely free of sexism?
Do we never use sexuality, male or female, gay or transgendered, in a manipulative fashion?
Do we never abuse whatever power we may have?
In case you want to crucify me—and I have witnessed several academics suffer similar fates for much more benign behaviors than Weinstein’s—please consider the enormously complex context of these abusive behaviors. Consider also:
I am in no way excusing Weinstein’s behavior.
It is inexcusable.
I hope that we inhabitants of the earth, and even the few billion who consume motion-picture artistry, never forget the many complex causative factors leading to the Weinstein phenomenon including:
All of us.
Paglia, C. (1990). Sexual personae: art and decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Wilber, K. (2000). A brief history of everything. Boston: Shambala.
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