“More Like This, Please”: How Good People Perpetuate Rape Culture
Early American slavery wasn’t a tragedy simply because it was a societal evil. That was bad enough. What made matters worse was that so many good people did nothing to stop it—probably in part because it is uncomfortable to confront such a pervasive and culturally-ingrained practice. And yet, the silence of good people, in order to avoid discomfort, spoke volumes to those enslaved—not only to their discomfort, but to their humiliation—and, in many cases, to their death. For too long, too many in society just didn’t care—or, at the very least, didn’t care enough.
In light of that reality, read the following 2017 quote from Sarah Polley:
The only thing that shocked most people in the film industry about the Harvey Weinstein story was that suddenly, for some reason, people seemed to care. That knowledge alone allowed a lot of us to breathe for the first time in ages.
That is a heartbreaking statement. Whereas a majority of us were shocked by what Harvey Weinstein had done over the years, those within the filmmaking industry were not shocked—not by the revelations, anyway. No, the shock experienced in Hollywood was a shock of relief: people actually seemed to care about the plight of actors. Instead of blithe indifference, there seemed to be a rising cultural awareness—and outrage. The feeling of not being left alone to fend for themselves led many actors to “breathe for the first time in ages.”
Shame on us as a society for letting such a dehumanizing evil perpetuate for so long. Even now, several years after Weinstein’s downfall, a decent amount of that societal outrage has faded away. According to an article published just last year in The Hollywood Reporter, there’s been a lot of talk about change, but not a lot of action taken:
Authentic Talent & Literary Management founder and CEO Jon Rubinstein, whose company reps Brie Larson and Vera Farmiga, says abuses continue to be rampant. “Mostly, where you get into trouble is where a producer or director approaches an actress directly on a set and asks for something that wasn’t negotiated,” says Rubinstein. “It’s, ‘Look, the whole crew wants to go home. It’s midnight. We’re all exhausted. We just have to get this one last shot. The way that we’ve been doing it isn’t working. Can you drop the towel?’ Or, ‘That shirt doesn’t look right, why don't you just lose it?’ Then suddenly you’re standing there and you’ve got 20 people waiting for you, and you go, ‘Ugh, fine.’ That happens all the time.”
Scenarios like those above happen “all the time.” Not just now and again, not just once in a blue moon. All. The. Time. Weinstein’s reputation may have long since been placed in a body bag, but his legacy is alive and breathing heavily. Not much systemic change has taken place yet.
Why is that?
(QUITE) A FEW GOOD MEN
To provide at least a partial answer, let me quote a saying (likely from 20th century Reverend Charles F. Aked) that has since been modified: “It has been said that for evil men to accomplish their purpose it is only necessary that good men should do nothing.”
I would venture that most of us who have paid to watch entertainment with sex scenes and nudity haven’t done so out of a desire to hurt anyone. Nevertheless, our patronage places us in a worse position than what Reverend Aked described: we haven’t just done nothing (i.e., standing by while evil men accomplish their purposes). No, we have actively—and likely inadvertently—supported the purposes of evil men. As I wrote several years ago:
When we financially support entertainment that treats humans like objects, we are perpetuating the sexualized culture we say we deplore. My guess is that, because it’s often hard to see how “A” eventually leads to “X,” we think little of doing “A,” even if we abhor “X.” We may complain about the objectification of women (and men) in our culture. We may complain about how movies are ruined by sex scenes and gratuitous nudity. But if we then turn around and financially support that culture, we are perpetuating the very immorality we decry.
Ours is a conspiracy of ignorance. Not a malicious conspiracy, and not even an intentional conspiracy. But a conspiracy nonetheless. Our ignorance and apathy may not be at the level of Weinstein’s pointed and perverse perpetrations, but that is little consolation to numerous actors in the industry who are still being abused—including those who were, just a couple years ago, “allowed…to breathe for the first time in ages.” Has that collective breath been siphoned out of their lungs? It appears likely.
It is not enough for us to bemoan and decry objectification while actively contributing to it. (To hijack Shakespeare: the patrons doth protest too much, methinks.) If our protestations are accompanied by patronage, actors and directors and producers and studios discern only one message: “we support this.”
Or, as film critic Scott Renshaw recently put it (about a different, but still applicable, topic), “Hit movies will only ever tell studios one thing: ‘More like this, please.’” We may condemn immoral practices with our lips, but our actions communicate acceptance—even support. Our pocketbooks often contradict our professed beliefs.
And while we virtue signal to alleviate our consciences, with our lifestyles remaining unaffected, we leave it to actors to pay the real price: a violation of their privacy, their dignity, their sexuality, and often their agency.