Oliver Goodman, Managing Editor, JHU:
“I’m not a good guy,” Louis CK mumbles into a microphone, pacing around the stage with his left hand in his pocket and his head tilted forlornly at the ground. “I wish I was a good guy. I like the idea of being a good guy,” he continues, setting up a raucously funny, and all-too-relatable skit about shirking responsibility. For years, Louis CK acted as the everyman comic, making painfully self-deprecating humor the center of his wildly popular standup and darkly funny television series. The fact that he, like so many other powerful men in Hollywood, used his status and prominence to sexually exploit women came as a surprise to many. It should not have.
The Harvey Weinstein scandal may have been an eye-opener for many, but look beneath the surface and the pattern of sexual assault in the media becomes all too noticeable. In the month since the Weinstein allegations broke, stars in the media from Kevin Spacey and Ben Affleck to Sepp Blatter and Oliver Stone have been accused of sexual assault in one form or another. Gossip Girl star Ed Westwick is accused of raping another actress. Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman is accused of groping a 17-year-old.
The pattern that has emerged is both terrifying and unsurprising. Weinstein had clauses in his contract stipulating fines he had to pay per sexual assault allegation. The normalcy of this predatory behavior has been taken for granted in Hollywood, and the public is only now catching on. But even though the public has been shown glimpses of the truth—there has been reluctance to acknowledge it.
On October 7th, 2016 the Washington Post released recordings of then-candidate Donald Trump bragging about using his role as Miss Universe pageant-owner and host of The Apprentice to make sexual advances on women. Confronted about this tape in a live debate, Mr. Trump dismissed the recording as “locker room talk,” and assured the millions watching that this recording did not represent his personal character or attitude towards women. A month later he was elected president.
Had the news that Weinstein—a critically acclaimed producer and massive democratic donor—was a sexual predator with four decades of offenses under his belt broken a year earlier, the American public might have perceived the Access Hollywood recording in a very different light. In fact, when presented in tandem with allegations against Roger Ailes, the former president of Fox News; Bill O’Reilly, the former host; and Mark Halperin, the famed NBC political reporter, Mr. Trump’s statements fall into a devastatingly familiar pattern of powerful men in the media exploiting their younger, less influential colleagues.
It is unacceptable to view Mr. Trump’s comments or any other allegations as isolated incidents. The culture fostered by Hollywood and media elites is clearly one of sexual deviance without a hint of accountability. The fact that we, as the American public, saw a candidate for the highest office in the land propagate that culture, and promptly dismissed it, is a sign of how much more work there is to be done.
If the American people were able to place the tape of Mr. Trump in a nexus of power imbalance and sexual abuse, perhaps his remarks would not have been dismissed by so many. In a sickening twist of irony, sexual assault allegations suspended Kevin Spacey from the Netflix hit show House of Cards. It turns out that even the most conniving and immoral on-screen political figures face weaknesses President Trump seems immune to.
Sexual assault is too prevalent an issue in American culture for its worst offenders to be canonized. We cannot excuse moral deficiency in the interest of good art. Harvey Weinstein was the tip of a massive, horrifying iceberg, whose true form has yet to be uncovered. Hollywood is broken– but it is far from the only place. Powerful men across a litany of industries have treated their workplaces as unsupervised sexual playgrounds for decades.
Change is coming. Slowly but surely these abuses will be brought to the surface and, when they do, they must be condemned, not rationalized. I was surprised by Louis CK. His relatability, his humor, his disarming affect—they painted a picture of compassionate public figure, a harmless comic. I was surprised by Louis CK—I shouldn’t have been.