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Friday, 17 November 2017

Thoughts on Sex Crimes

I'll write about quite a lot of things. You might say that I write about anything that pops into my head until it pops out of my head. Take my last post... Word tells me that clocks in at 4004 words. That's quite a lot. I chuck it on Medium (oh, yeah, I have a Medium account) and it's 16 minutes reading time! Something I don't like talking about is rape. Or related topics like sexual assault (which may or may not be the same thing), sexual harassment and so on. I just don't. It's a heavy topic. And sure I'll happily talk about genocide (not that I have here) but it's just different. The thing is that I do sometimes have opinions about such matters. Here's something I wrote on Medium in response to a post entitled, "What it's like to watch a Harvey Weinstein movie now":
Harvey Weinstein is better known now than he ever was before: that’s how. Producers are nobodies and nothings. They are just more names you don’t really read in the credits.
Of course, in the creation of the film they have a bigger role but this is also true of stunt doubles. The trouble is that producers are much easier to replace than stunt doubles as it doesn’t matter what a producer looks like.
As to the question of what to do when you realise that you know who the “stunt doubles” were in a film? I agree it is difficult to not view the movie as some lasting representation of an event (whether harassment or assault). The film isn’t. Whether or not it is actually possible to convince oneself of this is another question, of course, but it’s a way forwards. Another is to remember that Hitler ate sugar… i.e. a product isn’t bad because of who uses or who made it.
I'm going to briefly touch on the same theme here... how to think about Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis CK's body of work in a post-allegations world.

The Allegations

There's a thing that happens in a certain kind of plot. Usually it involves teachers being accused of paedophilia. In the good ones the teacher didn't actually do anything and all the allegations arise from misinterpreted incidents. Often the children are convinced into believing that harmless acts were otherwise by parents who, understandably, are really just trying to look out for them. I'm not sure how often this really happens, but you can see how it could happen. And this sort of thinking creates a certain amount of uncertainty or even disbelief about allegations of this kind in general. It's even worse when the accused is a wealthy man and the accused are women... there's a certain narrative people have in their heads about rape accusations which is disturbingly similar to gold digging. I don't think it applies with Weinstein, Spacey and that other guy... not least of which because they've kind of confessed (but, hey, so did a certain ex-television host).

What's going on in these school plots is that you're not dealing with independent situations. These plots are about single communities and involve people who know each other, often quite well. Forgetting the other guy for now, with Weinstein and Spacey we're talking about years worth of events and different continents. All these allegations are coming out now for one simple reason: when the first emerges you give confidence to the other victims. And maybe some of them use inappropriate terminology or believe things like sexual assault to be attempted rape but I suspect a lot of the time that's because lawyers don't use normal language. How do you fault them for that? Unfairly. But it is why trial by media is a piss poor process. And it's probably one reason I largely avoid these conversations. The important thing to note, I think, is the amount of independence we can assume on the part of the victims (obviously we may infer behavioural similarity between the accused in one instance and in another).

Also, why I am on the broader subject, I am forever disturbed by the Campus Rape stuff that comes out of the US. Universities are a completely inappropriate forum/entity/medium to investigate rape cases (or other criminal cases). Their staff may make sense as people to whom a crime is reported but the whole system needs to make cases end up in the hands of the professionals as soon as possible, i.e. the police. And if the US is that worried about the integrity of their cops? Well, that's where you bring in the FBI. Similarly, it is disingenuous to suggest that the universities are simply dealing with matters of their codes of conduct. They're not. They are defaming individuals at worst and, at best, are achieving correct outcomes, i.e. societal recognition of a rapist as a rapist, from inappropriate measures. You wouldn't accept it if the universities were teaching physics papers with sociologist PhDs (or vice versa) so you shouldn't accept it when these universities basically ask randoms off the street to determine if rapes occurred.

Interpreting the Work

Firstly, let's mention what prompted this post, i.e. a Spinoff article entitled, "We should have had a problem with Louis CK long before now." The author doesn't like Louis CK. Well, I go further. To me he is an unperson. Louis CK is just a meme from the internet. He's like Bad Luck Brian except Bad Luck Brian has had an actual impact on my life. Louis CK is a nobody. A nothing. I'd piss on his grave, but it wouldn't register as being a name were I to walk by. I will now return to ignoring Louis CK as I have done my entire life up until this point. If you care about Louis CK's work in any way... well, you're doing something wrong with your life.

Harvey Weinstein is, as I indicated on Medium, an interesting question. Obviously, as a producer, there is some pretty well known stuff that he's been involved with... I believe Shakespeare in Love (a film I have seen at least bits of) is one such example. The trouble is, as a producer, I am clearly not convinced the dude was really that well known. And, as a producer, he was never really that important. An invisible presence, I think. But I do know who Jerry Bruckheimer is so maybe I would have recognised the name Harvey Weinstein three months ago. On the other hand, I have literally seen Bruckheimer's name hundreds of times because he is a big producer of television too. That might make a difference in terms of their notability. Anyway, I think it is at least theoretically possible to distance the Weinstein claims from any associated media. I think that is hard, but it is something we ought to do. And maybe it's time "produced by" went the way of "colour by Technicolor"... still there but now literally the last thing in the film's credits.

With Kevin Spacey things get really difficult. Spacey's been quite a few films that I have seen... The Negotiator (very good film), Pay it Forward (apparently under-rated... it's watchable Oscarbait), K-Pax (good) and some other things too (e.g. the House of Cards remake... not a scratch on the original). As someone who is convinced by the allegations (and, hey, what the hell kind of treatment is he receiving anyway?) this poses a difficult question. It is not possible to not see Spacey. People go on about how great he is at acting but to be honest those three films' characters aren't as dissimilar as you'd expect (they're certainly more similar than the Walking Dead and Toy Story and people compare them). I'm not sure if any of Spacey's films are associated with the acts in the same way Weinstein's are, but if they are the representation thing is much harder to ignore. With Spacey (and allegations involving actors in general... especially the good ones*) it's really difficult to actually live up to what you're saying when you tell yourself, "The film is not the act and the actor is just a talking head". So difficult, in fact, that if I were the investors involved in All the Money in the World, I'd want to protect my investment to the extent of having another actor come in... just like what happened (also, Christopher Plummer is brilliant in The Pink Panther Returns).

Concluding Remarks

I personally think that rape cases should work on the basis of blanket immunity. There isn't really a public interest in knowing someone has been accused. As I have indicated I believe that people reinterpret events in light of new information. That is an entirely reasonable thing to do. The loss of publicity breaking down auras of "there is no way I could accuse them" is lost, but it's gained back by knowing that you, as the complainant, have anonymity on your side. A case can go very far like that. Or, anyway, it should be able to.

This idea of anonymity does raise some questions about what I've done here today. And it does beg the question of what happens when a victim comes out in public. I read once a piece where the author described being raped. I know that author. Not that well, but well enough. It is a terrible burden. Particularly because it's really hard to try and alleviate oneself of that burden by complaining. In light of the event it's so trivial and childish. Until now I've resisted the temptation. But I rather suspect that you could see some of the things I have written as being in somewhat the same vein. Especially given my lack of specifics and oscillating focus... is this about sex crimes in general? the cases of Spacey and Weinstein? the artistic questions raised by those cases? have I talked too much about rape and accidentally been reductionist in my treatment? This paragraph exists to tell you that there are problems here at the meta level. It also tells you about the ones I know about.

Awful things happen. I feel a bit bad about them. Life has an unfortunate tendency to go on, but what people tend to miss is that it's never exactly the same again. Weinstein and Spacey might yet make it back, but remember Mel Gibson was only infamous for saying horrible things... I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to learn about the other stuff but even so. Remember Roman Polanski is almost best known for being that rapist director. He might be free. He might still get work. But everyone knows. That's something.


* Although as the Johnny Depp case shows (and note I don't really take those allegations as being the whole truth or, perhaps, even the big truth) how people react when there had been a different kind of backlash is perhaps informative.

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