[content: sexual assault, #metoo, Harvey Weinstein, etc]
For most of my adult life I worked in the anti-violence movement, doing support work and consent education. And much of my work, both one-on-one with clients and in workshops and lectures of 10-200 (mostly) young people, involved undoing toxic messages learnt from the media and terrible Hollywood movies that normalize and reinforce rape culture.
From rape being used as a plot point (how else will we know that this literal dictator is the bad guy?!) or for titillation to the ubiquitous romantic comedy and action movie trope of the woman saying no in a thousand different ways and the man pushing through physically only to have her melt into his arms because that was what she really wanted, she just needed to be told that her desires and boundaries mean nothing, we are inundated from an early age with self-serving myths about consent, sexual assault, and rape culture more broadly.
Why self-serving? Because, as we see every single brutal day, so much of Hollywood and the media is filled with rapists and abusers who create the content that normalizes and reinforces rape culture.
Not only did Harvey Weinstein rule Hollywood, he literally had the power to shape how young people think about consent. He had the power to make sure women grew up watching older powerful men get young, beautiful women and refuse to take no for an answer.
Louis CK, who spoke about how men are the biggest threat to women’s safety, had joked frequently about masturbation in ways that dehumanized women, including one bit from his television show that involved him ending an argument with a young, female, anti-masturbation activist by telling her he would masturbate and think of her that night. On live television.
Or take Woody Allen, whose predation has been in front of us this whole time. Admittedly I don’t know his catalogue all that well (a fact that I will literally never change) but it seems to me it might be harder to find a film that doesn’t feature a young, naive, ingenue inexplicably falling for an old neurotic white dude. He has told us throughout his career who he is but his whole schtick is this ineffectual, nervous, nebbish man and his work is just boring enough to convince people it’s good and important (why, I’ll never know). And even prior to Dylan Farrow publicly accusing him of childhood sexual abuse, we knew. He married his fucking stepdaughter who he had known since she was 9.
Or R. Kelly, who wrote and produced “Age Ain’t Nothing But a Number” for Aaliyah, who he married when she was 15 and he was 27.
It will be interesting, when the dust has settled, to go back and see who else telegraphed their monstrosity with their work.
It will also be interesting to see who clings to this “separate the art from the artist” dreck that rape apologists and other shitty human beings cling to. Never mind the fact that such an idea is rooted in an understanding of whiteness, maleness, and straightness as the default (because how often do people of colour, women and non-binary folks, and queer folks get to have their art stand on its own? And how much sense does their art–any art–make absent its creator?), but these serial predators were creating art that reflected their twisted, entitled, and violent world views. We cannot laugh at CK’s masturbation jokes and think they are unrelated to the multiple women who have come forward. We cannot see the sex scene with Ashley Judd added to Frieda by Weinstein after Salma Hayak refused his vile advances, without understanding it as a way that he punished her, that he violated her in absentia.
These men, these very powerful men, created and reinforced a culture in which they would face no punishment, in which their abuse was tolerated and tacitly condoned. In which their abuse was called art.