If Hollywood has shown us anything, it’s that powerful white men are always given another chance.
The cycle of public transgression, humiliation, apology and rehabilitation is nowhere better exemplified than in the case of Kathy Griffin, the US comedian who got into trouble earlier this year for holding up a model of Donald Trump’s severed head. She had her TV appearances cancelled, apologised profusely, backed away from her apology when it all blew over, and is now back to doing Trump jokes again. So it goes.
The question of whether the joke was acceptable is, of course, beside the point. What mattered was the clockwork predictability of how the “scandal” played out, and the stages through which Griffin moved: from offender (“I went too far”), to victim (“The death threats that I’m getting are constant and detailed”), to defiant survivor in the face of unjustified attacks (“I am no longer sorry”).
Griffin’s attorney during the mess was Lisa Bloom, lately adviser to Harvey Weinstein, until sense got the better of her, and as more women step forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual assault, we see him attempt to kickstart the same machinery.
The language Weinstein used in his statement, superficially claiming responsibility for his actions, sought to present himself as a victim of forces beyond his control. “I am in counselling and perhaps, when I am better, we can rebuild,” he said.
“When I am better” is a nice touch. It’s not me – it’s my helpless addiction to being a jerk. He took a similar line in a private email to other Hollywood players unearthed by the New York Times. “All I’m asking is let me take a leave of absence and get into heavy therapy and counselling,” begged Weinstein, and perhaps therapy would help him. But really, who cares?
There is almost nothing in American public life from which you can’t come back: Mel Gibson is on the awards circuit again; accusations of molestation haven’t hurt Trump. Weinstein may have a tougher time given the weight of allegations against him, but let’s see. Powerful white men don’t tend to stay out in the cold very long.
Part of the fallout from Weinstein is the amazing domino effect of big names being dragged into the imbroglio. Along with Ben Affleck’s pivot from condemning Weinstein to smartly apologising for his own inappropriate behaviour, Jessica Chastain leapt to the defence of Matt Damon – accused of coming to Weinstein’s aid in the suppression of a New York Times story many years ago, not entirely fairly, it seems – with the inadvertently comic tweet: “I’ve spent time with him on The Martian and he’s a really good guy.”
As silence is the determining factor in so much sexual abuse, there is understandable dismay at the number of Weinstein beneficiaries declining to comment. But there is also, in the rush to judgment, an awkward need on the part of many movie stars to excuse all the back-slapping photos of them grinning on a podium beside Weinstein. “I can tell you that I’ve never seen any of this behaviour – ever,” George Clooney told the Daily Beast. Well, no.
In other quarters, the constant recalibration of celebrities in the credit/debit columns rearranges itself around the scandal. Brad Pitt, lately painted in his divorce with Angelina Jolie as erratic and unreasonable, is suddenly a great guy again for fronting up to Weinstein when Gwyneth Paltrow, his then girlfriend, reported being propositioned by him.
Meanwhile, the deadening familiarity of more women coming forward. Many of the alleged victims are the wealthiest, most powerful women in the world, even if they weren’t at the time of the alleged assaults, and yet the shame and fear are such that it has taken them decades to speak up. And this is how it goes, too.
The game of Who Knew will go on for some time. Among those refusing to play is Lorne Michaels, legendary creator of Saturday Night Live, who in response to reporters asking why he nixed jokes about Weinstein on the show this week, said with gruesome honesty and the clanking sound of ranks closing: “It’s a New York thing.”