Thurs. Oct. 12, 2017: Feigned Outrage Hypocrisy

Thursday, October 11, 2107
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I have to say that I’m sick and tired of the feigned outrage at Harvey Weinstein’s behavior. I don’t condone it at all; however, having worked in the business during the time he rose to power I know, first-hand, how he — and plenty of other people in power — were enabled and how most in the industry looked the other way. For decades. Many of those same individuals are now pretending to be shocked and outraged. Not because they are, but because it’s fashionable so to do.

When someone behaves this way in the entertainment industry, it’s not a secret. It is known by others who work in the business. You are warned not to be alone with the person, not to have meetings in hotel rooms or suites; make sure it’s in their office WITH OTHER STAFF AROUND, or in restaurants or hotel lobbies.

This can be difficult, because, especially in creative work, there are perfectly legitimate meetings that one wants to have in private — not because something predatory is going on, but because you want and need the freedom to get up and act out portions of the work. Pacing, muttering, running dialogue, brainstorming — none of those things can happen in public. It can happen in an office meeting; it can happen in a rehearsal studio. Often, very often, depending on schedules, it happens in hotel rooms or in residences. That doesn’t mean there’s the intent for anything beyond the work.

You have to know who you’re dealing with.

Also, the profession is a very tactile one. People are physically affectionate with each other. It doesn’t necessarily mean it’s sexual. It’s also important for everyone to be sensitive to what everyone else is comfortable with, and adjust one’s behavior so that EVERYONE is comfortable.

As a crew member, I had less to worry about on this level than actors do. Actors, regardless of gender, are vulnerable to more explicit overtures. As a wardrobe person, there were plenty of times when an actor was expecting a producer or a director in the dressing room and asked me to stay because he or she was uncomfortable being alone with that particular individual. Often, I’d busy myself in the background, making a repair on the costume. Basically, my job was similar to a Victorian-era chaperone. If the situation escalated to the point where the actor was uncomfortable, I made the choice to intervene in a passive-aggressive way (creating a task that physically put me between the individual and the actor) or an active way (saying I felt the behavior was inappropriate). I’ve done both. Sometimes, the individual would ask me to leave. Some actors would then speak up and say they were more comfortable with me in the room; others would throw me a terrified look, and it was up to me to say I would not leave, and I’d have to gauge the risk of whether or not to say why. Either way, it put my job at risk, but that is another reason why unions and their protections are so important. This was regardless of the actor’s gender; Both men and women have to deal with that, and they have to deal with it FROM both men and women.

In fact, during the late 1990s, predatory behavior from women was encouraged on some fronts as “leveling the playing field” and “acting like a man in a man’s world.” Um, no. Predatory behavior is predatory behavior.

As a wardrobe person, I rarely had to worry about inappropriate behavior FROM an actor. After all, you’re dealing with them in their underwear or less in the dressing room. There has to be implicit trust both ways. You are the actor’s first line of defense against the world. On the rare occasions when an actor did something that made me uncomfortable, I said, “That makes me uncomfortable.” I never encountered an actor who didn’t immediately apologize and the behavior was adjusted. We moved on without a problem. There were rare times when an actor I knew well approached me because another crew member made him or her uncomfortable, and then I pulled that person aside to deal with it. Usually, that was not the crew member’s intent and the behavior was adjusted. There was only one instance in nearly 30 years of backstage work where it had to go to a supervisor and the person was reassigned with warning, and that individual was more reserved in the future. Often, there is no malicious intent, and it’s a case of crossed wires. When that’s the case, being honest about comfort levels usually fixes the problem, and both sides can move on without suspicion. Open communication, actual listening, and behavioral adjustments solved the problem when it was a misunderstanding, and not a campaign of power or seduction. Sometimes, words or actions or intent are mis-interpreted. If you speak up right away, respectfully and diplomatically (but with directness), you can stop it from escalating in many instances.

Relationships/affairs, et al do happen in these environments. People are attracted to each other, especially in a high stress, creatively focused situation. People act on those attractions. Sometimes it’s only for the run of the show or the time it takes to film. Sometimes, the relationship is more substantial. The difference is whether both parties want it, or one party feels coerced and like he/she doesn’t have a choice because of the power structure. Or when one party says “no” and it’s not respected.

Predatory producers and directors don’t usually hit on crew. If something develops, it’s usually mutual. Plus, producers and directors are usually too busy with the actors to pay much attention to the crew.

If another crew member made me uncomfortable, I’d first talk to them directly about it. If the behavior didn’t change, I went to my supervisor. In fact, in most cases, when I ran interference for an actor with someone higher in the food chain, I also let my supervisor know. I was lucky with most of my supervisors; while we sometimes disagreed on certain protocols or issues, as far as protecting their people, most supervisors were dedicated. As I was, when I was a supervisor.

As a supervisor, if I needed to intervene and talk to the parties directly involved, I did. If that didn’t work, I talked to someone higher up in the food chain. It was unlikely that I would talk to someone, get a “yes ma’am” apology, and the behavior would continue unchecked; it’s difficult to keep secrets backstage. It’s easier on a film set, but, still, there’s always somebody who knows what’s going on. Plus, if I had to talk to someone, I’d then pay close attention to the behavior from that point out. I also kept logs: dates, times, when someone spoke to me, etc. If it could be resolved without going into official reports, it was; if the problem continued, I had the logs and could then put it into the report, along with the steps taken to try to resolve it before it was reported up the food chain. There have also been times when something struck me as uncomfortable, and I’ve asked the person about it and been told, “oh, no, I’m fine with it. We’re just playing.” Every situation is different, and the people directly involved have to make the decisions, be listened to, and the mutual choices respected.

As a writer, I had to deal with what would now be called “sexual harassment” much more directly. Most meetings with producers, agents, directors, assistants, et al, were fine. You connect or you don’t — and connection is so important on a creative project. You’re comfortable with each other or you’re not. You feel you can work together or not. As a writer, particularly in a competitive business, you are constantly tested on your boundaries — how far are you willing to compromise to get film or TV money? And it’s not just the money, but it can get your career on a track to more money, and also, seeing your project come to life? Creatively, it often has to do with how much you’re willing to change your vision to the ideas those who might pay you want. We’ve all heard about the meetings with the ridiculous notes, where the writer has to decide whether to keep going or bow out. If you haven’t read William Goldman or John Gregory Dunne and Joan Didion’s experiences in Hollywood.

But sometimes, sometimes, the demand is for more. Usually, it’s just a suggestion. You try to ignore it or brush it off. I found the best way to deal with it was to make a joke of it and try to move on. If the individual has integrity and was just testing the waters, he/she laughs at the joke, drops the pressure, and you both move on to the work. If not, the pressure intensifies. That’s when you have to decide where your boundary is and when you’re willing to walk away. You walk away knowing that this individual, who is in a position of economic power over you, can derail your career.

If and when it gets physical, you decide how to respond. I always found flinging an ashtray useful. More difficult now, in these no-smoking days. When I was first starting out and afraid to speak up, it was more likely to go farther and have physical consequences. Also, I was younger and cuter. But, as I fought to build my self-esteem, and was more and more determined that “no means no,” the decision to walk away or speak up or get physical in self-defense was easier and easier.

Agents need to step up in this whole issue. Agents and casting directors KNOW who is predatory. Agents — whose job it is to protect their clients — need to do just that. If you don’t send your clients out to predatory creatives, they won’t have the talent pool to pull off their projects. If you speak up when one of your clients complains about inappropriate behavior, and if the agent pool as a whole spoke up, there would be less of it. However, for far too long, this behavior has been considered part of the industry. For how many decades have there been jokes about the casting couch or about chasing the actress around the desk? These stories come from actual experience. It doesn’t make it right, and it is definitely time for it to stop.

But the enablers of these predatory individuals HAVE to step up and be part of the solution, because they sure as hell have been part of the problem for decades.

At the same time, a lot of this particular “sensitivity training” is a joke. I worked for a TV show on a major network, while I still lived in New York. All the productions in the studio were shut down for a morning (putting us all behind schedule, meaning we’d be working until at least 1 AM that day, probably 3 AM, after a 6:30 AM start), to be herded into one of the sound stages set up for “sexual harassment sensitivity training.”

It was one of the stupidest mornings that I ever spent. Maybe it would have worked on third graders as an anti-bullying campaign. But it had very little to do with the reality of adults working on a set. It was also insulting to our collective intelligence. When we left the session, all of us walked out of there saying the most inappropriate and insensitive things we could think of, and pretended to make grabs at each other. It was all out of an attempt to break our frustration with humor, and no one in my group of people was offended by anyone else’s remarks or behavior IN THAT MOMENT. We were also a group, on our show at least, that was already good about communicating, and, frankly, on our schedule, too damn tired to harass each other seriously.

However, on another show on the same network that I left (for other reasons), I heard that there were problems with a couple of young actors regularly getting drunk in their trailers and being inappropriate with wardrobe personnel, PAs, etc. The show was cancelled (due to low ratings) and I don’t think any charges were ever filed; but most people I knew refused jobs from there out if those actors were involved. I might add that none of those actors made a big name for themselves.

The worst of this was before 2000. It’s been better since then, but there’s still a long way to go. In fact, in my upcoming novel THE FIX IT GIRL, set in Hollywood in the early 1930s, it deals with some of the issues women in the business faced.

As far as the Donna Karan controversy in her defense of Weinstein, again, there are layers, and there’s my personal opinion. On the one hand, good for her for sticking up for her friend. Your friends are your friends, and you have to decide where to draw the lines when it’s proven they do something you find reprehensible. Where can you say, “I think that was awful, you need to get help/change your behavior/make amends/be punished” and where do you throw in the towel? That has to be on personal weighing what the accusation is, what the proof is, and your direct experience with that individual, not the current media pressure. It has to be an individual decision, and, either way, the decision has consequences.

However, saying that some women “ask” for it rightly infuriates the mob. Let me be clear that I know of instances where so-called victims cried wolf in order to cause harm and take revenge. When I was in college for a year down south, where the bulk of my contemporaries were openly there to earn their “M-R-S” degrees, one of the girls (and I use “girl” not “woman” deliberately) who was in the suite across the bathroom from me openly talked about how she was going to falsely tell her ex-boyfriend she’d been attacked because then he’d feel sorry for her and get back together. Her mistake was that the ex in question was now currently dating ME. I’ve heard an actress declare that she was angry at not getting cast in a role, so she was going to tell people the director didn’t cast her because she wouldn’t sleep with him, even though he’d never made an overture. (There are cases where this is true and someone isn’t cast because they won’t play casting couch; but this was not one of them).

These instances are very, very rare. Unfortunately, in addition to destroying an innocent person’s reputation, a “victim” making a false accusation means the next 1000 true accusations won’t be taken seriously, because the false victim has just validated the “blame the victim” faction. That needs to change. Accusations need to be taken seriously and investigated. And when numerous people speak up against the same individual, it has to be taken seriously.

Plus, especially in the entertainment industry, in EVERY industry, the enablers need to stop enabling the behavior.

What’s also interesting/disturbing is that many of these predators don’t NEED to be predators. Their position alone means dozens of willing partners fling themselves at these individuals regularly. What is it about their psychology that makes them pressure those who say no?

I don’t know Donna Karan. I know, working in wardrobe, some of her pieces were used by costume designers. I liked some of her designs; I felt they were overpriced. She talks a lot about living a “yogic” lifestyle — organic, compassionate, et al — yet I feel her actions often betray that, especially when it comes to her price points. So I’m not surprised at her choice of words — which, to me, is counter to a “yogic” lifestyle. I’ve crossed paths with Weinstein over the years, but I don’t know him. I was way too far down on the food chain to be of any interest to him, which was fine with me. I just heard stories and was warned not to be alone with him.

While perceptions and standards of behavior are changing, again, predators are well-known. There’s often the “nudge, nudge, wink, wink” or the “well, that’s just the way he/she is, you need to deal with it.” So, all of this feigned outrage now that a power player’s been caught out and is paying the price is hypocrisy. We’ll see if anything actually changes.

After all, look who the GOP put in the White House, and how they are systematically waging a war against women on every front of civil and reproductive rights. I was talking to someone who is reading a book about abolition and pre-Civil War rights, who pointed out that we are being rolled back to those laws, against both women and non-whites.

I also want to point out that, in my personal experience, it was far worse as a temp in corporate environments, as I worked my way up to full-time theatre work. How often did I have to physically fend off drunken corporate types? How often did they go out to lunch, come back drunk, and get grabby? How many companies did I work in where “secretaries” did the actual work while handsy execs practiced golf swings in their offices? There were plenty of times when I had to physically defend myself. I’m not talking about slapping someone’s hand away AFTER I’d repeatedly told them to stop. I’m talking punch-in-the-jaw or knee-in-the-groin. It happened FAR more often to me in the corporate environment than in the entertainment environment.

And, when I reported it, well, too bad for me. If I went to HR in the company itself, “your services were no longer required. Why can’t you just go along with it? No one wants a troublemaker.” If I reported it to my temp agency — the good agencies moved me immediately to a different assignment. But, too often, I was told, “we don’t want to upset the client. Just stay quiet and work through it.”

Um, no. I walked out of several temp jobs and away from several agencies because they condoned and enabled the clients’ sexual harassment. I considered it a form of pimping. Sorry, not interested in being a prostitute.

This culture has to change. With the current administration in charge, I don’t think it will. There will be the occasional public sacrifices (“take one for the team”), but actual legislation will make things worse. It wouldn’t surprise me if this particular administration passed legislation legalizing rape.

It needs to change. Which means WE need to be the ones to change it. On legislative and personal levels.

 

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Published in: on October 12, 2017 at 10:40 am  Leave a Comment  
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