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As the public parade of perverts has grown longer and longer in the aftermath of the Harvey Weinstein sex abuse/harassment scandal, I thought I would take this opportunity to share my thoughts on this constantly evolving story.
Our current sexual harassment scandal is more akin to a panic or hysteria than it is to a scandal. I don't say that to diminish its importance, validity or veracity of the men and women who claim to have been harassed or abused, I only say it in order to convey the collective psychology behind the surge to prominence of sexual harassment claims and what archetypal forces are currently in action in the culture.
Panics are born out fear and cause irrationality, but it is important to note that does not necessarily mean the original inciting incident for the panic is untrue or is irrational. The current Sex Harassment Panic was born out of actual predatory behavior by men in power and the intensity of the Panic was fueled by years of suppression of all the anger and rage that simmered just bellow the surface from the victims (particularly women) until it came to a boil first with the election of Donald Trump, and second with the breaking of the Weinstein story.
When panics hit they take on a life of their own and are impossible to control but that doesn't mean they are impossible to predict. All panics and hysterias, like the Salem Witch Trials of the 1690's or the Red Scare of the early 1900's or the 1940's and 50's, go through certain distinguishing phases that are easily identifiable. Phase One of the "Hollywood Sex Scandal", for instance, has now come to an end and we are heading into Phase Two. Phase One's distinguishing characteristic is the most obvious…that all of the men named as harassers or abusers were well-known as being complete assholes regardless of their sexual antics and were already universally loathed.
Harvey Weinstein, Bret Ratner, James Toback and Kevin Spacey are a murderers row of douchebags. Prior to the revelations of their sexual misconduct, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone who would admit to actually liking them as human beings.
Harvey Weinstein was well-known for being a disgusting, loudmouthed bully who butchered movies and careers and was quick to cry anti-Semitism whenever anyone stood up to him.
Bret Ratner was recognized as being an entitled and abrasive prick who was a hellacious hack of a director who thought he was a tough guy.
James Toback was such a repugnant and repulsive pig of a person that he was totally despised by everyone who ever had the unpleasant misfortune of meeting him and this is before any of the weird sex stuff came out.
And finally, all of the unfortunate souls who have ever met or worked with Kevin Spacey knew him to be a narcissistic, vicious and self-absorbed jerk and manipulator.
When the stories broke of these men's predatory sexual behavior they very quickly found themselves on an island because no one genuinely liked them. Sure, people would say nice things about them in an effort to get in their good graces when they were powerful, but when these scumbags were exposed everyone wisely jumped ship.
We are currently in Phase Two of the Hollywood Sex Scandal, which will not be quite as morally satisfying as Phase One but will definitely be more intriguing. The distinguishing characteristic of Phase Two is when people that are not universally loathed and recognized as assholes are targeted for being sexual harassers or abusers. In other words, Phase One targets Bad Guys and Phase Two targets those thought to be Good Guys.
Phase Two of the Hollywood Sex Scandal kicked off with the accusations against Louis CK. Prior to the NY Times story exposing CK for his harassment, I had never heard anybody say a bad word about Louis CK publicly or privately. Everyone talked about his being such a great guy and being so supportive of comedians in general and female comedians in particular. There were certainly rumors out there about Louie but, at least in my experience, they never seemed to tarnish people's opinion of him.
Sarah Silverman just did a monologue on her show where she asked the question, "can you love someone who did bad things?" Silverman's dilemma is that she is friends with CK but is also supportive of "victims". In Phase Two, many will be placed in the same conundrum as Silverman, having to choose between a personal friend and a "victim" who is a stranger. Ultimately, Silverman decided to side with the "victims" instead of her friend of 25 years, Louie CK. This choice is entirely predictable in Phase Two of a Panic…in Phase Four…these types of decisions will go another direction, but that won't come along for a while.
Another "good guy" who got targeted in Phase Two was George Takei. Takei tried to deflect from the accusation against him by using a tactic that we will see increasingly as the Sex Panic goes through its life cycle, namely he tried to embrace his own victim status by deflecting attention and blame. Takei tried to somehow blame Russia for stirring up the allegations against him. It is a convoluted attempt to deflect, but I am sure it helped him with those pre-disposed to see him as a member of a victim class due to his homosexuality.
In Phase One Kevin Spacey tried a similar maneuver by trying to attach himself to a victim group by finally coming out of the closet and declaring he was gay in response to charges of predatory behavior. The gay community rightly excoriated Spacey for the self serving and blatant attempt to cover himself in the cloak of gay victimhood and they quickly pushed back against him leaving him high and dry.
The Sexual Harassment Panic, as panics are want to do, quickly spread from Hollywood to Washington when Roy Moore, the republican candidate for Senate in Alabama, was accused by a group of women who claim he harassed/assaulted them forty years ago when they were teens and he was in his thirties. Moore is a glaring example of Phase One of a Panic. Besides his core, lunatic fringe supporters, Moore is deeply loathed by most people. People hated Moore for his faux-Christian grandstanding, his homophobia and his xenophobia well before anyone came forward claiming he chased fourteen year old girls through the mall as a grown man.
The Phases in a panic can move really fast, and this one is no exception. I started writing this piece early this week and before I ever finished it the Washington Sex Panic hit Phase Two when "good guy" Al Franken, the democratic senator from Minnesota, got called out by a former model and radio host LeAnn Tweeden, for harassing and accosting her while the two were on a USO tour in 2006. Franken is well-liked by liberals and the charges against him put them into quite a bind considering all of the moral posturing we've seen from them regarding Roy Moore's situation.
Phase Two is also where zero tolerance and maximum punishment becomes the norm and nuance gets thrown out the window. The ability to distinguish between the severity of accusations will be lost in Phase Two under a tidal wave of emotionalism that will lump all sexual infractions in together.
There are already inklings of what we can expect to see in Phase Three of the Sex Scandal Panic taking shape across our entire culture. Phase Three's distinguishing characteristics are that the definition of harassment will become so overly broad as to be absurd and false claims will be weaponized by people to get at their enemies.
A great example of the widening of the definition of harassment came from Oscar winning actress Brie Larson who last month tweeted about the nightmare she suffered through when a TSA agent had the temerity to ask for her phone number. The horror…the horror. Larson, whose fifteen minutes of fame cannot end soon enough, has a desperate need to be taken seriously, but her trying to embrace victimhood when a guy simply asks for her phone number is a warning sign of very bad things to come in our culture. Diminishing the definition of sexual harassment in the end will only diminish the believability of those who truly suffered under attacks of predatory sexual harassers and abusers.
Another sign post of things to come was when Dallas County Assistant District Attorney Jody Warner, who got into trouble for being videotaped drunkenly accosting an Uber driver, claimed in her defense that after years of working on sex crimes cases she attacked the driver because she was frightened that the driver was going to sexually assault or rape her. Thankfully the D.A. didn't fall for her cock and bull story and Ms. Warner lost her job. But expect more and more of that sort of thing where people will automatically claim they were harassed, assaulted or afraid of being harassed or assaulted in order to cover their own bad behavior. This is human nature, if people can lie or hedge the truth in order to avoid uncomfortable consequences they will, and this is what is coming next in the Sex Panic we are currently living through.
Another bit of human nature, the need to be loved, accepted and part of a group, is behind why more people will embellish or make up claims of harassment/abuse. Claiming you were sexually harassed is now a way for people to receive unconditional love and gain an identity. The lure of adopting a "victim" identity is strong to some because to an individual psyche it can feel very clarifying to embrace a what appears to be an empowered archetype even though it may be factually inaccurate.
The biggest problem in regards to this is that the overwhelming majority of voices in our culture are currently saying that "I believe victims each and every time" or "we have to believe every woman". This is terribly problematic because the #MeToo campaign is a powerful and enticing one, and people will want to be a part of it even if they've never truly experienced harassment or assault.
The possibility for people to have their word be considered sacrosanct, and to be unquestioningly welcomed into a group(#MeToo), given an identity (victim) and be showered with unconditional love, sympathy and acceptance is a surefire way to encourage people to make things up and is a recipe for disaster if you are trying to protect the innocent and discover any semblance of the Truth.
Phase Three of the Sex Panic will pile up more and more claims that are less and less credible but which will not be questioned because "victims are always to be believed" and even questioning them is a sign that you too may be a predator. Like the Salem Witch Trials, sexual harassers will be assumed to be guilty and in order to prove their innocence will be metaphorically thrown into the river. If they sink they were innocent, if they float they are guilty. Like John Proctor, innocent people will be publicly attacked and lose their names and livelihoods and there will be no getting them back.
Phase Three is also where the initial seeds are planted in terms of belief turning into disbelief. Conspiratorial thinking in regards to charges against powerful figures will not be accepted just yet in Phase Three but will slowly gain much more ground and will eventually blossom in Phase Four. Phase Three is the zenith of fever induced hysteria but there will be a small but growing pushback just beneath the surface of things.
Phase Four is the final phase of the Panic where cultural weariness sets in and someone is accused who is just beyond reproach and their accuser is less than credible and greatly disliked, a 180 degree flip from Phase One. At this point, due to the cumulative collective fatigue and the specifics of the case, the tide will turn and the fever will break. The best example of this occurred in the Red Scare of McCarthyism in the 1950's when Jopeph N. Welch stood up to Joe McCarthy by saying " At long last, have you left no sense of decency?" From that point on the the Red Scare was exposed for the emotionalist panic that it was.
In Phase Four of our current Great Sex Panic there will be some credible claims that will be overlooked because of a backlash against "victims" due to too many flimsy cases having gone forward in the Phase Three. There will even be some retribution against people making claims due to the backlash effect. This will certainly not be fair, but neither will some, if not most, of the charges brought in Phase Three against alleged harassers.
But Phase Four is a ways off, and there are going to be a lot of heads on pikes in the mean time. Even history is not safe during this panic, as poor old Slick Willie himself, Bill Clinton is now being looked at differently by his once staunch liberal defenders. Do not be surprised if Bill Clinton and Clarence Thomas are among those who face a comeuppance for their past behavior.
Living through a panic can be both exhilarating and exhausting. The hysteria-induced purges that lay ahead will be very unpleasant, and no one knows who will be next, but rest assured, in due time this too shall pass. Many people have suffered at the hands of sexual harassers and abusers and many others will suffer under the hammer of the current Sex Panic. When Panic sets in, reason goes out the window, which is why, in order to survive we should all listen to Rudyard Kipling.
"If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...yours is the Earth and everything that's in it, and - which is more - you'll be a Man, my son!"