Taking liberties... Weinstein and the liberal myth
PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 October 2017
Criticism of Harvey Weinstein has shifted to a critique of the sort of liberalism he is said to have espoused, says BARBARA ELLEN. But surely he wears his liberalism like a mask
If disgraced Hollywood film producer, Harvey Weinstein, were standing in front of you right now – what would you say to him? Personally, I’d say, “You ain’t no liberal, bruv”.
It’s been getting a little surreal seeing Weinstein predominantly framed as some kind of mascot of liberal-darkness. Obviously, if the allegations are true, he’s not a liberal in any real sense. The dictionary definition of liberal in this context is “Someone who is willing to accept behaviour, or opinions, different form one’s own” or “Someone who is open to new ideas”. Liberalism also implies a deep respect for women, a belief in their equality, and a refusal to treat them as sex objects. Or at least it should do.
Others may have their own less than flattering definitions of ‘liberal’, such as “Useful idiot”, “Right-on pain in the arse”, or “Person dressed as if permanently en-route to the Green Field in Glastonbury”.
However, even if you have issues with liberals, even if you hate and despise them, it still doesn’t make much sense to view anything that Weinstein is alleged to have done predominantly through the filter of him being a ‘liberal’.
Looking at the numerous allegations made against Weinstein – it’s hard to see how being liberal has anything to do with it. What’s liberal about someone suddenly appearing in the room in ‘business meetings’, clad in a dressing gown, holding a bottle of baby oil, demanding a ‘massage’, and forcing himself on women who refuse him?
Someone reportedly so calculating that they switch meetings from public places to hotel rooms, and start them with a third-party present, who then leaves – so that the intended victim finds themselves ‘set up’ in a situation that they never bargained for.
What’s liberal about a man who forces women to watch as they masturbate, or bullies them into sexual activity they clearly don’t want?
Someone who uses his omnipotent position in his company to sexually intimidate his staff, and his powerful position in the film industry, to letch over, harass, blackmail, compromise, and attack women.
If even just a few of the allegations – and he has ‘unequivocally denied’ any allegations of non-consensual sex – against Weinstein are true, what’s remotely ‘liberal’ about a serial predator and rapist?
Some might say – well, duh, that’s the point, Weinstein was supposed to be this celebrated liberal-minded film-maker, and yet he’s accused of all this terrible stuff.
He supported the Democrats in political campaigns, and, in the heyday of Miramax, he made upmarket ‘arty-farty’ films that were adored by the intelligentsia – but, at the same time, in the shadows, he was, it is claimed, ruining the lives of countless women. He was posing as this liberal, but he was acting like the most dangerous kind of misogynist snake.
So, basically, on top of everything else, Weinstein was also guilty of being a hypocrite?
Looking around now, others are being caught in the net, denounced for their language and behaviour – everyone from theatre director, Max Stafford-Clark, accused of making crude inappropriate remarks to women, and film director, Lars Von Trier, whom Bjork claims harassed her on-set, to former Amazon executive, Roy Price (whom, actress Rose McGowan claims ignored her complaints that Weinstein assaulted her), and film director, James Toback, accused by 38 women of sexual harassment.
The list sprawls on, and it’s only just getting going – presumably there’ll be many more. Men, similar to Weinstein, big respected players in ‘liberal’-type fields across the arts and media, being called out for using their power to intimidate and harass women (and worse).
The type of men who are supposed to be the Good Guys, not the casting couch bogeymen. This is the shock, runs the rationale – not just what Weinstein is said to have done, but that someone like Weinstein, a big-noise liberal film industry player, did it.
Except, it’s very clear that Weinstein isn’t a liberal, not genuinely, and probably never was. Perhaps it was just a pose he adopted – a kind of reverse-Halloween mask, donned so as not to scare you.
A mask that helped him to access wealth and power, and to then use that wealth and power to sexually harass young women?
If so, he wouldn’t be the first to resort to using a mask. Away from sexual assault, and other serious crimes, many of us would have had the misfortune to come across supposed ‘liberal-types’, who turn out to nowhere near as nice, or as righteous, as they like to present as being.
Other times, ‘masks’ aren’t even that sinister. People don professional masks all the time, to fit in, to get ahead – pretending to know more than they do, falling into step with a line of thinking.
It happens in personal lives too – someone pretending to like football a bit more than they actually do to bond with a new boyfriend, or faking an interest in serious subtitled films to impress a girlfriend.
Generally, these kinds of masks (“I’m clever”, “I’m worth a promotion” “I’m well read”, “I know what the off-side rule means”) amount to little more than an insecure massaging of the professional or personal curriculum vitae.
They’re harmless, and tend to fall away eventually without comment or incident.
However, then you get hard-core characters who have their masks welded firmly on – but not as embellishments, or tweaks, to who they really are, rather as malevolent red herrings meant to distract people from their true predatory characters. Weinstein’s mask, if that’s what it was, happened to be that of a liberal, and it served him remarkably well.
On the one hand, he was successful because of his undoubted talent, drive, and hard work (which are pointless to deny). On the other, there was the fact that his face “fitted” with the creative left-leaning liberal mores of the era. Once ensconced in those circles, Weinstein was able to mingle with the great, the good, and the beautiful, marking himself out very clearly as “one of them”.
The point being that this supposedly compelling detail about the kind of producer Weinstein was, who he mixed with, the kinds of films he made, appears to have been overplayed.
In truth, it is at most mildly interesting that he was more prone to making certain kinds of left-field films. Just as it is a little interesting (but no more) that he preferred to be seen to hang out with trendy ‘edgy’ actors, directors, and screenwriters.
While the celebrity names dazzle and blind us, and Weinstein’s enablers also have questions to answer, there is only a limited amount of real insight to be gleaned from the fact the allegations concern Hollywood.
Certainly, the refined circles that Weinstein moved in aren’t so all-important that you could make a solid case for liberal-bashing, or liberal-shaming, out of it. “Look at them, this is what they’re really like”.
I’m sure some of them are, but again that would only say something about them as individuals, not about the liberal mentality.
That would be akin to always leading with the fact that Jimmy Savile was a lifelong Tory-supporter.
When this is mentioned, it’s rightly only in relation to Savile’s links to the establishment, and even then, only because it’s suspected that these links contributed to him evading justice. Otherwise, it doesn’t matter that Savile supported the Conservatives. No one ever said “It’s highly relevant that Savile was a Tory voter”.
In the same way, nor should Weinstein being a Democrat-supporter be anything more than a footnote. Him posing as a liberal doesn’t say anything about liberals.
It doesn’t even say anything about Weinstein as a liberal, considering that, behind closed doors, and sometimes in open sight, this chauvinistic predatory monster barely acted like one, especially in regards to women.
Attack the man, attack the crimes – but there’s no point in attacking the mask.
Barbara Ellen is a columnist for the Observer. She has also written for NME, the Times, Mail on Sunday, Elle, Marie Claire, Grazia, Loaded, GQ and Mojo