Seismic shift or wasted opportunity?
While thinking about the #MeToo movement, and the prominent place being played in it by members of the Hollywood establishment, I have asked myself a couple of times, ‘Is this a root-and-branch reformation of the structure of modern morality or merely something superficial?’ To be more specific, given the way that figures such as Meryl Streep and Whoopi Goldberg have in the past advocated (advocated passionately!) for the convicted child rapist, Roman Polanski, and the manner in which Woody Allen’s many –ahem – “issues” have been ignored or trivialized, I wonder if what we are witnessing is a truly significant moment or not. This is not to belittle many of those who have been strengthened and encouraged to speak out because of the movement. That is something for which we can all be grateful. It is rather to ask whether those who have played a large part in creating this sexually abusive culture are now truly repentant or simply doing what they always do: Carefully marketing their images to an adoring public.
I am not sure we are actually seeing anything other than a shift in taste. Suddenly Hollywood has woken up to the fact that sexual abuse is bad and has been part and parcel of the way Tinseltown has operated since the couch was first used for a casting call. Many of the knew the way it was, of course, and chose to keep silent or to play along. And the day of moral reckoning is always delayed, if not deferred indefinitely, for the world of the creative. Artists have always enjoyed what George Orwell compared to the old benefit of clergy, whereby their sins were forgiven or treated less seriously, simply because they produced works of beauty. Those who entertain us tend to be treated as a breed apart, even when it comes to basic canons of moral decency. But now the weight of public distaste for abuse has tipped the scales to such an extent that this benefit of clergy is, at least for a time and on this precise issue, being withdrawn.
So are we seeing a fundamental, radical moral rethink? Well, that will only be the case if we see a fundamental, radical rethink of the philosophy of sex which underpins the modern entertainment industry and which is promoted by the same in somany of its products. If sex continues to be presented as a recreational activity of no significance beyond the immediate pleasure it provides, then the #MeToo celebrities really have no more credibility than someone who campaigns against drunk driving while making endless movies about the fun to be had getting hammered and driving at high speed through a crowded street as the clubs are closing.
I am a cynic, especially when it comes to Hollywood. I do not think we are seeing a root-and-branch reformation of the morality which has tacitly enabled sexual abuse and even, in the form of those dreadful Polanski apologists, gloried in excusing it in its most criminal form. I suspect rather that we are seeing a shift merely in matters of cultural taste which Hollywood is superficially appropriating in order to maintain its status as the moral guardian of the modern world. Which makes #MeToo not so much a moment of seismic significance but of wasted opportunity.