There are now so many unnerving allegations against and public stories about Harvey Weinstein that it's hard to figure out a context other than disgust.
But here's one way of looking at the larger context – a problem with public perception of the allegations against Weinstein is that it fits into the public's imagination as a kind of perverse beauty-and-the-beast illusion.
Weinstein is a large, aggressive and abrasive, powerful man. He's nobody's idea of a dreamboat. He conforms to the monster myth – physically intimidating, capable of great fury and destruction. The female, in the illusion the public sees, is attractive, young, smart but inexperienced, emotional and slight of frame, easily overpowered.
This isn't helpful. Some people familiar only with the surface gloss of the entertainment industry will look at the allegations and conclude, "It's gross but that's gonna happen." Everybody is inclined to believe stories that conform to ancient myths and fairy tales, especially about the entertainment world. And in doing so, everyone enables the likes of Harvey Weinstein.
Predatory behaviour and harassment should never happen. And here's the thing to remember: Not all predatory men in the entertainment world are ogres who resemble Weinstein. Most who harass, abuse or humiliate women are slicker than Weinstein but have great power in making or breaking careers. It's just that we, by inclination, want to see ogres.
To be clear, based on my knowledge from years of covering television, the vast majority of people in the industry, men and women, are professional, disciplined and more interested in their work than sexual shenanigans.
What some of them share, however, is a sense of protectiveness about their industry and the material they create for public consumption. They want the fantasy to remain intact: the fantasy of happy, skilled, motivated, attractive people working together to create inspiring, entertaining stories for the audience. Admitting that there is obnoxious and sometimes disgusting behaviour is anathema to them. The truth about that would undermine everything.
That's one reason why, perhaps, so few women come forward to name and shame predators and harassers. The main reason, obviously, is the fear of repercussion and career destruction, but in a general way, there is the reluctance to shatter myths and conventional assumptions about working in film and television – and a belief that the public doesn't want the myths shattered.
Ask women actors about the casting couch and harassment in television, even off the record, and they will clam up. That's understandable, if regrettable. There is anxiety about being the first to speak about it and the work drying up. Ask others, who would have no such fears, and they are coy or shrug. There is, especially among men and among media, publicists and others on the fringes, a fierce impulse toward denial and there exists a strange omerta based on the notion that the public doesn't need to know what's going on.
Media coverage of the movie business accepts the omerta. Most journalism about the film world inhabited by Weinstein is limited to puffery. Usually, there are limitations on what questions can be asked in interviews. At the same time, writers and editors want journalism that amounts to easy-to-understand stories that fit into a limited number of genres. Those journalism genres are rather like myths and fairy tales. Everybody likes stories about underdogs. Everybody likes stories about a deep personal connection between the star and the material in the movie. That sort of journalism taps into a very old human desire to see everything in terms of a small set of storylines. Most movies do precisely the same thing, and people worship at that altar.
There are so many layers and connections in the Weinstein story at this point that it's a bewildering saga, apparently decades long and filled with all manner of malfeasance. Responses to it all can vary wildly. Everybody has an angle on it in order to point a finger at somebody else.
But here's the main takeaway we should remember after the dust settles and the indignation only simmers – the entertainment world traffics in fantasies we want to believe, and to buy into a beauty-and-the-beast scenario is only to buy into a fantasy version of the sordid truth. If we expect female actors to speak out, we should be prepared to challenge our own convenient assumptions and myths. There are ogres everywhere, it's just a myth that they all look like Weinstein.