[Content warning: This column discusses sexual harassment and assault.]
On Dec. 12, Roy Moore will be elected to the United States Senate. This will be despite an accusation that he molested a 14-year-old girl in 1979. This is despite a second accusation that he sexually assaulted a 16-year-old girl when he was District Attorney of Etowah County, AL. This is despite repeated accusations that Moore sought out sexual encounters with teenagers, which included “preying on young girls at high school gatherings” (New York Daily News, “Former Roy Moore colleague: ‘Common knowledge’ he dated teenagers,” 11.12.2017). This is even despite Moore having been removed from his position of Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court for refusing to comply with a federal court order.
But despite being a poor candidate and an even worse person, he more likely than not will win in December. Yes, one poll conducted by JMC Analytics and Polling did show Doug Jones, the Democratic candidate, leading Moore by 4 percent. Another poll by Emerson College Polling shows Moore leading by 10 percent. That isn’t the point. The race will be close; Republicans will probably do far worse than they should considering that it’s a Senate race in Alabama.
It’s certainly possible that Moore will lose, but I don’t believe he will. Even as establishment Republicans have tried to distance themselves from him, the hard right, from Sean Hannity to Steve Bannon, have rallied in his defense. Alabama’s evangelical, religious right has stood up in his defense, with JMC Analytics claiming that 37 percent of evangelicals are more likely to vote for Moore following the allegations.
But this shouldn’t be a surprise for anyone paying close attention to either politics or the society we live in. Just a year ago, Donald Trump, a man with a long history of sexual assault allegations, was elected president of the United States over Hillary Clinton, possibly the most qualified candidate ever to run for the office.
That Donald Trump could survive a myriad of sexual assault allegations while Hillary Clinton couldn’t survive a stupid email scandal speaks volumes about what Americans value. Trump survived because, despite it being clear that he was both a predator and unfit for the office of the presidency, he held extraordinary power. By tapping into the immense frustration of white, blue-collar Americans, he gained extraordinary influence.
That influence, in the end, proved enough of a buffer between him and his scandals to allow him to win the presidency. It is a similar power that will allow Roy Moore to win in December. Moore, sexual assaulter or not, is a white, male, conservative Christian in Alabama. That inherently comes with a large degree of power. Now consider that Moore is the former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court and the Republican Party’s nominee for the United States Senate. The level of institutional power held by Moore protects him from responsibility. Roy Moore has been subject to repeated scandals throughout his career, yet never has he been held accountable for his actions.
Therefore, at a time in which men in positions of power seem increasingly at risk of being exposed, it is important to view these events at least a tad cynically. I assert that this newest round of increased awareness of sexual assault committed by those at the top will be unsuccessful. Those who have been brought down thus far may seem influential, but in truth, that power wasn’t enough to withstand scrutiny. Thus, we can consider the scandals in Hollywood to be less of a changing of the social order and more of a culling of predatory members who are not powerful enough to thrive.
Harvey Weinstein, for many years, was one of the most powerful men in Hollywood. At the same time, he was repeatedly sexually harassing and assaulting people over whom he wielded tremendous power. He was also untouchable. In 2004, when Weinstein was at his most influential, The New York Times was set to publish a similar exposé on his history of sexual violence. According to one former reporter, the story was killed with the help of Matt Damon and Russell Crowe.
If Weinstein was that powerful today, that story would likely never have been published. Or, if it had, its impact on his career would have been significantly lessened. Thankfully, however, Weinstein was not that powerful. Since 2009, The Weinstein Company had been going through financial difficulties, and its era of consistently producing powerhouse prestige cinema had long ended.
As a result, Harvey Weinstein was in a more vulnerable position. While he still held considerable power over young actresses—whom he continued to exploit—his influence in Hollywood was obviously waning. Thus, he was exposed and removed from that position that allowed him to commit these acts of violence.
But Weinstein was vulnerable, and not only because of his financial difficulties. Weinstein embodies the stereotype of a sleazy Jewish Hollywood producer; he even looks the part.
I’m not the only one to notice it either. Mark Oppenheimer, a writer for Tablet, wrote a shockingly anti-Semitic article soon after the affairs came out, entitled “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein.”
On Saturday Night Live, Larry David joked about Weinstein’s Jewishness and how that made him—also a Jew—nervous, and David faced enormous criticism for it. But were Weinstein not Jewish, I question whether this story would have come out. Since Weinstein is so visibly Jewish for a Hollywood producer, there exists a certain societal expectation that he would behave like a predator. This makes it a lot easier to believe a story like this. It’s much safer to write about an unattractive, Jewish sexual predator than a handsome movie-star poster child for the Aryan race.
Enter Ben Affleck, an increasingly powerful figure in Hollywood. He’s a writer, director, actor and producer. He also knew about and played an active role in covering up sexual harassment allegations against not only Harvey Weinstein, but against his brother Casey Affleck. That’s not to mention his own accusations of sexual misconduct; not long after the Weinstein story broke, two women accused Affleck of molestation as recently as 2014. One incident, involving actress Hilarie Burton, was caught on tape.
Yet, Affleck has yet to suffer any consequences for actions. Even the news coverage has fizzled out. He hasn’t been widely criticized, his reputation hasn’t sunk and he hasn’t been edited out of Justice League.
Of course, what he did doesn’t quite approach the depths of Weinstein’s or Kevin Spacey’s depravity. But is it not deserving of some kind of widespread condemnation, at least to send a message that this kind of behavior is not acceptable?
Still, it hasn’t received that level of condemnation, and it probably won’t. Google Affleck’s name now, and the first articles you see will have nothing to do with these allegations. He still holds tremendous power and influence within Hollywood, and he likely will for a very long time. Maybe one day we will discover something that will end his career, but it won’t be anytime soon.
This time of increased awareness will likely do very little to change the underlying culture of Hollywood or society as a whole. Those smart, influential and powerful enough to avoid getting caught will lay low for a while and then carry on as usual.
In the meantime, we can at least curtail some of Hollywood’s absolute worst. Weinstein being gone is still something to celebrate, even with the understanding of the complex power dynamics that led to it. The disappearance of Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. from public life will at least prevent them from continuing to use their power to abuse people, even as people similar to them remain.
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