Americans and the American media only seem to grasp a tragedy, problem, disaster or disease when it happens to a celebrity. I guess we can’t help it. We’re just narrow-minded imbeciles who require a larger-than-life figure through which to experience human emotion vicariously, even if the exact same problem has confronted us personally for years.
I’m old enough to remember the murmuring and below-the-radar panic about HIV/AIDS in the early 80s, when deaths were occurring in increasingly large numbers, especially among gay men. If you lived in or near a major American city, chances were you either knew someone with the disease or knew someone who knew someone. There was a line of defense being drawn in the gay community but nothing even close to an effective treatment and very limited research funding. For at least a few years, the President of the United States never publicly acknowledged the disease.
Then Rock Hudson died. Nightly broadcast news and print coverage of the epidemic ballooned. Research started to boom. There were a bunch of made-for-TV movies about AIDS. Ronald Reagan finally used the word in speech. And countless talking heads thanked Rock Hudson for dying and thereby thrusting the illness into the lexicon. Normalizing it. Making it graspable. Several years and tens of thousands of deaths later, Magic Johnson announced publicly he had contracted HIV and as a straight black male superstar athlete made the disease that much more accessible to a nation with an IQ of 3.
I have nothing against Gwyneth Paltrow or Angelina Jolie. They’re talented actresses who didn’t deserve to be humiliated. I’m glad they had other life options than to continue getting slimed on by the repulsive ball of puss that is Harvey Weinstein. You can’t blame them for making 10, 15, even 20 million dollars per movie plus points off the back end with other less abusive studios. Most significantly, they didn’t choose to be the Rock Hudson or Magic Johnson of this era. It just wound up that way.
But I don’t care very much about them or about Harvey Weinstein. Sorry. By virtue of my non-stellar appearance and lack of a healthy seven-figure income, I wound up assigned to the real world, where much worse things happen to much poorer people with more responsibility, little or no recourse, and not even the remote possibility of public sympathy.
I could spew ten thousand words about the nauseating indignities suffered by women friends and family, but one—not anywhere near the worst—stands out in my mind. It was the 1988 bachelorette party held for my wife-to-be by her employer, Shearson Lehman. She was a low-rung MIS specialist making about $30 K, surrounded by hotshot brokers and managers who wouldn’t have cared that over the years she would acquire a second, then later a third university degree. They were living in the moment. And in that moment, one Weinstein brat jammed his tongue down her throat. Another whipped out his member and slapped it on the table they were sitting at. By virtue of not being invited to that gig, I got to continue my own career and eventually become a father instead of spending time in the very penitentiary where these miscreants belonged.
Virtually everyone can pull a few of these stories out of a hat on command. If our warped reality-show worshiping civilization was even half serious about remedying sexual harassment in the workplace rather than on the silver screen, we might be reading a news story like this one:
“The New York Times has learned that John “Bubba” Gray, founder and longtime co-owner of Bubba’s Stop-N-Shop of Myrtle Beach, paid out settlements to over a dozen women who are former employees of his establishment. These women, many of whom are single mothers of one or more young children, typically worked double shifts at the register or gas pumps and earned anywhere between $7.75 and $9 an hour.
“The Times has learned these allegations include lewd comments, groping, and obscene gestures with a pump handle. At least one former employee reported being followed into the unisex bathroom of the convenience store by Mr. Gray, who removed his pants and shouted, “Filler up!” Exact terms of the settlements are not known at this time. However, most settlements are thought to involve figures not to exceed zero dollars and zero cents in addition to an offer by Mr. Gray to “Get the f_ck out of my store and stay out, you ugly bitch.”
“Several of the women report being blacklisted from the majority of the convenience stores along coastal South Carolina and fear they will never again be allowed to work in “the industry.” According to Mr. Gray’s brother Sam, who is diabetic, incontinent and reeks of cheap gin, “Well, you know Bubba. Now get the f_ck out of my store.”
But this is all a pipe dream. In the real world all crises require a celebrity solution. That means sending Ben Affleck to drown in Houston. Sending Johnny Depp to fry in Napa. And sending O.J. Simpson to sip toxic water in Flint, Puerto Rico, or any polluted aquifer that will have him. Ratings equal attention and revenue. This is America.
Of course we all understand that like every other industry, Hollywood has to purge itself every few years, albeit very publicly and this time with a sacrificial lamb who happens to be particularly repugnant. And if we seek to muster against all odds a shred of empathy for Tinseltown, we can dwell for a moment or two on the democratization of movie-making which is slowly rendering buffoons like Harvey Weinstein and the system that enabled him irrelevant and obsolete. A billion movies are made on people’s phones every day and at least two of them are better than The English Patient.