Isaac Chotiner interviewed a man who wrote a lot about today’s most prominent villain Harvey Weinstein but not about his actions as a sexual predator.
“The book was not about Harvey per se,” Peter Biskind told him. “It was about the explosion of independent film in the ’90s.”
But Chotiner pressed him on whether he’d heard stories of Weinstein’s (or other people’s) aggressive immorality.
“There was a lot of free sex in the ’70s,” Biskind said. “This was the era of free love, so everybody was stoned all the time. . . . There was a general feeling in the ’70s, and I think it has always been true in Hollywood, all the way back to silent pictures, that rules don’t apply to them, which was the name of Beatty’s last movie. It’s the air they breathe. They are not constrained by civilian morality, put it that way.”
Were the ’70s really as debauched as all that? Ross Douthat thinks so. He pointed out the above Slate interview and linked it to this 2009 article by John Podhoretz on two movies released in 1979 that typified the gross immorality of that day. Woody Allen’s Manhattan and Robert Young’s Rich Kids “are both works of evil, and I use the word advisedly.” One story glorifies statutory rape, as if it is a high virtue. The other story resolves all its problems with the leading children having sex. This, Douthat says, was the American ’70s.
Perhaps we’ve grown more moral from that point, but to speak in such humanistic terms feels fruitless. It isn’t stronger morality that lead people to speak against Weinstein. It may have been his own slip in power. On Twitter, many people have shared how they still will not name powerful people who mistreated them for fear of losing their careers, and that seems to be a humanistic constant.
Leah Libresco Sargeant, writing in First Things, spreads the blame around appropriately, saying normalizing vulgarity makes it easier for people to act as predators.
Weinstein is unusual in the amount of power and the number of people he was able to coopt in the service of his evil, but all sexual assailants and workplace harassers depend on structures of power and norms to help them harm others. We give them cover when we normalize behavior that is just shy of assault, allowing predators to pass as just a little too pushy or boisterous.