The stars are falling!
Sometimes the world turns its ugly head. Sometimes a few brave souls point to the faces of men we see on our TVs, on our phones, and on our computers and show us their warts. Sometimes these men are pulled down from their pedestals and are no longer immune in their deviant ways. But why only sometimes? The success and rate of sexual assault claims on these prominent men are very strongly dictated by the game of popular culture. Victims not only have to fight the legal and illegal power structures of their assaulters, but they also have to deal with an increasingly fickle media.
The speed and efficiency of modern life in the age of technology has leaked into perceptions of popular culture. An issue becomes salient, is given its “TV time,” then falls by the wayside for another issue. This capricious attitude is almost never accompanied by a resolution of the issue itself. Countless cases of sexual abuse in politics and in popular culture over four decades have been portrayed as the beginning of a movement: the ridding of all the people we pay so much attention to who take advantage of others. The issue is never defeated, but rather subjugated and repressed. The most recent flurry of cases is another example of this ceaseless process.
The society-media relationship is the reason why these claims all get lumped together. These claims of sexual misconduct often fester below the surface for years before they’re given any substantial attention. Claims against Bill Cosby were repressed in the cultural psyche until comedian Hannibal Buress brought them to the forefront in one of his sets. Claims against Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K. have been circulating on the internet for years. Our double-sided media is that which devotes itself to exposing such atrocities at some times but tacitly ignores them at other times.
At the heart of the issue is the power which promotes such behavior. The structures which surround the circumstances of these egregious acts not only shroud them but also condone them. People who worked on set with Kevin Spacey recalled having to remove any young men from his company due to his sexually aggressive reputation. These prominent figures become too big to fail and their protection is prioritized over all else. For over two decades, rumors of sexual assault on the part of film giant Harvey Weinstein have been circulating. However, Weinstein and his associates used nondisclosure agreements, payoffs, and legal threats to suppress the accounts of the victims, thus repressing any real evidence.
Historically speaking, the outings of the perpetrators of these vile acts often begin with one brave voice, one person who refuses anonymity and shares their story finally gets the press attention that they deserve. This empowers more people to also share their stories to an audience that is suddenly more aware of these issues. The industries which had supported these perpetrators for many years finally turn on them and agree upon their ostracisation. However, I am compelled to believe that such ostracisation is not so much because of genuine anger within these industries but rather a response to the demands of the indignant consumers of the industries. I believe it is a culture inherent in these power structures which accounts for the infrequent dissemination of common sexual misconduct.
Some might argue that this time is different: that this movement may change the paradigm of these industries as we know it. The unprecedented intensity with which people (even people within these industries) are having their stories shared and heard has turned the revealing of sexual violators into a de facto witch hunt (without any of the sectarian and misogynistic issues of a witch hunt). Spacey, C.K. and Weinstein are not by any means the only men to have been recently accused. Music icon Björk recalled staving off the unwanted and aggressive sexual behavior of film director Lars von Trier. Musician Alice Glass finally shared her grotesque experiences with Ethan Kath, with whom she cofounded Crystal Castles and endured an incredibly abusive relationship. Real Estate Matt Manondale was let go amidst sexual assault claims, and Marilyn Manson guitarist Twiggy Ramirez was let go amidst rape allegations. George Takei, actor and progressive icon, has been accused of drugging and molesting a man half his age over 40 years ago. Such an influx of reports may lead some to believe that these powerful industries may finally be starting to cleanse themselves of these violent and deeply immoral acts.
Although I think that it is necessary to take every and any opportunity to reprimand sexual misconduct, I still have strong doubts that anything will be substantially different in the future. The media is the means of dissemination of these allegations, and they only report on the outer appearance of these industries. There is historical precedent to believe that in an attempt to changes its appearance, these industries would much sooner repress their problematic culture under another facade then to change the culture itself.
PC: Flickr.com/Karl Lindsay