The Hideous Normalization of Harvey Weinstein

It was Wednesday night and Harvey Weinstein, a man who had delighted in hurting and abusing people for years, made his way down the stairs of a Lower East Side bar with two women and two men. There was a VIP table waiting for him, just like the old days, where he would be comfortably shrouded in darkness. The bar was Downtime. The event was Actor’s Hour. Weinstein had been reportedly invited there by Alexandra Laliberte, the organizer of the event. A comic by the name of Kelly Bachman performed in front of the audience. She was a rape survivor. “I didn’t know we had to bring our own mace and rape whistles to Actor’s Hour,” she said on stage. But instead of laughter, which would seem condign to the unfathomable moment, she was booed and told to shut up.

Weinstein was safe. And it became clear as the evening rolled on that Weinstein was, even in his disgraced position, more important than the women. Zoe Stuckless, dumbfounded by his appearance, decided to speak up. “Nobody’s going to say anything? No one’s really going to say anything?” She was thrown out and accused of heckling. A third woman, Amber Rollo, approached Weinstein and one of Weinstein’s goons called her a “cunt.”

My position is that this is a nothing less than a fucking travesty of normalization and that Weinstein clearly had an obscenely unfair advantage, one that is being severely underestimated as people take in the shock of his most recent appearance.

First off, women have the right to be safe, goddammit. And Weinstein’s appearance at Downtime was decidedly harmful, if only because, while he has already lost much, he has not yet faced full repercussions for his behavior. I’ve read Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey’s She Said and the evidence in that book is meticulously documented. These two incredible journalists really went out of their way to get the allegations right. The book corroborates what an abusive and predatory beast Weinstein has been, as does the reporting of Ronan Farrow. We know that this man has abused and/or ruined the lives of at least 87 women and who knows how many more. Nearly 100 women. Think about that. Nearly 100 women who could have given us more art and joy. Even as a hard liberal who believes very strongly in rehabilitation, this is such a staggering and heartbreaking and extraordinary tally, such an overwhelming set of stifled possibilities, that I truly don’t believe that Weinstein should be allowed to show his face in public for a while, certainly not until he has stood trial (which is presently set for January). But Harvey is now going out in the world more or less as he did before his downfall. And there are no repercussions and certainly no consideration of what this means by the morally bankrupt jackals — including the Downtime management and Alexandra Laliberte — who enabled this ghastly evening.

What angers me so deeply is how, as we see in the clips, the majority of the audience who attended the Actor’s Hour event seemed to support Weinstein, pretending as if he was some endearing old school figure. He sat at a special table. Weinstein, of course, showed no shame or remorse. That should be no surprise. And the details really should alarm us. The goon calling Rollo a “cunt.” The bafflingly clueless public statement issued by the bar on Facebook. Weinstein’s right to a night out mattering more than the three women who bravely spoke out against him.

Strictly from a numbers game, this is obscene privilege. This is male entitlement. This is toxic masculinity writ large. This is the hideous normalization of a huge and uniquely abusive monster. This is, even on the comparatively small stage of a basement bar, a power grab. Weinstein really should not have the right to exert any advantage at this point. But he is protected. By Alexandra Laliberte — the shameful organizer of Actor’s Hour who is believed to have invited him to her events not just once, but twice. By the odious venue managers who prioritized Weinstein above the women and dismissed their justifiable distress as “heckling.” By the hack comedian Andrew B. Silas, who appeared as an act that night and offered a stupid quip about Good Will Hunting and normalized Weinstein. Silas was such a coward, such a witless Quisling, that he held back on lobbing a joke on where to get chloroform. By the very attendees, mostly actors, who probably believed that humoring Harvey might get them somewhere in their careers or who were just too spineless to stand for anything.

And the cycle of normalizing a clearly and unquestionably dangerous sexual predator now begins again — even as Weinstein wears a GPS ankle bracelet monitoring his movement. There is little consideration paid to how such a normalization snowballs and becomes more common and thus more accepted. And that is why I am greatly indignant with anyone who is okay with what happened at Downtime and why I feel that it is necessary to protest in the strongest possible terms against this normalization. Harvey Weinstein is not normal. He is very rich. He didn’t just “make a few mistakes.” He hurt and abused and manipulated women and ruined their lives. He is a very dangerous man buffered by money and the remaining dregs of privilege. He sure as hell shouldn’t be sitting at a VIP table. Lest we forget, if he didn’t put up the $1 million for bail, a sum that most people don’t have, he’d be sitting in a jail cell in an orange jumpsuit awaiting trial. If, for fuck’s sake, you’re actually one of those foppish apologists who wants to “be fair to Harvey,” then you’re going to have to acknowledge that the present situation is already unfairly stacked in his favor.

The Unfathomable Mistake of Kevin Spacey

Kevin Spacey likely believed, as all men in power do, that it would all work out. He could not recall the details of a drunken episode from twenty years before in which he was alleged to have sexually assaulted Anthony Rapp at the age of fourteen. This was very much on the level of the ongoing abuse committed against minors by Catholic priests, where men in power had invited young boys into safe space and violated their trust. In Rapp’s story, Spacey allegedly invited Rapp and his boyfriend over to watch the Tony Awards in Toronto, a ritual among actors as holy and as protracted as a Catholic wedding. He picked Rapp up like some sack doll, deposited him like a lithe concubine onto his bed, and believed that this kid was his for the taking.

Aside from failing to consider the full impact that such unfathomable behavior would have inflicted upon a kid, Spacey had willfully misread the climate that had flickered into being after Harvey Weinstein had been rightly exposed as a predatory animal. Sexual abuse and unsavory quids pro quo had been hidden from the public for far too long. Victims have seen their lives damaged or severely set back, if not permanently derailed, because the victimizers have long controlled the narrative. But now the victims are taking the narrative back, even as Twitter attempts to stifle their voices with flip twelve hour suspensions. Men in power had told these victims for too many years that being an objectified plaything or watching a man masturbate or allowing a man to suffocate you with his intimidating physical presence were the only ways to get ahead. There were decades of pain, years of depression, quiet cash settlements, countless days where victims were fighting the battle to rebuild their self-worth after media forces and Hollywood mechanisms tried to invalidate their stories and vitiate their pain. The time was well overdue for a reckoning.

And so Kevin Spacey issued a statement. Because his efforts to understand what he may or may not have done were directed inward, he did not have the power to look outward. This is the common trap of anyone coming to terms with bad behavior. Kevin Spacey could not see that Anthony Rapp was due more than “respect and admiration” and that his alleged actions were not merely “deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” but a deep scar that Rapp had carried for more than thirty years and that we may never know the full story about. And Kevin Spacey refused to step down as the cynosure of the narrative.

Instead, Spacey did something even more despicable in his attempt to atone. He aligned his sexual abuse with his sexuality, using the opportunity to come out as a gay man. As bad timings go, this was just as repulsive as David Leavitt tweeting “The last time I listened to Ariana Grande I almost died too” just as a terrorist had killed 22 people, including children, at an Ariana Grande concert. But it was far more insidious. Because Spacey’s statement equated sexual abuse with sexual orientation, which is akin to any number of racist stereotypes perceiving the black body as hypersexualized. Spacey’s statement was, to say the least, wrongheaded and deeply offensive to both the struggles of sexual abuse survivors and those who are afraid of coming out. That it follows so close on the heels of Robert Scoble’s deplorable outing of an abuse victim and his slackjaw-inspiring suggestion that his sexual harassment did not qualify because he did not possess power (a lie) suggests that men in power who have committed deep wrongs are incapable of putting their egos aside when coming to terms with the trauma and unpleasantness that they have inflicted upon other lives.

I believe that Kevin Spacey should be allowed to come to terms with what he did and continue his fine work as an actor, but he’s not helping himself by surrendering his sensitivity. The victim must always be prioritized over the victimizer in cases of atonement.