Thursday, 12 October 2017

The Concrete and the Clay Beneath My Feet

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert... near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies

The English romantic poet P.B. Shelley's wonderful poem Ozymandias reminds us that, in time, even mighty kings whose powers seem without bound are all likely at some point to fall. The collapsed statue lying in ruin in the desert is said to be patterned after a statue of the Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II that, in 1821, was transported to the British Museum. On the pedestal is the Greek name, User-maat-re Setep-en-re.

The king commanded great armies and inspired fear in his enemies and respect in his allies. Shelley describes the "half sunk" face with a sneer of cold command which directs all to gaze upon his mighty works and despair.

In the end, all is gone save for these relics of conceit.

And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains

Today's object lesson in selecting our idols of clay with great care is the disgraced Hollywood producer, Harvey Weinstein.

I won't spend time here on the details of his apparent crimes of harassment up to and including sexual assault. Needless to say, the accusations are many, they are specific, and they are disgusting. Weinstein has fled the country, ostensibly to seek "treatment" for sex and behavioural problems in Europe - I reckon he may be escaping the long arm of the law. He has been fired from the movie company named he built, his name apparently will be scrubbed from that company, and his "friends" in Hollywood and Washington are falling over themselves to scramble for the safety of the shadow of cover proclamations of how "disturbed" they are by all of this.

My point of today's ruminations is this: when you are looking for "guidance" on important matters of life, choose carefully. Things are, indeed, seldom what they seem.

While I am not at all interested in jumping on the right wing bandwagon that has erupted with glee that one of the loudest, wealthiest fundraisers of the Democratic party has been exposed as a disgusting, misogynistic creep, it is instructive as a warning not to take as our 'leaders' people solely because they are famous.

In the past campaign, one of the many - perhaps most - disturbing moments was when an old video recording of eventual winner Donald Trump surfaced in which he proclaimed in just about the most grotesque way possible exactly how he thinks about women when they are around celebrities. A collective howl of righteous indignation erupted; Trump tried to explain his remarks by laying them off to "locker room" talk.

His excuses were rejected - as they should have been. 

I personally found his remarks disgusting, but his explanation to be, sadly - pathetically - accurate. 

Just how right Trump was has been revealed, hasn't it? 

After the election, there was a rally in DC, highlighted by many of the gliteratti wearing pink "pussy" hats. Amongst those describing how personally outraged she was was the actress Ashley Judd. 

Today, Judd is in the news revealing that she was among those assaulted by Weinstein. The same Weinstein who held fundraising parties for Hillary Clinton in his apartment. Surely, Ashley Judd and many others in Hollywood knew exactly what sort of man Weinstein is.

What happened to Ashley Judd is reprehensible. It may be criminal. Was she really "shocked and offended" when Trump's comments were published? I don't believe it.

In the French press, the actress Lea Seydoux, best known in the US perhaps as being a "Bond girl" is tracking for an interview in which she described exactly how Weinstein attacked her years ago. Shocked and humiliated, she had not spoken about it publicly. Neither had Ashley Judd, or Angelina Jolie, or Gwyneth Paltrow, who won an Academy Award for her performance in "Shakespeare in Love," a movie produced by Weinstein.

All describe a similar story - they kept quiet because they were ashamed. And they kept quiet because they were afraid that Weinstein had the power to make or break their careers. All of them indicate that over time, his behaviour was an open secret. The comedian Seth Macfarlane in 2013 at the Academy Awards made a veiled joke about how the five nominees now "no longer had to pretend to be attracted" to Weinstein. The joke got a mixed reaction - some nervous laughter but also, muffled displeasure.

How could HE say THAT about Harvey?

I thought at the time that it was because the audience was offended that a relative nobody dared to say such a thing about a man of power and respect. In retrospect, I wonder if the reaction was more a collective shock that, at last, someone said, out loud, what everyone knew.

In her interview, Seydoux says that Weinstein is not the only powerful director or producer who is known to assault women. She (and others) indicate that it is practically an accepted part of the culture. It's worth noting that Hollywood still gives awards to the likes of Roman Polanski, who is not able to set foot in the US because he was convicted of drugging and raping a 13 year old girl. He lives beyond the reach of American law in France.

Today, after condemning (weakly) Harvey Weinstein, Ben Affleck was immediately called out for gross behaviour - grabbing a young woman's breast on live television and then laughing it off. Affleck was a co-Academy Award winner with Matt Damon for writing the movie "Good Will Hunting," produced by Weinstein. 

People in Hollywood have every right to hold their opinions. They have every right to voice them. But we need to separate the views of someone who plays a good guy on a two dimensional screen from the fact that that person may very well be a pretty bad guy in three dimensional reality.

I wonder, given the recollections coming out, how many of those sculpted faces that proclaimed to be speaking out for women said nothing when an actual woman was under attack? Worse, how many of them participated?

Their celebrity, looks, charisma, and fame do not preclude them lecturing us, but they also do not give them any additional credibility. 

I suspect that, in time, a lot more nasty business is about to be revealed about our screen idols. We are going to learn some things that we frankly do not want to know. This is why so many of us are sceptical when an actor or athlete or musician begins to lecture us. 

Choose your Gods wisely people.

When the curtain finally falls, and it surely will, it's likely that nothing beside remains.

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