Hollywood’s award season is in full swing and will be dominated by actresses insisting on a new moral order in which men treat them with deference and respect. Right on. You witnessed Hollywood’s best on the Golden Globe Awards wearing black to honor those deadened by misogyny; most female winners will remark on overcoming sexual misconduct as Hollywood’s number one priority.
Time Magazine chose as 2017’s ‘Person of the Year’ the ‘silence-breakers’: women–some entertainers–who refused to be the dirty little secrets of men in power. Writers of the tribute raised a good point: ‘While anger can start a revolution, it cannot negotiate the more delicate dance steps needed for true social change…there’s a great deal at stake in how we assess these new boundaries, for men and women together.’
Jessica Chastain and Meryl Streep.
What are the new boundaries? Is Hollywood capable of covering and protecting its beautiful flesh? Renowned for pushing limits until they shatter, can the entertainment industry tow a line, any line that refuses sexual ‘freedom’?
Case in point. At the same awards ceremony where Jessica Chastain insisted that Hollywood clean up its act (the Palm Springs Film Festival), the young actor Timothee Chalamet won an award for playing a 17-year-old boy having an affair with a 24-year-old man in the film Call Me By Your Name; he thanked his costar’s wife for ‘letting me crawl all over her husband for two months.’ Huh.
In its yearend edition (Dec. 18th, 2017) featuring the ‘silence-breakers’, Time chose this romantic tale of sexual abuse as its sixth best film of the year. Times critic Stephanie Zacharak gushed over the film-as a ‘rapturous, bittersweet seduction. To fall into its arms is bliss.’ No mention that its story centers on a classic Hollywood hunk seducing a teen, and performing a host of orgasmic sexual acts with him. It is soft porn with literary pretensions. Breaking emotional, spiritual, and physical boundaries with other men cost Kevin Spacey his career. It will make the careers of the actors in Call Me By Your Name. So Hollywood says ‘Me Too’ to some, and ‘Not You’ to the films that seduce us.
Having seen the film (please don’t, as its explicit content is disturbing), I marveled at the lack of moral tension contained in it. The boy’s father consoles his distraught son by blessing this most special friendship and even expressing his regret over not ever having had such a same-gender affair. (Adding to the irony: the seducer was the father’s academic assistant whom ‘Dad’ invited into the home to share a room next to his son!) Even worse is the lack of tension experienced by Hollywood over the film. Have you heard any outcry against it?
Apparently Hollywood is selective in protecting human dignity. The industry must become consistent in her moral revolution. That must apply first and foremost to children. If Hollywood wants to create new boundaries then it must also repent for breaking good ones. Hollywood abuses everyone by applauding Call Me By Your Name.
As flames sear the West Coast, so the Hollywood community skewers one of its ‘gods’ (Meryl Streep referred to Weinstein as one in accepting an award for a picture he produced) for sexual misconduct of the most lurid order. Anyone with an IPhone knows that Harvey Weinstein—movie mogul responsible for highly honored films—used his position to misuse dozens of women. Most women were twenty-something beauties on their way up. Weinstein apparently could not be stopped. His lust leapt out of the casting office and onto female reporters who are now reporting the truth.
I hope the exposure of his power abuse will restrain the gods of Hollywood. Remarkable are the weird responses to his unraveling. Especially his ‘friends.’ We are talking here about a tightly knit network of actors and staff and lawyers and politicians who knew what was happening (come on, the man exposed himself constantly to pretty women, and had eight out-of-court harassment settlements) and turned a blind eye. That Streep—the most respected advocate for women in the industry and a frequent collaborator with Weinstein—claims she did not know of his abuses rings false to me. One can know and choose not to know.
Why the silence? Since the movies became an American institution in the 1920’s, Hollywood has been off-limits for most kinds of sexual restraint. Lusty players created a moral fault-line on which the industry developed. Early studio heads did damage control constantly for reckless actors (of both sexes) while behind the scenes, these gatekeepers advanced appealing ones in exchange for sexual favors. Such trade still flourishes (both homosexually and heterosexually) under some power brokers: ‘Give me what I want and I’ll give you what you want.’ Too many aspirants perpetuate the system by exchanging their dignity for a shot at stardom.
To expose Weinstein is to challenge one of Hollywood’s central tenets: sexual lust masking as liberty. Of all kinds. When does consensual sex become abusive? Where does one cry foul? On the fifth marriage? Once the affair ends after filming? The next arrest for procuring prostitutes? Boundary-breaking films featuring underage sex (Watch for upcoming ‘Call Me by My Name’)?
Perhaps the silence—or feigned shock– of some players toward Weinstein’s exposure is based on their own compromises—maybe not as monstrous as Weinstein’s but still stinking of strange flesh. One dares not judge lest (s)he be judged. Complicity is empowered by one’s own little monsters.
Some good feminists claim that Weinstein’s mess will provoke Hollywood’s repentance. Cleansing this system may take a little more. Yes, abuse of power must end. And yes, one must sort out all the vain liberties Hollywood celebrates. Sexism is not the only villain. All sins against chastity are; only those players who confess these sins face down before their Author and Redeemer will finish well.
Only one foundation stands through the fire. Pray that Weinstein (and all his friends who now throw stones at him) fall on the Rock. While the Weinstein story was breaking, I was rereading Pope Francis’ excellent encyclical, ‘The Joy of Love.’ I close with these excerpts: ‘God Himself created sexuality, which is a marvelous gift to his creatures. If this gift needs to be cultivated and directed, it is to prevent the impoverishment of an authentic value (150)…On the basis of this healthy vision of sexuality, we can approach the subject with a healthy realism. Sex often becomes depersonalized and unhealthy, an occasion and instrument for self-assertion and the selfish satisfaction of personal desires and instincts. In our day, sexuality risks being poisoned by the mentality of use and discard…Can we really ignore or overlook the continuing forms of domination, arrogance, abuse, sexual perversion and violence that are the product of a warped understanding of sexuality?’(153)
Hollywood can no longer.
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Crazy how a few songs can elicit a host of memories. David Bowie’s death at 69 this week flooded the airwaves with the soundtrack of my teens—‘Turn and face the strange Ch Ch Ch Changes…’ Strange indeed.
For a kid with same-sex attraction who adopted the credo that weird is good, sex better, and sensational times set to music lay just beyond suburbia in nearby Hollywood, I made Bowie the troubadour of my teen dreams. He was smart and sexy and for rebel kids, a guide to gender-bending bliss. I can relate to Madonna’s recent comment: ‘I was inspired by how he played with gender confusion.’
Confusion was our clarity. My high school friends and I would salivate at each new album, its cover sporting another evolution of the ‘glaminal’ Bowie. ‘Rebel, rebel, put on your dress; rebel, rebel, your face is a mess; Rebel, rebel, how would they know? Hot tramp, I love you so …’ When he growled: ‘All night, I want the young American…’ we related. We were the young Americans he wanted, right?
Strung out and resilient, insinuating ourselves into adult clubs and the fantasies of father figures, we had fun. Even when Bowie turned the tables and exposed the sickness of the ‘Fame’ we were seeking (‘What’s your name, what’s your name?’), we stayed faithful to his ever-changing persona.
I just saw a clip of an interview with Bowie where he equated his search for new expressions of music with a search for God. Which I guess means you never really land; a new riff, another spritzer of spirituality–the search is everything, more important than actually finding God. Or perhaps being found by Him.
For all my bluff and dare, I hoped someone would find me. I was strung out but not that resilient. My two friends with whom I traversed the thin line between Disneyland and Hollywoodland (we lived smack dab in the middle) bottomed out. One became a porn guy and died of AIDS and as did the other. But he passed radiantly into the arms of Jesus, the prayers of his Pentecostal single mother answered as he cried out for mercy in his dying.
I pray Bowie did the same. Sensations aren’t enough. Personas and good music do not save you. Only Jesus.