Friday, April 27, 2018

OPEN SECRETS: MOVIES AND THE ME TOO MOVEMENT

Had someone spent the better part of this year in a cave (an idea that grows increasingly appealing to me with each passing news day), only to just now become aware of the seismic social phenomenon that is the Me Too Movement; one could hardly fault them for assuming this newfound global discourse had been instigated by Hollywood as a means of addressing and drawing attention to the prevalence of sexual assault and harassment in the entertainment industry exclusively.
Indeed, as a sea of celebrated (largely white) faces comes to signify the frontlines of a movement that has, since an October 2017 tweet by actor Alyssa Milano, spawned a thousand hashtags and sparked a long-overdue cultural conversation, it’s easy to forget that the Me Too Movement was founded by African-American civil rights activist Tarana Burke as far back as 2006 as an “empowerment through empathy” program targeting women of color…traditionally the most underserved survivors of sexual violence.

The Color Purple (1985)
One of the few feature films to treat the sexual abuse of black women as a serious theme.
Historically, black women who speak out about rape, molestation, and sexual assault face resistance from all sides: accusations of race disloyalty if the perpetrator is a black male; said assault trivialized or disregarded if the perpetrator is a white male; silence or indifference from white females. 

When social-media frenzy—that unwieldy, modern equivalent of the scandal sheets of old—seized upon the band-aid-on-a-broken-leg karmic purge of the whole Harvey Weinstein scandal (offenses so unequivocal, males nationwide wide were granted license to condemn him free of having to bear either the weight of self-recognition or sting of complicity), defenders of the status quo were quick to whine about the  pendulum of consequence and accountability swinging too far. (This, after all of six months, mind you.) In the glare of spotlights and ancillary campaigns like #TimesUp and #NoMore, it looked for a while as though the essential tenets of Tarana Burke’s “me too. Movement” were in danger of submersion.  

Always a social movement about survivors (e.g., I see you and I understand) and less about naming and shaming, the focus of Burke’s Me Too movement encourages speaking aloud about that which gains its power from suppression, shame, and secrecy; recognizing the strength and value of those who survive traumas intended to instill feelings of guilt and worthlessness; and, most significantly, challenging the accepted perception that sexual assault and harassment are the isolated transgressions of a few bad apples, rather than a toxically pervasive by-product of socially-sanctioned misogyny and systemic sexism.

America is a fame-culture addicted country. So, if in the land of Celebrity Lives Matter it took our preoccupation with the problems of the privileged to give voice and visibility to what has long been an open-secret reality for millions of women nationwide; then it’s only fitting (if not downright ironic) that it should be via the industry that has made a fortune perpetuating and normalizing images of sexual abuse and violence towards women.

Marnie (1964)
Rape culture is when an esteemed director has to die before the public engages in a serious dialogue about an actress’ career-long disclosure of the sexual harassment she endured while in his employ. 
Alfred Hitchcock's behind-the-scenes harassment and obsession with Tippi Hedren
 lends Marnie's already distasteful rape scene an extra layer of ick.

For me, the single most surprising thing to come out of the whole #MeToo Movement are the reactions of shock, surprise, and incredulous outrage. All that convenient "Has this been happening under our very noses all this time?" self-absolution, instead of the more self-implicating—but arguably more accurate—realization that when it comes to acknowledging society's apathy towards the prevalence of sexual assault, our culture tends to adopt a position in line with a lyric from Stephen Sondheim's Company"Think what you can keep ignoring...."

Movies have the potential to be an eloquent voice for the things we find most difficult to discuss or even speak aloud. Similarly, I can think of few art forms more influential than film when it makes up its mind to utilize its magic to help shine a widescreen, Technicolor spotlight on some dark aspect of humanity society likes to keep relegated to the shadows. But traditionally speaking, when it comes to the depiction and treatment of women, it can’t be said that movies have always been what you might call a ready ally.

Hollywood rarely knows how to write a lead female character who is both sexual and sympathetic. Trapped by the narrow Madonna-whore social construct of womanhood, hack writers are often at a loss for how to feature as much nudity and sex as possible while still giving the audience a female lead they can root for/identify with. The irresponsible solution? Have her be the target of multiple sexual assaults. The Lonely Lady was marketed as a film with lots of sex and nudity, but in truth, there is very little sex in the film. What there’s plenty of is assault, coercion, battery, and rape.
Whatever brownie points The Lonely Lady earns for relevance (plot: women aren't taken seriously behind the camera in Hollywood) it loses due to its trivialization of sexual assault

If Movies Could Say #MeToo
So many of the films I cover for this blog are female-centric and were made during the era specific to when the Feminist Movement began to influence women’s roles both on and off screen. I'm intrigued by the possibility of exploring whether the attitudes in some of my favorites (and, in turn, my response to them) are dated, or, since many were once considered progressive, if they are in any way in tempo with the timbre of the times. Limiting my scope to films from my personal collection, my purpose in highlighting these movies is not just to illustrate how frequently rape, harassment, and sexual violence have figured in narratives and roles written for women over the years; but to examine the ways movies can reflect, shape, and possibly change our perceptions of behaviors and attitudes that have existed for too long without being challenged.


THE BORN LOSERS (1967)
As with so many horror films and westerns, the raison d’ĂȘtre of biker movies (essentially westerns on wheels) is the spectacle of assault on the female form. Not because women’s vulnerability to male violence is of any real import to the plot, it’s there simply to convey how bad the bad guys are. A staple of movies devoted to the wrongheaded notion that the banner heading of "action" always denotes the confluence of sex and violence. The Born Losers was written by the film’s star Elizabeth James, whose screenplay she decided--whether out of embarrassment (appropriate) or the belief that no one would see a biker flick written by a woman (misguided)--to credit under the pseudonym James Lloyd. I ascribe to Ms. James the refreshingly fearless and independent-minded heroine, and I thank her for providing personal fave Jane Russell with a colorful guest appearance. But in all other aspects this cycle melodrama (which introduced the "peace through asskicking" character, Billy Jack) is non-stop rape, female victimization, and by-the-numbers damsel in distress stuff.

VALLEY OF THE DOLLS (1967)
The “working girl” genre is long dead, but for a time there seemed to be a glut of films devoted to dramatizing the perils facing single women trying to make it in “a man’s world.” These films gave lip service to female independence, but always managed to make it clear that women were better off (safer) sticking closer to hearth and home. While the sincerity of the intentions of these films is up for debate, and their attitude often smacks of the sexist “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen” toxic male in the workplace ethic; at least these movies recognized the commonality of sexual assault in women’s shared experience. In Valley of the Dolls Sharon Tate is subjected to objectification and sexual coercion; In The Best of Everything (1959) Diane Baker is sexually harassed on the job; and in The Group (1966) Jessica Walter is battered and narrowly escapes date rape. 

MANHATTAN (1979)
No insult to anyone who loves this film, but as soon as Woody Allen says the line "I'm 42 and she's 17," Manhattan morphs into a horror movie. I adored this film once, and back in 1979 nothing about this May/way-past-December romance gave me the willies (beyond Allen's fundamental unattractiveness, of course). I look at it now and...I mean, even applying the blinkers-on standards of the time (it was released two years after the Polanski rape trial) the Allen/Hemingway thing still creeps me out. She's of age and so is he, but the legalities don't undercut the gross-out factor. Now, I suffer a Breakfast at Tiffany's response when I encounter it. Which is to say that much in the same way I wish for there to be some way to cut Mickey Rooney's Mr. Yunioshi out of that lovely film, I harbor a similarly unreasonable desire for there to exist somewhere a Mariel Hemingway-free cut of Manhattan.

UP THE DOWN STAIRCASE (1967)
There's probably not a woman alive who can't relate, at least in part, to this image of Sandy Dennis being harassed by guys on a sidewalk. I'm forever baffled when I hear men say that women should feel complimented by wolf whistles and catcalls. That is, until I recognize the disingenuousness of such sentiments. Men know precisely what they are doing. They know the entitlement, they know the power, and they know they are exerting a subtle form of dominance. It's a put-down and sign of mastery; a signal that the right to speak out about a woman's body matters more than that woman's right to say she doesn't want to be subjected to it.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK (1977)
Written as a "meet cute" introduction for the two leads of Martin Scorsese's uneven musical romantic drama, this opening scene comprised of Robert De Niro's persistent pursuit of Liza Minnelli at a V-Day function has always felt more than a little creepy and threatening. Back in 1977 I chalked it up to the Travis Bickle effect, but upon revisiting the film recently, I have to say the toxic masculinity, sexual harassment vibe is off the chart. De Niro comes off as stalker material and Minnelli looks as though she wished pepper spray had been invented in 1945.

TO DIE FOR (1995)
In this satirical black comedy loosely based on a real-life incident, Nicole Kidman plays a cunning (albeit, not very bright) sociopath who dreams of a career as a news anchor. While Kidman's character is set up to be a parodistic amalgam of the worst of our fame-at-any-price culture, the way men respond to her character's professional ambitions offers a piercing (perhaps unintentional) commentary on how some men regard women in the professional sector. It says a lot when one realizes the level of professional condescension, objectification, harassment, and disregard Kidman's grossly unqualified character is met with would be precisely the same were she Diane Sawyer or Robin Roberts. America got a poisonous taste of this in our last election.

LOOKING FOR MR. GOODBAR (1977)
The jury is still out as to whether Richard Brooks' adaptation of Looking for Mr. Goodbar is a moralizing cautionary tale or a bracing expose of our culture's sexual hypocrisy (I vote for the latter). More disturbing than this film's violent denouement are the comments I read on IMDB and other online sources where the biggest takeaway some men (and a distressing number of women) have regarding the tragedy that made this movie such a shocker, is that Diane Keaton's character really shouldn't have laughed at Tom Berenger's inability to perform in bed. Yes, the fragility of the masculine ego is such an acknowledged no trespass zone that people actually think death is a foreseeable consequence of wounding it. 

LIPSTICK (1976)
The sensitive, thought-provoking, well-intentioned film about the subject of rape and its far-reaching psychological, emotional, judicial, and social aftermath has yet to be made. Back in 1976 this glossy pseudo-feminist Death Wish exploitation film pawned itself off as the genuine article by introducing many good talking points in its courtroom scenes. Especially as pertaining to the (continued) assertion that a woman can "provoke" her own sexual assault due to what she wears or how she looks. But by lingering over the unsavory particulars of the act of rape and giving short shrift to the characters and their motivations, Lipstick showed its true hand: it was simply interested is exploiting violent physical assault for sensation.


SOMETHING WILD (1961)
On the opposite end of the Lipstick spectrum is this rarely seen Carroll Baker arthouse entry that stands as one of the more complex and contemplative studies of a woman dealing with the emotional and psychological trauma of rape. Unfortunately, the brilliant character-study feel of the film's first half feels curiously at odds with the compassionate but arguably problematic second half. Recommenced for its focus on the survivor aspects of rape, and not dwelling upon nor exploiting the violence of the act itself.

SMOOTH TALK (1985)
The tendency for movies to sensationalize sexual assault and rape is that when the perpetrators are depicted as drooling monsters (Showgirls), it supports men not being able to recognize their own inappropriate or abusive behavior in these outsize portrayals. Similarly, when rape is only shown in terms of extreme violence and brutality (Blue Velvet), it reinforces a tendency in both sexes to only recognize and accept allegations of rape in terms of how brutal the assault and how much of a struggle the victim puts up. Smooth Talk, in which a sexual predator rapes a teenage girl by means of subtle threats and terrifying coercion, raises very real issues concerning how many date rapes and incidents of sexual assault occur with no physical violence. What can't be ignored is that in many instances assault can arise out of the threat of violence, the potential for violence, or merely the verbal and psychological assertion of power. In these instances, the perpetrator relies on society's blurred lines to ensure a victim's silence.

LOLITA (1962)
Stanley Kubrick was a genius. Vladimir Nabokov's novel is brilliant. James Mason's performance is his finest screen work. And I adore Shelly Winters in this. All that being said, my problem with Lolita is that it appears as though no one involved in the making of the film was the least bit concerned with the single aspect of the plot that strikes me as being so profoundly sad and scary. Lolita, a teenager, following the death of her mother, is bound to the possessive, predatory, obsessive molester her mother married. She has no one else. And like a captor, Humbert likes it that way. Add to this the fact that her only means of escape (as presented) is into the arms of another creepy pedophile (Clare Quilty) and you've got the makings of a tragedy, not a dark satire. Sure, the film is told from Humbert's twisted perspective, but for the film to ask the viewer not to concern themselves too unduly with what this girl is feeling or going trough is, for me, asking a bit much.

THE HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE (1992)
In this suspense thriller, Annabella Sciorra (a real-life Harvey Weinstein assault victim/accuser) plays a woman who is sexually molested by her gynecologist. The filing of her complaint spearheads the film's not-always-plausible nanny-takes-revenge plot and brings an end to this aspect of the story, but the strength of the sequence is that it offers a realistic, non-sensationalized look at the kind of assault that can happen to any woman. That it's also the kind of assault that leads so many women to question their own judgement makes it a brief but powerful entreaty for women to trust their instincts and listen to their bodies.

ALICE DOESN'T LIVE HERE ANYMORE (1974)
In closing, a look at this marvelous moment courtesy of Ellen Burstyn. A reminder that it's never too late to call 'em out on their bullshit.


This Is Just The Beginning
9 to 5 (1980)
A shout-out to my favorite workplace comedy. A film that humorously tackled sexism, workplace misconduct, the glass ceiling, and equal pay for women. There's no denying a lot has changed since this film came out, just as it's painfully clear there's a lot more work that needs to be done. But I've a feeling the recent groundswell of grassroots social activism is just the beginning of a wave of change. Here's hoping movies stay in step with the times and (better still) occasionally lead the way

"Silence in the face of injustice is complicity with the oppressor" - Ginette Sagan

There's so much backlash talk these days about the Me Too Movement fostering a "victim" mentality (something said at one time or another about all civil and human rights movements). But the reality has always been that speaking one's truth aloud, no matter the risk, odds, or assurance of outcome, is an act of triumph, the sign of a survivor, and profoundly heroic. me too. #MeToo


BONUS MATERIAL
A short film about civil rights activist and Me Too founder Tarana Burke 
(click on link to view)
SHE'S REVOLUTIONARY (2018)

THAT'S HARASSMENT (2018)
Filmmaker Sigal Avin and actor David Schwimmer produced a powerful series of five short films designed to demystify sexual misconduct. (click on link to view)


In this splendid New Yorker article by Molly Ringwald, the former Brat Pack member revisits her films The Breakfast Club and Sixteen Candles in the age of #MeToo 



Copyright © Ken Anderson

27 comments:

  1. Ken, Good for you for taking on this topic.
    Interesting, the way Hollywood portray things of a sexual nature.
    I've been watching lots of movies from the '40s lately, and am alternately amused and appalled by stars blowing cigarette smoke in each others' faces. The reason I bring it up here is because smoking was often used as short-hand for intimacy. The "comic" rape scene in 'Young Frankenstein' spoofs this notion. I try to remember it was another era, but also remember how many of those stars died of lung cancer, or were prematurely aged because of the habit. And also, how many young audiences took up smoking, because it was "sexy," like in the movies...

    You got me thinking how Hollywood either romanticized rape or used it as a shocker plot point. One of the most famous "romantic" rapes was when Rhett ravages Scarlett as a way of trying to assert his dominance over her. Or otherwise, more often it was rape of a hapless victim to shock audiences, like Jane Wyman in 'Johnny Belinda.' I know there's exceptions, but it often seems like rape as titillation or shock value, no in between. And seldom scene from the woman's point of view...

    Cheers,
    Rick

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    1. Hi Rick
      Yes, one of the funny things about the power and influence of movies is how quickly people learn and understand the vocabulary film. The censorship-mandated codes for sex (smoking in bed, tunnels, fade outs, fireworks, pans to logs on a fire)...all stuff that has become (per your YOUNG FRANKENSTEIN reference) the stuff of parody.
      Film’s influence extends most notably in its glamorizing of smoking, less notably to its normalizing of certain attitudes sex and women. I consider film to be a living art, meaning that I think each of us is free to choose which movies we’re comfortable watching without applying present-day perceptions upon (for example, though it’s not an enduring favorite, I can watch GONE WITH THE WIND with its racism and sexism intact. The film stays frozen in my mind in the era in which it was made); which movies don’t suffer from a contemporary perspective (MYRA BRECKINRIDGE is homophobic, sexist, and dated, but that awareness doesn’t spoil the film for me, it informs my present-day enjoyment of it); and which movies present insurmountable hurdles due to changing attitudes (the well-intentioned GUESS WHO’S COMING TO DINNER? is difficult for me to enjoy in the post-Obama years, mirroring as he did Poitier’s “exceptional black man” and America essentially electing Archie Bunker in response).

      In looking at how movies have depicted rape and sexual assault, you’re so right in noting that it was either romanticized (the tired trope of the struggle that becomes an embrace) or presented sensationally. And yes, rarely if ever from the woman’s perspective. So many movies feature sexual assault against a woman as a means of one man enacting revenge on another man (Cape Fear)-the woman herself being incidental property.
      Your opening comments on smoking in movies was more spot-on than perhaps you knew, because people like to think movies don't have much influence on behavior, but it's clear (e.g.,inclusion and "representation matters") that it has the power to influence perception.
      Thanks for reading this post and offering your very thoughtful and insightful comments on this topic, Rick!

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  2. Thank you for your very intelligent and articulate take on this very timely topic. I really, really love Marnie, and (and I know I'm in the minority here) am so impressed by Tippi Hedren's performance. That said, that rape scene is SO VERY CREEPY AND DISTURBING. When I was a teenager watching it, I didn't "get" it; as fifty-year old I do, and YUCK. And now that we can acknowledge that Alfred Hitchcock, genius that he was, was also a dangerous sexual predator makes it that much more disturbing. Thanks again for the great input and analyses!!

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    1. Hi Percy
      And thank you very much!
      MARNIE is a movie I really didn't "get" as a kid, either. I remembered it largely as a somewhat camp showcase for Hedren's limited acting skills and Hitchcock's predilection for fake backdrops and comical rear projection. The film is infinitely more compelling to me now as an adult (a lot of downright weird shit is crammed into this movie).
      Like you, I've always felt the rape scene was creepy as hell. Yuck, indeed!I don't know that there is any way to redeem it short of just being grateful that 1964 censorship prohibited the kind of distasteful explicitness he wallowed in in FRENZY.
      I love that this is a favorite film of yours and I must say, Hedren's performance has improved in my eyes over the years (like Carroll Baker, she's not helped out often by her inexpressive voice). Knowing what we know about Hitchcock adds a layer to this film that makes it a more noteworthy entry in his filmography than I would have one placed it. It certainly is a movie that sparks a lot of discussion.
      I'm intrigued to know what you like so much about MARNIE. Perhaps you might share your thoughts on the film here, Given that I chose it as the header photo for this essay, it wouldn't be off-topic. Otherwise, check out this great piece on MARNIE by fellow blogger Rick (the commenter above) and perhaps you can comment there: http://ricksrealreel.blogspot.com/2017/02/hitchcocks-marnie-misunderstood.html

      I appreciate your reading this post and thank you very much for commenting!

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  3. Hi Ken, There's an excellent book about Marnie, by an author who's written several books on Hitchcock films.

    Unlike Donald Spoto, whose allegations regarding Hitch increased with each book, and used Hedren's claims almost exclusively, Tony Moral had access to 'Marnie's' production notes from the Margaret Herrick library. Moral also interviewed many people involved, including Hedren. After reading Hedren's memoir last year, I felt the truth fell somewhere in the middle. That Hitchcock's harrassment of Hedren was mostly that he treated her like a piece of property that he owned (which is also horrible); yet some of Hedren's most specific claims don't add up. I've wanted to write a piece about this, but it's pretty much accepted as gospel that Hitch was a sexual predator and Hedren the hapless victim.

    Here's 'The Making of Marnie,' a wonderfully detailed book by an author who really know's Hitch's style, and also pinpoints where 'Marnie' went awry! https://www.amazon.com/Hitchcock-Making-Marnie-Scarecrow-Filmmakers/dp/0810856840

    ...and don't get me wrong, in interviews, Tippi Hedren seems like a pleasant, intelligent woman. But I've seen enough stories told by the stars themselves over the years that have become increasingly embellished. For instance, I just saw an interview with Bruce Dern talking about how brave Kirk Douglas was to hire James Stacy for 'Posse,' after the actor was left crippled from a motorcycle accident. Dern goes on how James was a huge young star, citing all the Disney movies he made, and then, nobody would touch him for a decade, til Kirk gave him a chance. I'm watching this, like wtf? Because I remember Stacy's accident, as my Mom adored him. BUT. Stacy made exactly ONE movie for Disney a dozen years prior, was pushing 40 as a journeyman TV actor, and was hired TWO years by Douglas after his accident. I've seen this a lot with older actors, telling "anecdotes" that are questionable but juicy... Joan Collins is another one who does this. Does anyone really believe Fox was ready to replace a dying Elizabeth Taylor with starlet Collins for 'Cleopatra?'And Tippi's stories of rigged phonebooths in 'The Birds,' Hitch giving her daughter a Tippi doll in a miniature coffin, and his vetoing her leaving 'Marnie' to accept an award in N.Y. are hooey. But that doesn't negate his control freak star maker attitude toward her--which was sadly common then (as in Harry Cohn and Kim Novak.)

    Just my thoughts,
    Rick

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    1. Hi Rick
      Thank you very much for commenting. Whew! I'm not sure where to begin.
      But let me start by relating a personal anecdote that at first may seem off-topic, but will inform the points I want to make later.
      Some years ago, my sister and I went out to dinner with a friend of mine. Throughout the dinner our waiter was professional and cordial to my friend (both the waiter and my friend are white) but behaved in a manner that was (at least as I perceived it) very brusk, disregarding, and at times, downright rude to my sister and me. I didn't say anything, certain that it was just ME, but when my sister confronted the waiter, expressing the same feelings about the exact things I thought I alone had noticed, I realized that I had been taking my cues from my friend (who hadn't noticed a thing, and not my sister (who had been agitated most of the evening). On the LONG drive home, my friend spent the entire time in apologist mode, making excuses for the waiter, downplaying the level of insult, and whitesplaining to my sister and me that we were "too sensitive" to racism and thus found it everywhere, while she, having no emotional stake in the matter(!) was able to see it objectively.
      Needless to say, that was the end of that friendship.
      I bring this up because racism, like sexism, harassment, and sexual abuse, is often invisible to those to whom it’s not directed. All have been able to thrive so long as both systemic and socially supported modes of oppression chiefly due to their ability to harm without leaving visible scars.

      You're obviously free to feel any way you wish about the whole Hedren/Hitchcock thing, but I just found some of the language you used to be problematic.
      Tippi Hedren, even in her most explicit allegations, has never once presented herself as a "hapless victim." On the contrary, she has told her story from the position of a survivor, someone who didn’t allow a man or a studio to crush her. Not only did it take incredible bravery for her to even whisper a negative word about so beloved and respected a filmmaker, but she has gone out of her way (above and beyond the call of duty, in my opinion) to express her respect for Hitchcock's genius, and gratitude for his discovering her while holding steadfast to the truth of what she alleges happened to her.

      In addition, bothing she has ever said occurred within a vacuum, Vera Miles has long told stories of Hitchcock’s obsessive behavior with her. Men may be more prone to dismiss these women's stories as "He was just a control freak,” or “That’s the way it was then”; but no one (especially a man) has the right to tell a woman that she is being "too sensitive" when she speaks about her reality.

      And as you say, even if the truth of what happened with Hedren falls somewhere in the middle of how it's been depicted by the two male biographers/film scholars Spoto and Moral (whose MARNIE book I did read); isn't it up to Hedren to decide the parameters of her own trauma? What she personally considers to be inappropriate behavior doesn't have to align with what a sexist and patriarchal society believes she should be able to put up with in a man’s world. Men are always telling women "It wasn’t THAT bad!" or dismissive language like "He just (fill in the blank)” --but that's precisely what the ME TOO Movement is about: The terms, conditions, parameters, and means of a woman's narrative about the abuse they personally experience can no longer be directed, explained, and decided by males.
      It's a call for men, all men, gay men and black men, to simply listen.
      End of Part I

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    2. Part II
      I’m not sure what about Hitchcock needs defending, as his reputation is still thriving in spite of what we’ve come to know about him (and what I wholeheartedly believe). I mean, even Melanie Griffith has corroborated the Tippi Hedren doll in a coffin story (Hitchcock gifted her a replica of her mother in a rectangular doll box. Griffith being a little girl, was shaken because to her it “looked” like her mom was in a coffin. It was not intended to scare her, but it did). Spoto sensationalized the story in the telling, but Hedren and Griffith have confirmed that it happened.

      But even my going over the minutia of all this is still the point of why I wrote this essay. The toxic confluence of fame culture and rape culture is what makes fans of Hitchcock so protective and defensive of the man and reluctant to believe Hedren’s more than credible (to me) allegations. Hitchcock fans don’t want to believe it, men don’t want to believe it, and women indoctrinated into blaming those assaulted for their own abuse don’t want to believe it.

      Movies reflect society in characterizing assault as always being these over-the-top acts of violence…ones so obvious and unequivocal, there are no gray areas as to what has transpired.
      But reality tends to be murky, and abuse happens in secret…even when they happen out in the open. Thus, the point is not to put every woman’s story on the witness stand to be grilled and analyzed for unwavering consistency; that makes it all about the men. Nor is it that every woman’s story needs to be believed out of hand. No, to me the point is to say to women, you are safe in speaking out about what happened to you. You don’t have to suffer in silence, and---like in the instance with my sister where her speaking out helped me realize that I wasn’t just imagining what I was feeling---by speaking out, perhaps other women will hear you, see you, and recognize something about what has happened to them your story.

      Rick, I hope you take all of this in the manner it was written, but I had to give a serious response to your comments because this is a very serious issue. As I said, it's your right to doubt or be skeptical or feel whatever you wish about the Hitchcock/Hedren allegations. I respect that we all don't have to see things the same way.
      My only point is that all of us men have to be aware of the language we use. Language that minimizes or dismisses what a woman says when she's speaking out about something very few women actually gain anything out of disclosing. I ask that we be aware not out of political correctness (I don't believe there is such a thing, there is only common decency) but so as not to perpetuate the silencing of the oppressed. As gay men we know the secret language of discrimination. As a black man, I'm doubly aware of the cost of not having a voice.
      In its purest form, Me Too is simply about listening for a change.
      Thanks Rick, I appreciate your candor and hope you appreciate mine.

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    3. Hi Ken,

      That's a very thoughtful response to Rick, and you're of course more than entitled to respond as you see fit.

      I'd like to push back just a little. In re-reading Rick's comment, he didn't say Hedren is a "hapless victim", rather he said that she has been perceived as such in the public's eye (and that is true). He also qualifies that to add that how Hitchcock treated her was objectively terrible. It feels like you're nit-picking his comments a bit.

      When you said that we need to listen to everyone, and to give people a voice to express themselves, that couldn't be more true. This is an important time for such a shift in our society, and the change badly needed to happen. However, as Rick pointed out, it is worth noting that portions of Hedren's account have changed pretty significantly over the years. I don't want to go into details, and this is not to say at all that she shouldn't be believed. But whether because of the passing of time, or other reasons, it's not heresy or "mansplaining" to note that these very public accounts have differed substantially over the years. It's also worth noting that Vera Miles's account of her relationship with Hitchcock is very different from what Ms. Hedren described, and I don't think it's fair to lump them together as you appear to do.

      I'm not reflexively defending Hitchcock at all - in fact, I think he appears to have been a troubled man especially later in life. But I think details that rise to this level of significance matter, especially when the reputation of someone deceased is involved. There is a distinction between someone's professional reputation and their personal one. You're correct when you say that Hitchcock's professional reputation hasn't taken a hit, but his personal one most definitely has - he's now routinely referred to as a "monster" and a "criminal" in press coverage of his life. It's not my place to say if those labels are accurate, but it's certainly fair to point out that the evidence for those judgments seems to be inconsistent.

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    4. I'm not going to have this discussion here.

      Craig, you have been nothing but polite, thoughtful and well-considered in your comments, and I sincerely thank you. I thank you for commenting. I would thank you for reading my essay but I’m not honestly sure you did. I know you read Rick’s comments, but if the main takeaway from a 3,000 word essay about the Me Too Movement is a desire to discuss the inconsistencies in the abuse allegations made by Tippi Hedren against Alfred Hitchcock—a rich, esteemed, heterosexual white male during the sixties (a time white male heternormative voices were the only ones listened to)…a man protected by patriarchy, systemic sexism, and the boys’ club atmosphere of Hollywood ---well, the irony of it all would be funny if it weren’t so surreal and so common in our culture.

      The Me Too doesn’t posit the All Lives Matters-style false equivalence that we must listen to everyone. Economically, judicially, politically, culturally…in our society the voice of men booms louder and more persuasively and more pervasively than anyone else’s. We do not need to be reminded to listen “to everyone” The Me Too Movement addresses specifically and exclusively the cultural voicelessness of women and the need to listen to women for a change. It doesn’t say everything spoken by a woman must be accepted as gospel truth. It doesn’t say that women don’t or won’t lie or exaggerate. It doesn’t attribute to women any level of saintliness. As a social movement it simply concerns itself with supporting environments, attitudes, and forums that encourage women to feel safe in speaking out about sexual violence and harassment.

      It’s ONLY about speaking out and speaking up. Even Tarana Burke says that this focus on men; the finger-pointing, holding them accountable, etc., is important, but beside the point of her initial movement. She wants women to stop holding in those secrets as though they were in some way to blame.
      The laser focus of what the movement is about is changing the way we listen to women. Because from Joan of Arc on, we’re pretty well experienced in tearing down what women have to say once they’ve said it.

      That’s why, with all due respect, I’m not going to participate in this conversation on this particular blog, as it relates to this particular topic. It focuses on the male, not the female, thus it is 100% the opposite of what I wrote about above, and 100% what is wrong with our culture.

      If you want to talk about what it must have been like for a single woman with a child making a living in the 1960s, I’d like that.

      If you want to compare if a blond white actress working with a controlling director (Hedren/Hitchcock) had the same hurdles as a black actress working for a controlling white director (Dorothy Dandrige/Otto Preminger), that’s a discussion I’d like to have.

      But I’m not going to engage in the exact kind of obfuscation-in-the-ostensible-search-for-truth kind of discussion that dominates the male-centric world of film criticism, film scholarship, biography, internet film forums, and fanboy culture.

      Somewhere else perhaps, some other time. But not in the comments section on a piece written to shed light on why more women need to speak out.

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    5. Ken,

      That's fair enough, but as someone who has enjoyed reading your blog for many years it's quite disappointing to see your reaction to some reasonable comments. It's very timely and necessary to hear women's voices, and at the same time it's not inappropriate to point out the problematic areas of one very specific and famous historical situation. It doesn't have to be an either/or situation, and I'm not sure why you'd elect to silence conversation on this important topic.

      Thanks for the great film commentaries over the years.

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    6. I'm uncomfortable with the insinuation that I didn't read your essay. I did. That's why I wanted to engage with you to note that in a very thoughtful 3,000 word piece, one particular scenario you referenced has a more nuanced history than you alluded to. If you're not open to constructive dialogue in a public blog that you have created, I'm not really sure what your aim is here? How is airing of facts "obfuscation"?

      I've done a great deal of research on men in the film industry who have a very real and uncontested history of abusing or harassing women they have encountered, or who they have worked with - that includes everyone from Polanski, Brett Ratner, George C. Scott (yes, he beat up Ava Gardner a lot), Harry Cohn, and many others. Otto Preminger's relationship with women - not just Dorothy Dandridge - is also quite complex and uncomfortable to think about. His relationship with Gypsy Rose Lee, as well as the manner in which he directed many of his female stars, was troubling to say the least. Hitchcock's situation is different, and I don't like the implication that's it's somehow allying oneself with white, oppressive men of the film community to point that out and have a dialogue about it. Wasn't the point of your piece to grapple with film history - both in terms of depictions of sexuality onscreen as well as the filmmakers and practitioners? Isn't that how we parse out our feelings about the past as well as readjusting the societal norms today that we want to see reflected in both real life and onscreen?

      You're a very thoughtful person, and I don't think by snapping at your readers and commenters who have just as much of an investment in social justice and film history as you do that anything productive will be achieved.

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    7. A READER'S GUIDE & PRIMER:
      Ways to frame the narrative of the Tippi Hedren/Alfred Hitchcock sexual assault allegations in ways that are not male-centric, shrouded misogyny, sexist, victim-blaming, or reinforcing toxic masculinity scenarios that assume, in a world of astronomical sexual assault statistics, that a woman is lying when she speaks out about being harassed or abused. Especially when the assailant/perpetrator is a famous man.
      1. Talk about victim trauma. Respect for what a victim goes through when processing an assault. Studies have shown that when a person is abused or sexually assaulted, it isn’t unusual for them to dissociate in the moment, freeze up, shut down emotionally, or block the experience. A rush of feelings including shame, blame, guilt, fear, and outrage can result in the person later not being able to recount every detail in unassailable clarity. It can take weeks or years for a person to recover all the blocked or clouded memories of an assault, making stories sound inconsistent and playing havoc with interrogative thinkers who assume that unless the details are recalled completely without variance, then doubt must be shed on the claims of the assailant.
      (Consider that there are dozens of books out there about Hitchcock, and yet you can't find two people involved who can agree on how the shower scene in PSYCHO was filmed. Everybody remembers it differently and everybody's story changes a bit over time. Hitchcock's story changed, Janet Leigh's story changed, Saul Bass' story changed).
      2. Discuss how both men and women are trained to not really believe women. The trope of the hysterical, overly emotional woman and the cool-headed rational man contributes to police thinking 50% of women lie about sexual assault in spite of statistics placing it more around 2% or 3%. Women are regularly disbelieved, even more so when the assailant is famous. Hedren doesn't exactly have the power advantage here.
      3. Discuss the likelihood. If US sexual assault rates number at 81% of women are sexually assaulted (roughly 1 in 5). The Me Too Movement has exposed Hollywood to be rife with sexism and misogyny, what are the chances that Hollywood circa 1963 was a more welcoming and safe place for women?
      END OF PART I

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    8. A READERS GUIDE AND PRIMER PART II
      4. Discuss the "raw deal" vs. "lying bitch" scenario. If a talented man with a career reputation it took decades to earn is brought down by the sexual assault charges of a woman, the man (whose contributions are seen as valuable) is perceived as getting a "raw deal." While the woman (whose feelings, personal trauma, psychological wounds can't be measured, therefore of no estimable value) is seen as a "lying bitch." His life, legacy and body of work is valuable, her "feelings" and trauma are not. Thus she and everything she claims is put under the scrutiny of social evaluation. A society that already doesn't like women, doesn't like women who complain, and especially doesn't like women who bring about the downfall of a famous man. Note: Said society never thinks the man is responsible for his own fate because of his transgressions; in matters sexual, women provoke, are prone to misunderstanding and inflating harmless behaviors, always responsible, and should remain quiet, especially if that man handed you your career.
      Lastly
      5. Lastly, discuss power and vulnerability. Men think they are vulnerable to women's false allegations. So much so that they instinctively rally around other men in a sort of sympathetic "It could have been me!!!" kind of empathetic bonding. Women, on the other hand feel vulnerable to men's physical violence, men's anger, men's entitlement, men's laws designed to favor men and give them the benefit of the doubt. Women feel vulnerable to men's silence about what they know about men who abuse and harass. Women feel vulnerable to what culturally can feel like an indoctrinated dislike,hatred, and distrust of women. Over half the deaths of women in America are by romantic partners. Where in this environment does a woman need to lie, exaggerate, and embellish. Her waking reality gives her more than enough to draw from. The lying abuse victim is a myth males cling to.
      I'm sure to be writing about MARNIE at some future date. I hope this guide provided an clear indication of the proposed tone of discourse.

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  4. Felix Gonzalez, Jr.April 28, 2018 at 9:14 AM

    Hi Ken,

    This is by far one of the most interesting and enlightening pieces I have read about the #MeToo movement. Like you, I have also been turning a more critical eye to old favorites and also to movies I'm watching for the first time as a lover of classic film. A few weeks ago, I watched "An American in Paris" for the first time, and while I thought it was a wonderful movie for so many reasons, the central romance between Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron did give me pause. Similar to your comments about De Niro in "New York, New York" above, Kelly basically stalks Caron, pretending to be someone she knows, and pestering her at her place of work until she finally gives in and agrees to go on a date with him. The age difference, with Caron still a teenager and Kelly pushing 40, is also of note (though certainly not uncommon for films of the period). I've never been one to wag my finger at films of the past, especially when most of those involved are long since dead. I feel that more energy should be spent trying to correct what is happening in our own time and ensuring that we create a positive atmosphere for the future. But it is becoming a bit more challenging to simply dismiss something as being "of its time" and just blithely enjoy it. At the same time, I do feel that it is important to continue watching older films and pointing out aspects that are problematic, whether because of racism, sexism, or outmoded political and social views, lest we run the danger of painting history in an undeservedly positive light.

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    1. Hi Felix
      Wow! Such well-observed comments! You highlight precisely (and very articulately) what so often occurs with me when I watch older films. I don't discount any of the film's obvious merits, but the occasional "something" will pop out at me that I hadn't noticed or paid attention to before, signaling some kind of personal growth in perception. This is not unlike what happens when I rewatch a film I loved as a child. For example, when I saw THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY when I was a kid, it was one experience, see it now at 60, it's natural that viewing it should be a different experience informed by my life experience and (Ha!) maturity.
      That's why I think it's perfectly valid to look at older films and be aware of how things have changed. Especially in terms of how women and people of color are depicted.
      I adore the film FUNNY FACE and can enjoy it easily, but that 30-year age gap between Hepburn and Astaire sticks out a bit further to me now than it once did.
      As per AN AMERICAN IN PARIS (a film I've never seen all the way through), so many of the so-called "cute" courtship rituals of old movies are so reflective of the attitudes of the time. Many of those common "wear down a woman's resistance" tropes haven't aged very well. But like you state (so eloquently) the energy of this newfound awareness is better spent on correcting what is happening now, rather than on exclusively finger-wagging at and tsk-tsking old movies. But some things are indeed easier to overlook than others, and no one should feel that calling out sexist and racist tropes in old films is beside the point. Precisely for the very salient reason you cite at the conclusion of your comment: we gain nothing from painting history in a rose-colored light, and it risks our not being able to grow and change today. To ignore it or look the other way is ultimately more harmful, I think. Can't tell you how much I enjoyed reading your contribution to this very important topic, and in offering us so much food for thought! Cheers, Felix!

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  5. You're so smart. I wondered why ORDINARY PEOPLE continued for so long to be the lead entry in the blog. Clearly, you were busy thinking and getting those thoughts recorded.

    Women in the US have only been able to vote for less than 100 years. In the UK, women have voted for even fewer years. Women in Saudi Arabia got the vote only in 2015, granted by the King. We see in certain countries that the number of women elected to office growing and, with that one big exception, they are being elected in greater numbers to higher offices. It will continue to grow. And when they hold the ability to write some laws and pass those laws and sign them into law, oh, even more change will shower down upon us. But it takes time. That makes the strides of this past year particularly bracing.

    You are right, men know exactly what they are doing. People form groups, amass power, and then use it violently against others. That is the history of the world. We are terribly flawed beings and abusing anyone we suspect is less powerful is how we have always done things. Therein lies the absolute necessity of groups like #MeToo.

    I have always liked the following from Gore Vidal's "The Best Man." It is essential to this debate. "If you don't start to fight, you are finished. Now I am here to tell you this: Power is not a toy we give to good children; it is a weapon and the strong man takes it and he uses it and I can assure you he don't turn it on himself nor let another man come at him with a knife that he don't fight back." I find that so well stated. Dialogue all you want, but power is never given away. It is taken away. Seized. Do it. Then use it wisely. It won't be relinquished without a fight, so helmets must be worn at all times.

    As women move in greater numbers into our federal, state and local governments, they will make change. In the past year, women in entertainment and the media have seized power. Frances McDormand, using her Oscar speech to call on others with power to demand Inclusion riders in future contracts, was power seized magnificently. Producers don't care about anything but their bottom line and Frances and her beautiful big mouth just made staffing a film more complicated and, therefore, more expensive. But better. She demanded it be better and more equitable then it has been. She decreed the cost of the status quo was too damn high. Those kinds of demands must not stop.

    The list of sexist crap out of Hollywood that must have made Betty Friedan's head want to explode is virtually endless. (Madison Avenue was far worse.) The stories, the scripts, the casting, THE PAYROLL!!! If you consider that by the end of World War II, women had only had a constitutional right to vote for 25 years, it makes more sense. And it makes it clearer that the time to seize power is now. The time to seize power is always now.

    Act up. Fight back. Those were good words in the 80's and 90's, and they are good words now.

    Thanks for your essay. I end as I started. You're so smart!

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    1. When I was watching Wind River all I could think of is "what's wrong with men?"

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    2. Hi George
      You’re right. The sorting out my thoughts about this topic was being the atypically long gap between posts.
      Those are some really sobering historical statistics you cite. It forever amazes me how long the wholesale denial of human rights for so many of its citizens (and I include race inequality along with rights denied women since so many white suffragettes felt black women were not fully human, and thus worthy of the right to vote) has been an accepted part of the makeup of our “civilized” country.

      As more aspects of the women’s movement recognize and embrace intersectionality, I think the current strides made in activism really has a chance of being a game-changer. The #MeToo movement encourages me because it’s such a personal social movement. As it moves toward being a political voice, I feel encouraged in these dark times.

      The history stats you reference are valuable info that provide a social context for the pop-cultural issues raised in this piece. I’m especially glad you mentioned Frances McDormand’s Oscar speech shout-out for Inclusion riders, which is something I’d never heard about (I know that sent me to Google for a definition. I wonder if there was a rush on online “Inclusion Rider” searches the following day?) that allows those liberals with the clout in Hollywood to at last put their money where their mouths are.

      Best of all, I appreciate how your comments recognize and reiterate the rarely supported truth that those with/in power are not inclined to relinquish it; that rights have to be fought for. That inspiring Gore Vidal quote stands as an eloquent reminder to all those who are (invariably) told they are not protesting politely enough, peacefully enough, respectably enough, or that they should try to appeal to the compassion of their oppressors.

      Some classic film fans grow apoplectic at the thought of contemporary attitudes being applied to older films, but I contend that it’s still possible to enjoy some films while being totally aware of the ways in which they are problematic. It being a matter of not letting film endorse or normalize what one personally knows to be a sexist or racist point of view. After that it seems like a person just has to be honest and say something like “I love ‘Barbarella’ in spite of its antiquated sexual politics.”
      People sometimes resist change thinking it’s going to take away from them certain things they hold dear. Alas, in some instances it’s merely the privilege of thinking the sexist or racist beliefs they hold are defensible.

      As a child of the 60’s, I’m glad so many young people have turned to activism and are fighting back.

      Gratified you enjoyed this piece and that it yielded such a thoughtful and purposeful response, from you. I’ll say a simple “Thank you” for the opening and closing sentiments of your comment, repeating to you what so many visitors to this blog say on FaceBook, Twitter, & Instagram: that the comments section of this blog is full of the smartest, most knowledgeable film enthusiasts around.

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    3. loulou
      Amen. I haven't seen that film (although I'm familiar with its plot) but I can't count the number of movies -- particularly from the "liberated" '70s --that left me asking the same question. If not about the story itself, then about the director and/or writers.

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  6. I was literally sitting here trying to remember what the exact age difference was between Hepburn and Astaire! I love Funny Face too, but mainly because of the style and Audrey, of course. The age difference between them totally squicks me out, though (ditto Kelly and Caron). I've never been a big fan of Astaire, his indisputable talent notwithstanding, and after learning that he went out of his way to be a racist jerk, I'm not really keen on any of his movies now.

    I feel the same way about GWTW--a book I loved on my first read at age 12--because while I appreciate the style and spectacle of the film, the virulent underlying racism throughout it is just appalling. Hattie McDaniel didn't just deserve the Oscar, she deserved reparations for having to play Mammy in the first place!

    The whole trope of "persistence gets you laid" is just so toxic, with the 1998 Bollywood film Dil Se... as a perfect example. If you haven't seen it, you still might have seen "Chaiya Chaiya," which IS a great song and a hella iconic scene, but the film is absolute shit otherwise, only perpetuating the rampant misogyny in Indian culture. Shah Rukh Khan is supposed to be the hero--as he usually is--but he's no hero, he's a creepy-ass stalker who should have been knocked unconscious from a flood of restraining orders! His ceaseless pursuit of the heroine leads to **SPOILER** her resorting to suicide in order to escape him. This film is presented as a story of romantic love and devotion, when it's actually a horror film (though perhaps inspirational to incels everywhere, since it's rooted in the belief that men are entitled to women). Maybe I'm influenced by having dealt with a stalker myself, but in any case, Dil Se... is the only Bollywood film to ever actively enrage me.

    I appreciate your mention of Kubrick because my husband and I were just discussing him recently. David was saying how 2001 is one of his favorite movies, and while I can understand that, I still have come to despise Kubrick for the vicious misogyny in many of his films. Of course A Clockwork Orange comes to mind at once; I'm really not down with seeing women (or men, actually) being assaulted and murdered presented as 'entertainment.' In Eyes Wide Shut, there are all these (skinny, white) naked women presented like hors d'oeuvres--completely objectified, yet totally anonymous--which for me negated the impact of Nicole Kidman's character not falling into Kubrick's usual victim-or-bitch dichotomy. I think that for him, we were just collateral damage or titillating furniture. And that pisses me off.

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    1. Hi Lila
      Yes! A woman's voice at last!
      I am totally unfamiliar with the Bollywood film you reference, but I'm forever fascinated by how my changing attitudes inform my perception and response to how romance and courtship are presented in films.
      And I don't even claim new sensibilities has anything to do with it, even as a kid I thought Pepe Le Pew was more like a rapist than a romantic.
      SPOILER ALERT for "The Butcher"
      I absolutely adore the Claude Chabrol thriller "The Butcher," but the narrative feels very lame-brained (or at the very least misguided) in suggesting that had an independent school teacher (Stephane Audran) returned the affections of an amorous suitor (the towns local butcher) the sexual assault and murder of sever local women might have been avoided.
      it's as though the woman's personal reasons for not wanting to be in a relations hip (she had been badly hurt before) mattered less than the fact that the homicidal butcher's frustration at being rebuffed resulted in his "acting out" on other women.
      That same trope you mentioned, that men are entitled to the women they want. What the women want is immaterial.
      I remember several years back there was this viral video that made the rounds. It was a mother sending a video message to the boy at school who was persistently harassing her daughter long after she had expressed she wasn't interested in him. She made a good point of noting how movies and songs reinforce the notion that if a boy's attentions and overtures are persistent, he can wear down any girl's initial resistance. He video was not a plea, but an assertion that he MUST start to listen to women when they say "no" or "I'm not interested"-- that it isn't cute to pursue relentlessly, it's harassment.
      Movies have made some big strides in that area, but films from my favorite areas often have to be taken with increasingly larger grains of salt.

      I have the same issues with the brilliant Stanley Kubrick as you. As a gay man, I've always thought I was overly sensitive to the way male directors protect the modesty of male actors while claiming "realism" for disrobing females left and right. EYES WIDE SHUT is all about exposing the female form. Those stultifying dull orgy scenes would have been infinitely more erotic had the director not devoted himself to so stridently protecting the modesty of the males involved.
      No all of them, but many straight men I've known have been homophobically grateful not to have to look at another man's junk in a movie, but that attitude has always rankled me. The extreme of the reaction feels suspicious.
      (I'm a big fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. Those guys go crazy at every scene where a woman's body is even remotely on display, but react in loud and exaggerated revulsion whenever a camera lens is trained on even a man's bare chest or leg).

      Thanks for contributing a woman's voice to this male-centric (but empathetic and awoke) comments section.

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    2. Well it's certainly hard to stay away from discussion comments which invoke Gore Vidal, heterosexual male power, Betty Friedan, male genital shaming and how movies have traditionally (at best) presented women decoratively and (at worst) as reasons why they need to be kept in line.

      Privilege doesn't after all question itself, but the men who've always made movies in Hollywood and elsewhere have a very long track record of justifying and pandering to supporting the status quo when it comes to other groups. In short, they've always addressed "issues" but unfortunately have always chosen what questions to ask and duly provided answers to same. Or - more nefariously - left toxic questions aired but unresolved, as per the current public narrative with regards to rehashing social issues in the name of free speech.

      Whether it's rape conflated with romance or the rejoicing/revulsion at fetishized female vs male flesh, it's all just aspects of how the movies serve and pander to desire - and desire alone - as fundamental to the heterosexual male identity. For there to be any real change in men generally, moviemakers must abandon that central tenet. From it arises justification of all manner of "crimes of passion", and no amount of reduction in the objectification of women will have any real or worthwhile value. (While the term "junk" is offensive, both men and women need to be exposed to men's junk in movies for vastly different reasons. Without some parity we're just looking at propaganda which serves neither men nor women. Screw modesty...now there's a fake virtue if ever I've seen one.)

      Kudos (again) to you Ken for yet another beautifully thought-out piece: it certainly meets the thought-provoking brief.

      Why gosh...if #MeToo helps drain the swamp that is Hollywood then future generations of gay boys may grow up with better role models than Judy Garland if nothing else!

      - Rick (The Aberrant Homosexualist)



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    3. Rick!
      How nice to hear from you. Your articulate comment reads like a think-piece article of its own. My favorite of the many, almost poetically-phrased points you make is that privilege doesn't question itself. Which is why so many men in Hollywood today as though they have just encountered a mode of behind-the-scenes behavior we've been aware of since film began.
      I also think the observation that Hollywood has always addressed "issues" but held a tight rein on controlling the narrative.
      The authoritative quality of film (by virtue of their scope and assault on the senses, movies can sometimes make the most boneheaded concepts feel perfectly normal and acceptable) too few ever question the images they're fed. After seeing them repeated over and over in formulaic genres, these unacceptable modes of thinking feel natural.

      But you really nail it with this: "Movies serve and pander to desire - and desire alone - as fundamental to the heterosexual male identity." That's it. It explains how guys can be so hung up on the same perspective (the heterosexual male gaze) decade after decade, only to lose their collective minds when a film dares to ask them to relate to women as anything other than creatures of desire, or to look at life from their perspective.
      Now that women directors are helming action films, and writing TV crime dramas and giving us new perspectives, I hope there will be a notable decline in things like 47-year-old-men dating 17 year old girls, or women being held responsible for the violent actions of men when their advances are rejected.
      And what a provocative idea you pose for gay boys...the possibility that, without the over-top-sexism we embrace as camp (Valley of the Dolls), there exists the possibility for a new kind of role model.
      Rick, such razor sharp observations remind me how long it's been since I visited your blog. Thank you for joining in on the conversation!

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    4. Thanks Ken - I'd feel like I was preaching to the choir here if I restated the power of movies to participate in the transference of (especially) inappropriate messages! It's really not good enough for the movie industry to keep claiming they're "just entertaining" when in fact they're peddling poor psychology and suspect ideology when it comes to defining men, male sexuality and masculinity.

      The fact of the matter is that Hollywood especially is refusing to budge when it comes to male sexuality: neither the average Joe nor the heroic type actually likes women for the sake of liking women. Nor does he even have or act upon homosexual thoughts: it's quite bizarre to conceptualize "bromance" as a thing while concurrently ridiculing or vilifying male genitalia. Can you imagine women behaving similarly?

      I'm looking forward to women using real influence to rid Hollywood of both the men who influence the industry and the odors they've been leaving on screen for close to a hundred years. New ideas about men and their/our sexuality which reflect or exemplify Western reality aren't too much to demand. The changes need to go beyond concepts like visibility and inclusion of minorities because no amount of set decoration is likely to change the subliminal messages about male sexuality if the messages themselves aren't drastically changed.

      And to go directly to your point: yes Ken, almost any male who isn't what Hollywood determinedly peddles as normal or heroic would be a fine role model for all boys, gay and otherwise. The men of the myths and legends who've shaped Western society from its inception certainly weren't exclusively defined by a few unhealthy modern ideas about male sexuality and its relationship to masculinity. An out-of-touch Hollywood class is just serving itself at everybody else's expense. As my dad always admonished: "You have privilege. Abuse it, and you'll see it evaporate."

      The value of Hollywood camp as a cultural artform of which gays are the true custodians? I’ll leave that until another day LOL.

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    5. It's true that Hollywood often trie to have it both ways. When making films of social uplift and high-minded ideals, they pat themselves on the back for the ability of movies to influence people and enact change in the world.
      When called to the carpet about (as you phrase so well) "peddling poor psychology and suspect ideology," then they claim they're "just entertainment" and they have no influence.
      I'm encouraged by the Shanda Rhimes' and Patty Jenkins'and the potential for new life breathed into narratives that have been retold and resold for far too long. Young people (their horrid music aside) inspire me too, as I feel the influx of more women behind and in front of the camera will reflect some of the values we've seen on display in the resistance movement.
      By the way, if you ever do a piece on Hollywood camp as a cultural artform for your own blog, maybe I'll be able to persuade you to consider sharing it here in a guest blogger slot. It sounds like a great topic! Thanks, Rick.

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  7. Dear Ken: So much to think about and react to here.

    First, thank you so much for the link to the mini-documentary about Tarana Burke. I admit that I was unfamiliar with her and with her founding of the Me Too movement. When I first heard about #MeToo last fall, it sounded like something I should have known about much earlier--but I didn't. I'm glad I know about it, and about Burke, now.

    Much of my career as a therapist has been spent working with women, primarily women of color, who are survivors of sexual abuse, rape and other traumas. Burke's message is so spot on: we all must support women survivors in finding and using their voice to tell the story, to claim--or re-claim--their sense of themselves as in charge of their own bodies, their own selves, their own futures.

    There was a brief anecdote in one of the Susan Hayward biographies I read back in college (which was more than a few years ago!) that I still remember vividly. In it, Susan's agent was negotiating her contract with independent producer Walter Wanger, who went on to produce many of Susan's films, including her Oscar-winning "I Want to Live." After the salary discussions for Hayward were concluded, Wanger and the agent reportedly had this exchange:

    Wanger: Can I fuck her?
    Agent: No, I think she's a virgin.

    That enraging anecdote says so much about the pervasive male attitudes toward women in Hollywood, and just about anywhere. That paying a woman's salary or giving her employment means you own her, and she owes you.

    Lastly, I have a bit of personal insight into the ideas behind the Me Too movement, due to a shameful action on my own part. About 10 years ago there was a younger gay man at the church I attend. I was friends with both him and his partner, but I had to admit to myself I found the young man very attractive. At a coffee hour after the church service one Sunday, I walked up behind the young man and grabbed him with one arm, giving him a squeeze around the waist. I told myself I was just being friendly and playful. But never at any time did I ask myself, did he want me to do that? I try to remember that episode today to remind myself never to do such a thing again.

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    1. Hi David
      Wow…how is it that the Susan Hayward anecdote you cite can be both shockingly disgusting, yet at the same time typical and unsurprising? The number of actress celebrity memoirs and biographies that include at least one act of work-related abuse is staggering. You’re right when you say that Hollywood had/has a pervading attitude among many of the men in high places, of equating contracts and payment with possession. Sexual possession. Nd we can’t even pretend it’s a thing of the distant past. I recently listened to the director/actor commentary on the DVD of the 1977 horror film The Sentinel. The film’s star Christina Raines drops hints but continually soft-peddles her issues with director Michael Winner’s, issues that sound like harassment. But Winner himself is rather blunt in the way he objectifies the actresses in the cast, alluding to making sexual advances at some and suggesting that a producer’s job is primarily to stay out of the director’s way and use their position to get women.Fairly gross.

      I never heard of Tarana Burke before the #MeToo movement became a hashtag, but I sought to find out more about her after the movement grew and the media seemed to start to turn it away from being about women speaking out and started misrepresenting it as a movement about attacking men.

      The way you described your therapy work, the words you used, are what I hoped to encourage in this post and earlier comments. “We all must support women survivors in finding and using their voice to tell the story, to claim--or re-claim--their sense of themselves as in charge of their own bodies, their own selves, their own futures,” is the perfect way to combat our culture’s toxic masculinity tendency to disbelieve women. (A shocking stance to cling to given that statistics claim 1 in 5 women are assaulted [over 80%] and that only 2% to 3% of assault claims are ever false).

      Anyhow, I also congratulate and thank you for sharing with us your own self-examining thoughts on the matter. I have worked around women all of my life, and as a gay man, I think I am guilty of using the obvious absence of desire on my part as a kind of license to be a bit lax in my awareness of what might be considered inappropriate behavior towards women. Not like some of my gay associates who feel it perfectly OK to comment bluntly on a woman’s body to her face, grab or touch her in faux-intimate embraces, etc. –all in the name of gay outrageousness and calling her “girlfriend”; I mean that I am guilty of playfully slapping a female client’s butt or pinching her behind and commenting on her good she looks…all things I would find problematic in a straight man, but because I assume the tacit understand of “I’m not sexually interested in you, so invading your body space must be OK!” stuff.

      I’m certain I’ve been inappropriate with gay male clients as well, if I were to give it some thought. The national dialogue that’s happening is good for all of us, I think. I certainly think that the kind of honesty you displayed in your comments is an inspiration, David. No matter our orientation, we can all stand to treat one another with a little more respect. Especially in these times when state-sanctioned cruelty and boorishness emboldens so many.
      Good to hear from you again David. And thanks for reading and contributing so genuinely to the discussion!

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