“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him powe
-- Abraham Lincoln
I apologise for that rather trite intro.
Unfortunately, I’m not well-read enough to think of a more original or “niche” quote in starting this off. Of course, in my defense, I think this bit of wisecrack by America’s Great Emancipator fits quite nicely, given the topic.
So, Hollywood, the “Entertainment Capital of the World,” is seemingly starting to unravel after a series of allegations of sexual misconduct and/or assault were launched at celebrities who range from “too big to be brought down” to “no, not him!”
We had America’s (now step) Dad Bill Cosby a couple of years ago, the man behind nearly every Quentin Tarantino movie Harvey Weinstein, not even a month ago, and now we have … Kevin Spacey, joining the ranks.
Huh, who would’ve thought it?
Practically anyone with at least half a brain, should’ve thought it.
Lost in power
If you’ve ever followed the American movie industry with any degree of savviness, you’ll surely have stumbled onto the expression “you’ll never eat lunch in this town again.”
It’s an expression that is used to jokingly refer to the sheer power that Hollywood executives hold in shaping the potential career of any would-be movie talent. They can make the next Emile Hirsch just as easily as they can break the existing Emile Hirsch (which, I fear, they may already have).
Hollywood is built on top of decades of exploitation, of both men and women, on both the casting couch and on the lot, and it has always operated on a certain formula
With more and more A-list actors adopting the role of producer (or even its banal-sounding variant “executive producer”), the line is starting to become decidedly blurry as to who’s in charge and who isn’t.
And when your name is one of the many that are synonymous with Hollywood itself, in this instance Kevin Spacey, you can bet that his name alone holds more clout in the industry than the entire team of producers behind Netflix’s House of Cards -- yes, David Fincher included.
But what happens when you have that much power? How do you feel? Do you even feel anything at all?
Realising just how much weight your name alone carries, in an industry that thrives on sycophancy and secrets, you wouldn’t hesitate to throw caution to the wind every now and then and engage in acts of sexual deviancy either -- be it a drunken bout of “almost” statutory rape at a house party, or coaxing young women to watch you masturbate in a swanky hotel suite bathroom.
None of this is surprising in the least, as morbid as that may sound.
A history of silence
Hollywood is notoriously reluctant about throwing one of its own to the wolves, lest they come back feral and out for blood.
In a New York Times article written after the Harvey Weinstein revelation, the writer, Brooks Barnes, in trying to get a word from some of the bigger names in Hollywood regarding the allegations, wrote: “I called more than 40 entertainment industry players, and almost all refused to speak for the record. Some said it was because their companies (or publicists) needed to approve anything they would say, while others gave reasons that painted a picture of a community hobbled by fear, self-interest, and hypocrisy.”
Given how Hollywood has managed to project itself as America’s (and by extension the world’s) moral anchor, with famous faces making public comments, some even going so far as to film outright PSAs about who to vote for and who to punch in the face, all that silence and secrecy starts to make sense.
While we all love to go to the cinema and chortle at the awkward unfunniness of a rom-com, clap at the heroics of a caped crusader, shed a tear for the fictional family experiencing bereavement, or feel a sense of retribution watching the stranger walk into a lawless town and dish out justice, we shouldn’t pretend that everything is as black and white behind the scenes.
Hollywood is built on top of decades of exploitation, of both men and women, on both the casting couch and on the lot, and it has always operated on a certain formula -- a formula that has left it just as hollow and soulless as the movies it churns out every week or so.
Needless to say, it’s going to take a lot more than just internet think pieces and moral outrage for the industry to finally get its act together -- it’s going to require change in its cultural core.
Rubaiyat Kabir is an Editorial Assistant at the Dhaka Tribune. He can be followed on Twitter at @moreanik.