Given the number of lurid sex scandals that have popped up in recent years, and not just the ones I’ve mentioned, you can be forgiven for thinking that there’s an epidemic of powerful men being a dick to women. Go to any social media site or comments section and you’ll usually find angry rants that are nothing short of apocalyptic.
I certainly don’t blame people for being angry about these scandals. What the Harvey Weinsteins, Bill O’Reillys, and Bill Cosbeys of the world have done is egregious. There are no excuses for being that unapologetically crude.
These are men in positions of power. They know, on some levels, that they have leverage that they can use to exploit others. It’s impossible to know whether they would do what they did without this power. So few people have that kind of power that it’s difficult and disturbing to know how most people would use or abuse it.
At the end of the day, though, they still decide whether or not to exploit their power for personal gain. Even if they’re able to cover it up for years, it’s still their choice and it’s all the more egregious.
As bad as these scandals are, though, I think it’s worth taking a step back to acknowledge an understated upside to this string of lurid news. It’s easy to forget sometimes that good news hides in the shadows of bad news. In fact, good news in general tends to hide behind the glut of horror and dread we’re fed every day by the media.
So what kind of good news can we possibly glean from the increasingly lurid sex scandal involving Harvey Weinstein? What good can come out of any sex scandal where a powerful man exploits his position to seduce desperately driven women? Well, if you’re willing to look beyond the infuriating details, it’s actually pretty revealing.
It’s getting MUCH harder for people to get away with sex scandals in general.
Think about it for a moment. Take a step back and look at the world we’re in now, with respect to sex scandals. Ignore, for a moment, the extreme voices from radical feminists and men’s rights activists who would use this scandal to push an agenda. The fact that everyone is so outraged by this scandal should count as good news.
Very few people are making excuses for Harvey Weinstein. Former allies are abandoning him. His wife is leaving him. The film industry that he helped expand is cutting ties with him at every turn. Despite being such a powerful, influential figure in Hollywood, this lurid scandal is costing him dearly.
Compare that to how scandals of the past often unfolded. Other than hilariously dishonest tabloids claiming that Madonna had a secret affair with Martian ambassador, most scandals rarely drew this kind of scrutiny and condemnation.
One of the most infamous examples is that of O.J. Simpson, who had a documented history of spousal abuse prior to the murder of his ex-wife, Nichole. However, despite this abuse, he was still largely a beloved celebrity figure. He was so beloved that some people just refused to believe that he was the kind of monster who would beat a woman.
If O.J. Simpson had carried out such abuse today, it would trend on social media immediately and there would be no way to sweep it under the rug. Say what you will about the prevalence of the internet, but it does carry out one important function. It makes hiding bad, sometimes criminal behavior a lot harder.
Go back 30 years and it was possible, albeit inconvenient, for someone with money and influence to hide a scandal. They just had to pay off the right people, sweet-talk the authorities, and have some damn good lawyers. When used wisely, it’s like it never happened.
Fast forward to today and no amount of money, influence, or overpaid lawyers can stop some random person with a smartphone from tweeting about a celebrity having a major meltdown or cheating on their spouse. Once it’s online, it’s next to impossible to stop.
Now sometimes, this can be a problem. Every now and then, a false rumor will start trending and lead to a lot of frustration. However, given the breadth and speed of modern media, it tends to correct itself. Once a rumor is obviously false, it tends to disappear quickly.
When it’s not a rumor and there’s a lot of digital evidence to back it up, as was the case with Harvey Weinstein, social media does not hold back. No amount of lawyers, PR agents, or hit men can stop it. Once the lurid truth gets out, people will respond and the internet ensures their responses won’t be filtered by the FCC.
This is where we, as a society, show another kind of progress. When it comes to powerful men exploiting women, we as a people have very little tolerance for that these days. We’ll tolerate a certain amount of douche-baggery, but when it becomes criminal, most people draw the line.
Harvey Weinstein is now paying the price. While I think it’s still important to see how valid the accusations against him are, the amount of evidence that has come out thus far leads me to believe that a significant chunk of these lurid stories are true. For what he did, he should pay a price.
Given the price he’s already paid, in terms of his reputation and loss of job opportunities, it sends a powerful message to powerful men. This isn’t the era of “Mad Men” anymore. You can’t expect to get away with these kinds of sex scandals anymore. Social media and the reactionary masses that use it will find out. When they do, you will pay a huge price.
In a world where powerful people can get away with atrocious behavior, some of which is downright criminal, it’s hard to have faith in people. While our world is far from perfect, I think the response to the Harvey Weinstein scandal shows that we’re making progress.
Even powerful men like Weinstein can’t hide their misdeeds anymore. People today are far less willing to turn a blind eye to these kinds of crimes. It won’t completely eliminate the kinds of lurid scandals that frustrate celebrities and titillate gossip magazines, but it will ensure that those kinds of scandals will be much harder to avoid. It won’t stop certain people, but it will help prevent them from using celebrity to hide their misdeeds.