I awoke this morning to the news that Matt Lauer was the latest public figure to fall in the wake of accusations of sexual harassment, and by the time I got my second cup of coffee, Garrison Keillor announced that he had been fired by Minnesota Public Radio over allegations of “improper behavior.”
I have no special insight into the cases of either of these men, or the numerous others who’ve gone down since the New York Times (with an assist from Ronan Farrow and the New Yorker) brought Harvey Weinstein down–and that story keeps on giving, with people anxiously awaiting fuller disclosure from Uma Thurman and other victims of his. I did interview James Toback (who has been accused of harassment and worse by over 300 women) back in 1991; I was writing a feature about Bugsy, for which he’d written the screenplay. Spy Magazine had done a piece about Toback’s Pick-Up Artist schtick–hitting on young women in NYC, name-dropping his way into having lunch with them at the Harvard Club before propositioning them–and he had refuted the allegations. I wasn’t there to talk about that, though I do remember arriving at his apartment building near Columbus Circle and calling upstairs only to be told he needed another 30 minutes: He was just “finishing something up.” After cooling my heels in the lobby, he emerged with a young woman who gazed at him adoringly while he talked about Dostoevsky, his movie The Gambler etc. and I thought: Some schticks die hard.
I’m glad to see all these mastodons being brought down, pleased that this moment has become a movement and hope that its waves finally reach the White House. But without stating the obvious, I think what ties a lot of these predators together is delusion.
Think of Michael Jackson. He was found not guilty on multiple charges of child abuse after hosting overnights at his ranch near Santa Ynez: Neverland. That was the name of Peter Pan’s island of Lost Boys, which might make you think of Mary Martin but makes pedophiles dream of vacationing in Bangkok. Jackson lived in a world of his own making, complete with amusement park rides and lots of places to hide, until the fantasy walls were broached by police. (He sold Neverland after the trial, saying that investigators had forever soiled his sacred place, and seriously cramped his style.)
Jackson’s was an extreme case, and I know many of his fans still refuse to admit that he was guilty of child abuse. (Denial is another form of delusion.) But I think that sense of entitlement, that ordinary rules don’t apply to you, is what links most of those now being accused of (mostly) lesser crimes. It’s why I have trouble dismissing the most serious allegations against Woody Allen. So many of his films (which I can no longer bring myself to watch) have a plotline about the extraordinary needs of Artists, and once you’ve slept with your girlfriend’s daughter, there aren’t too many boundaries left.
Watch for more backlash soon (even Woody worried about a “witch hunt” after the Weinstein story blew up), and I’m sure there will be more Trump-sized insults before this movement is exhausted. (Senator Roy Moore, anyone?) But I think the swift action on the part of so many responsible institutions (NPR, the New York Times, NBC et al) proves that the intruders are still at the gates. Never say never.