Would he have been better off as an outright gangster?
“Hey, baby, wanna make a movie?”
As pickup lines go, it’s as clichéd as it is creepy — less blunt than Al Czervik’s “Wanna make $14 the hard way?” but not quite as nuanced as Ron Burgundy’s “I don’t know how to put this, but I’m kind of a big deal” — let alone S. Quentin Quale’s “Let’s go somewhere we can be alone — ah, there doesn’t seem to be anyone on this couch.”
But a more precise approximation of Harvey Weinstein’s mating strategy came not from films but his earlier work in music. Three years before Weinstein promoted a 1975 Rolling Stones concert in Buffalo, the band recorded the backing track that later became “Tops.” Mick Jagger sings, “Every man has the same come on, I’ll make you a star…. I’ll take you to the top.” The song mirrors the courting habits of Mr. Weinstein, a bald, bloated, base man relying on something other than charm, personality, and good looks in his pickup artistry.
Kate Beckinsale claims that at 17 she encountered Weinstein in a bathrobe in his hotel room. He offered her alcohol and made sexual advances. She escaped with the excuse that she “had school in the morning.” Louisette Geiss says Weinstein, again in a bathrobe, responded to her pitch of a movie script by pitching her the chance to watch his live-action masturbation scene. Lucia Evans accuses Weinstein of forcing her to perform oral sex upon him. “He’s a big guy,” she noted. “He overpowered me.”
The trio represents a tenth of the mogul’s accusers. Most seem accomplished, credible, and far from needing a paycheck. Does Gwyneth Paltrow really strike anybody on the planet as eager to inject her name into the tabloids? If that is her, she is an even better actress than we think.
He-said/she-said always proves difficult. He-said/she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said, she-said? Not so much.
When one lacking any clear talent makes money by siphoning it from people with great talent, the proper reaction seems gratitude. But free riders want more, more, more. So, Weinstein, also lacking in youth, a head of hair, a clean shave, a manly physique, and, if one believes that photographs paint an olfactory picture, soap, believed himself entitled to the bodies of actresses, too. Perhaps a stay-in-your-lane quality colors the outrage against Weinstein that does not greet handsome actors accused of predatory behavior. But the accusations that involve bad rather than criminal behavior involves the stuff that any self-respecting cad avoids. Even the deservedly maligned “users” stand a few rungs above the predator.
The public reacts in a shocked manner to Weinstein’s abuse of power. But men exploiting their power for sexual conquests predate even Hollywood’s casting-couch tradition embraced by Samuel Goldwyn, Joseph Kennedy, and so many other Old Hollywood movie moguls.
Lord Acton observing, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men,” stays because it reflects a timeless concept. Somehow the present always absolves itself from the past’s sins, and that’s why the present always reacts in a shocked, rather than a shocked, shocked, manner to misdeeds occurring throughout human existence. Just because something happened in history does not make it history. On the contrary, it likely makes it part of the human condition to stand vigilantly against. Hollywood, of all places, should have guarded against the casting couch.
Had Weinstein not made it in show biz, one wonders if, “Excuse me, Miss, does this rag smell like chloroform?” would have served as his pickup line of choice. Probably not. The position that made him rich also likely corrupted his soul, or at least unleashed some dark part of it. Lord Acton’s axiom helps us understand this It’s Not a Wonderful Life counterfactual.
“We all make mistakes,” Weinstein sheepishly remarked to reporters. But those insulated from consequences, and reluctant to take responsibility, refuse to learn from them. A slap to the face could have knocked sense into him. Instead, he endures this public shame — a sentence worse than any the criminal justice system could mete out.
To sin is indeed human. To sin repeatedly without remorse is inhumane.