In a sense, Hollywood is facing its first-ever real scandal. What's going on now has made the movie industry do something it perhaps has never done before: feel deeply ashamed about itself. A famously self-confident, indeed smug, institution is questioning its basic norms.
Of previous industry scandals there have been many, but Hollywood itself didn't take any of them particularly seriously. The Roman Polanski scandal? Hey, it was just sex. Oh, it was sex with an underage girl who had been drugged past the point where she could give meaningful consent? Well, it was the '70s. Anyway, the girl forgave him. Anyway, he's suffered enough. Anyway, his family was murdered by Nazis and his wife by the Manson family. The Academy gave Polanski an Oscar for Best Director, and a standing ovation in 2003. In the clip, Martin Scorsese can be seen standing and applauding, right in front of Harvey Weinstein. Jack Nicholson, at whose home Polanski's appalling act took place, is applauding robustly also. Anything to do with sex or drugs Hollywood shrugs off as mere libertinism, and while previous sex scandals — Fatty Arbuckle, Errol Flynn, Ingrid Bergman — may have been bad for business, those in show business didn't have any particular moral objections, or if they did, they dismissed them as bad choices made by scattered individuals, not emblems of moral rot in the system.
The popularity of Communism in Hollywood, and Jane Fonda's visit to Hanoi during the Vietnam War, didn't much alter Hollywood's view of itself either. If you asked movie people to describe their politics, they'd say it boils down to supporting the underdog, and maybe opposing war. Who was a bigger underdog than the ragtag North Vietnamese forces against a massive industrialized army? Jane Fonda won an Oscar before she went to Hanoi to cheer for our enemy, and she won another one just seven years later. As for the Reds and fellow travelers who attained many positions of power and influence in the movie business, to Hollywood the only real scandal there was the McCarthyite reaction that sidelined some highly talented people. The blacklisted Hollywood Ten became underdogs, victims of oppression and hence icons within the business. At no point did Hollywood as a whole question its own patriotism.
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Broadly speaking, then, previous Hollywood scandals fall into two categories: debauchery and far-left ventures, neither of which is overly worrisome to a debauched and left-wing institution. The tale of Harvey Weinstein, though, can't be spun as an attempt to uplift the oppressed, nor dismissed as one man's depravity. Too many people were in on it. Indeed, it appears that everyone was in on it: Sex Assault on the Orient Express.
Roy Price, the head of Amazon Studios and a major industry player, lost his job due to an accusation of sexual harassment just a week after The New Yorker reported three women claimed they were raped by Weinstein. Last weekend the Los Angeles Times published a sickening piece detailing claims made by 38 women about loathsome sexual behavior by the writer-director James Toback, who has made many well-regarded films and scored an Oscar nomination for his script for Warren Beatty's Bugsy. The actress Molly Ringwald had nothing particularly sensational to offer about her experience as a young actress in Hollywood, and yet her reminiscences about her history of degradation were nauseating in their multiplicity. She recalled, for instance, that under the guise of teaching her to dance, a 50-year-old crew member pressed up against her with an erect penis when she was 13. This sort of talk could go on for months. Hollywood may have a moral and public-relations horror on its hands akin to the Catholic Church's pedophilia scandal.