Accusation against elite and powerful men are stacking up in Hollywood. Uniquely in the public history of American sexual-assault claims, the accusers are winning public support over the accused, and seeing actual consequences. But to what importance is the downfall of some of Hollywood’s worst “Shitty Media Men?” How has the political climate formed to make this environment possible; and what ramifications will come for historically marginalized sexual minorities, which within American culture, have been systemically stigmatized by both sides of the political spectrum, especially in the Trump-era?
Famed X-men director, Bryan Singer, is the latest ‘Shitty Media Man’ to be re-accused in this political climate for a history of sexual assault. Though broken in 2014 by Buzzfeed, and known about in Hollywood for years, allegations against Singer are made fresh with recent claims against Harvey Weinstein and Kevin Spacey finding a sympathetic American public. Both gay men, Singer is alleged, like Spacey, to have enacted a history of sexual assault and pederasty on minors. Inspired by the women who spoke bravely by condemning some of the top celebrities in the country (like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein), many male actors, such as Anthony Rapp, and Neil Galvin, have broken the silence around their sexual harassment. What the accused assailants have in common, past sexual identity, are positions of power and hypocritical progressive associations that are being challenged and influenced by the current populist-American movement.
How did Trump escape multiple accusations and create the climate to indict so many similar assailants one year later? Trump’s election created the conditions for these frustrated populace referendums on him and the men who practice toxic ploys of sexual dominance. After Trump won the Presidency, despite the infamous, “grab ‘em by the pussy,” Access Hollywood clip, Billy Bush was fired by NBC for chuckling at the remark a decade ago, and NBC still aired the new season of Celebrity Apprentice, with host/President Donald Trump. NBC also refused to release teased hours of ‘B-role’ footage of Trump that alleged similar indicting quips from the 45th President.
Weinstein gave historically to progressive causes and was a heavy donor to Democratic candidates and the national party. Kevin Spacey and Brian Singer are gay men and the LGBTQ community is aligned more closely with the Democratic Party. What do these coincidences have to do with the Hollywood elite and current political climate? Since the divisive Trump presidential campaign, sexual assault and the treatment of women and their rights has been at the forefront of American consciousness. Why has Trump escaped condemnation, as a celebrity of this ilk and class, with a litany of similar accusations following him?
Today, Anita Hill is a law professor at Brandies University, and also an expert and frequent interviewee around the history sexual assault in the American public. Hill, in recent interviews, has cited the cultural ‘myths,’ or social-scripts, around political sexual assaults versus Hollywood accusations. Particularly as sites of perceived assumptions, political sexual assault accusations are harder to make stick because the accused’s political supporters will assume the motive for the accusation is maliciously politically motivated; their political interest supersede, as Hill uses, the ‘believability’ of the accuser. In entertainment, specifically other celebrities are making accusation against other celebrities, which begins their accusation from somewhat equal positions of power in the public eye.
Hill says the American public is already familiar with ‘casting-couch’ and ‘Hollywood-starlet’ tropes, which sets the groundwork for actors in subordinate positions to be believed in this politically charged climate. The celebrity accuser is also showing a vulnerability and jeopardy to their career by speaking out, which conditions the public to ‘believe’ the accusation more—also the enormous volumes of corroborating stories doesn’t hurt either. In testifying against Clarence Thomas’s Supreme Court Justice appointment in the early 1990s, Hill nationally broke the silence around the accuser and accused’s power positions by testifying to the U.S. Senate, despite not being taken seriously or believed by the all male Senators. What lives on about the testimony in popular culture, however, is the out of context ‘Pubic Hair on a Coke-Can’ line.
Hill’s political experience was put into Presidential practice a few years later with Bill Clinton’s many sexual assault accusations, culminating in stains that affected Hilary Clinton’s chances in the 2016 Presidential election. By publically supporting up his defense of deniability at all cost in fighting the accusations, Hilary established herself as complicit and hypocritical almost twenty-years ago. Trump will follow Clinton’s example in denying to the press any culpability, using extreme acts of lying, manipulation, and national ‘gaslighting.’ The question remaining is how do we shift our national conversation to believe everyday women and men instead of celebrities, who barter with greater social clout and power?
The politically powerful will keep shielding themselves behind socially ‘moral’ causes to escape censer. By changing the national conversation in this respect places more pressure on the public at large, including the judiciary branches, to hear cases against political-celebrities, and the powerful elite. Being conscious of accusing those in power who have the means to further hurt already disenfranchised people needs to stay critically in mind while bravely speaking truth to power. The powerful that are accused can afford to relocate, pay high court costs, and buy their way out of jail-time.
These high profile takedowns of ‘Shitty Men’ share a publically hypocritically progressive presence and have sexual deviant and minority stigmas attached to their accusations. I think it is no coincidence these most highly visible campaigns have featured accusers both the left and the right can publically condemn. This liberal Hollywood neo-blacklisting acts as a public rebuke and referendum on Trump and those outside condemnation in the current cultural scope. Witnessing actual ramifications, such as criminal investigations, firings, boycotts, and losses in career standing, act as social-controls on acceptable sexual behavior within the American cultural landscape. Just because Trump escaped censer within the political landscape doesn’t mean he will escape the changing flavor of American social standards, and perhaps more high-profile accusers will come forward, encouraged by the brave testimonies of ‘everyday women’ already, to continue to speak truth to power, right to the highest office in the land.
NW is current a student in WMST 595, Sexing the Body. Chime in with your thoughts in the comments section!