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What we knew then and now

The biggest media story of the moment is that of the rise and fall of 65 year old movie mogul Harvey Weinstein – well, not so much about his rise to being one of the most powerful men in Hollywood for more than two decades, but his spectacular fall from grace over his predatory sexual behaviour.

To be honest, I’m not that clued up on, or indeed interested in, the full details of how the story broke and how it progressed to where it is now. Somewhere along the line one lady or two – movie actresses of varying degrees of success and celebrity – made serious allegations against Mr Weinstein and then this trickle rapidly developed into a torrent which eventually became a tsunami.

Such things happen (some say ‘go viral’) in the modern era whirl of 24/7 social media, a bandwagon develops, other ‘victims’ gain the courage to come forward and suddenly Mr Weinstein is a pariah, shunned by everyone in a maelstrom of mounting horror and adverse reaction that, in some quarters, is accompanied by a tone of relief tinged with ‘at last!’ … giving the impression (false or otherwise) that ‘those in the know’ were only too well aware of his proclivities all along and cannot quite believe that it’s taken this long for them to come to public notice.

[I should add here that I put italics around the word ‘victims’ in the paragraph above because I believe that Mr Weinstein’s female lawyer has made a statement for the record that he denies that all the alleged sexual assaults and misdemeanours on the still-growing informal charge sheet against him actually took place. Which ones and how many of them he/she is referring to in saying this remains unclear].

For the past week or so the media has been full of pundits, commentators and activists condemning Mr Weinstein and broadening the discussion to point the finger at those who – deliberately or accidentally – seem to have exhibited hypocrisy in the context of sexual manipulation, a movie mogul’s misguided sense of ‘entitlement’, the (mythical or otherwise) ‘casting couch’ of the entertainment industry and the issue of its attendant fellow-travellers ‘turning a blind eye’, passive acceptance of a supposed droit de siegneur and indeed a ‘What can you say, it was different back then’ attitude to what were the male-centric social conventions of previous generations going back into history.

We’ve been reminded of them recently by the airing of archive footage of great female actresses hailing Roman Polanski – allegedly and probably factually a serial abuser of under-age young girls – at some US public ceremony only a few years ago to give him a movie industry lifetime achievement award.

Such embarrassments tend to come back to haunt those involved. We’ve also been reminded that one of President Obama’s daughters did some sort of ‘work experience’ internship in Harvey Weinstein’s movie company and that he has been a long-time and major fundraiser for the US Democratic party.

But that was then – and this is now. In this country, of course, we can think back to the days when Jimmy Saville cavorted with Dennis and Margaret Thatcher and hob-nobbed with royalty, to mention but one glaring example that those concerned (if still alive) would now earnestly like to forget.

We’ve even had TV and radio shows appealing for viewer and listener phone calls giving examples being sexually harassed at work or elsewhere and female columnists of a certain age recounting their own instances of being chased around their newspaper offices by fellow journalists or particularly by those in apparent positions of power over them.

And that brings me to the nub of my opinion piece today.

It’s not that all men are potential rapists, helplessly in thrall to the brain that (by quip and/or folklore) lives in their underwear.

Or that some men, and indeed perhaps some women, are prone to sexual addiction – and I’m typing that whilst still smiling at the news that Mr Weinstein was yesterday said to be flying to France in a private jet in order to attend a clinic designed to help him deal with his [yeah, right!] – which, for all I know, may be a diagnosis that has some traction in academic research circles.

In my view, Mr Weinstein’s ‘issues’ actually (most probably) spring from a rather more ancient and simple phenomenon – that expounded by the politician, historian and writer John Emerich Edward Dalberg-Action, most often known as the first Baron Acton, whom in an 1887 letter wrote:

‘Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’

I think that just about sums it up. The sad truth of it is that there exists a tendency in human beings, if they ever reach a position of immense power and wealth, to become prey to the assumption that they are above other people’s standards and indeed the law, and also that other people’s opinions of their attitudes and behaviour do not matter. They are so used to controlling everything in their sphere and getting everything they desire at the flick of a finger that they get ahead of themselves and their ‘sense of entitlement’ can then extend to the bodies of other people, as well as everything else.

In other words, it’s not about sex at all – it’s about power.


About Lavinia Thompson

A university lecturer for many years, both at home and abroad, Lavinia Thompson retired in 2008 and has since taken up freelance journalism. She is currently studying for a distant learning degree in geo-political science and lives in Norwich with her partner. More Posts