Make no mistake, the #MeToo movement is a reaction to institutionalised power and how this can be wielded to silence victims of sexual assault, harassment and rape. With high-profile, prolific offenders, such as Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and Les Moonves, we see offenders who’ve used the power of esteem to threaten and silence victims whose careers hinged upon their “consent”. Boycotting, in light of this, is a necessary justice and a step towards leaving their actions, and the attitudes that incubated them, in the past.
When it comes to asking whether we should still enjoy the works of offenders however, most of us, myself included, are guilty of double standards. A screening of an old Miramax/Weinstein company film wouldn’t have the same political baggage that would come with a Spacey film or a Louis CK special. It seems a natural reaction to be displeased when shown a perpetrator directly; it’s too up close and personal for us to detach. Despite this, there’s also a considerable effort in trying to attach Weinstein to the 321 films he was involved in. So there seems to be a discrepancy here; it’s harder to watch a film with CK, Spacey or Ansari in it, than it is to watch one that made Weinstein millions.
There is, however, something unsettling about Woody Allen kissing a teenager in Manhattan, or CK telling a sex joke in one of his specials, not to mention hearing Spacey say “that’s my baby” in Baby Driver. Arguably though, any attempt to boycott the past of offenders is completely arbitrary – for one point, if the movement is trying to boycott the perpetrators in order to monetize them, then it would follow that enjoying or at least accepting the existence of the residual work left by the offenders, isn’t necessarily relevant to it. For one point, the boycott has already taken away their institutional power as individuals – victims should no longer feel threatened in speaking out against them. Then does watching a film or laughing at a joke retain this political weight? We must, in light of this, consider that if the boycott is trying to divest the perpetrators of the power they once had – and if this has been successful – surely the content is politically neutral, and we are under no obligation to like or dislike it? It’s a matter of opinion.
This, however, only can be said about past work; what about the new material that will surface and has already surfaced since the movement? Are we supporting the offenders more than we ought to be? Is this, as Megan Garber has put it, a step towards “regressive inertia”?
This has already happened with CK, whose recent leaked stand-up performance was met with criticism. One reproach was that the material involved arguably offensive jokes – but this is nothing out of the ordinary for a CK show, and it would be dubious to claim that the same jokes from another comic would have been worthy of the same coverage. Bear in mind, CK said nothing we haven’t heard from Frankie Boyle already.
It’s clear that it’s not the content of the offenders that’s inherently offensive – in most cases these things are forgivable if they are done with a degree of sensitivity – but it’s the offenders themselves. A lot of the criticism came in response to the failure to address the #MeToo movement and its repercussions in CK’s bid to reclaim his career. Many felt this was the inherently disturbing thing about CK’s show; he had failed to consider with sensitivity, what a “comeback” means in the context of the #MeToo movement.
In a sense, the issue with new material is the assumption that offenders can move on as though nothing happened – it implies a step in the wrong direction. The impression that Garber’s article gave is that forgiveness is possible for some, but only if they respect the change that has been demanded. For Garber, and for myself, it seems that apologies in this climate are more important than they may seem. If CK had addressed the issues at hand or at least given his audience a sense of closure, there would be much less difficulty involved in listening to his routine, and much less sting when he tells an off-taste joke.
It comes down to a question of social responsibility: these offenders have to address their actions as the first step towards any form of forgiveness.