It’s been a long month if you’re a student of film. The list of names accused of sexual assault is long and growing longer. Harvey Weinstein. Kevin Spacey. Louis CK. George Takei. Andy Dick. Dustin Hoffman. Richard Dreyfuss. The dam has broken on the silence keeping these men from facing the consequences of their actions.
These men join a list of names of men known to have committed ill. Sean Penn. Johnny Depp. Mel Gibson. Woody Allen. Roman Polanski. Chris Brown. Victor Salva. These are figures with devoted fans who continue to find work.
What I keep seeing as a new name joins the list seemingly every hour is a sense of disappointment. In the case of Louis CK, he hadn’t really stepped wrong with critics until his now shelved film. Many fans seem upset at the thought they might not get to see another season of Louie or another special. Not upset over the despicable deeds he admitted to.
Then there’s a sense of unease over this thought: who’s next. Someone wil be next. Someone always is. Whose work that we adore do we have to view as tainted now? Already a lot of the great films of the 90s are getting very hard to watch.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this situation and the longer that I think on it, the less comfortable I am with how we discuss famous people. Increasingly I’m seeing a serious issue with the unsettling familiarity we have with celebrities. We discuss them as if they were our friends. We respond to their personas as if they were truly them. We follow every last scrap of gossip about them.
This is utter nonsense. Intellectually I think we all must know celebrity is a lie. Celebrities’ lives are preposterously stage managed. Look at how often actors hook up while making a movie only to conspicuously break up after it flops. I’m sorry but I can’t be the only one who doesn’t believe that’s real. Celebrities carefully plan who they are.
Take Johnny Depp. He was such a beloved figure because he seemed like a nice guy doing a lot for charity. He was of course in reality an abuser who blew through his money revoltingly. We liked the persona because it was what was sold to us and it hurt to be betrayed.
Then there was Lance Armstrong. As a bike rider in the 2000s I adored him. He seemed like a nice guy with a ludicrous gift. He was in reality a sociopathic sex fiend who was cheating to win and in fact had almost no actual talent. It hurt but it hurt because I bought the act.
These are big examples but here is the real truth: we don’t know these people. In truth we don’t know the people in our lives even. How often have we been floored by a reveal about a friend or loved one? If we don’t know them then how can we know people we will never know? We have to cease this bizarre secular religion.
It makes sense admittedly. We’re looking for people to respect. I get that. Once we worshipped royalty. Now we worship celebrities. It’s built into human nature.
We also conflate actors with roles we like. Why else does Chris Evans’ liberal activism stand out to us? Because we connect it to Captain America. We want to believe the characters we love are in some way real. It’s why couples who starred in films we love seem special to us.
But all of this winds up bearing the fruit of late. We’re let down by the people we thought we knew. (I won’t begin to get into how many of these stories have floated for years.) So what can we do to avoid these feelings of disappointment? I think it’s simple: we never allow ourselves to fall into the hype in the first place.
I’m saying burn it all down. E! Entertainment Tonight. TMZ. It all must go. It’s not healthy and it’s clouding our judgment about how to handle these scandals. We have to stop believing we know these people.
Because if you remove the emotions, it’s clear: these people don’t work in the industry again. In any other profession, they would be persona non grata. It doesn’t matter how great a teacher is if he harasses his peers. I’ve seen guys who are wonderful at their jobs where I work get fired for serious misconduct. It happens.
Then, when we view these people as employees but not as gods, we might be able to be objective. The weird cults around them–I’ve been stalked by fans of Depp–would vanish. We could view them based on their work and when this news happens, process it with the right anger.
As for the work, we could get serious. A movie is made by a few hundred to a thousand people. Movies are group work. An actor in a movie isn’t going to be the be all end all. At the same time the weird nostalgia that keeps Depp and Gibson onscreen could fade and we could concede neither man should be objectively at their current level based on their output much less their behavior.
We just need to get over it all. Directors are managers not wizards. Writers are craftsmen. Actors are professionals. None are gods.