At the time of writing, it's just shy of twenty women making accusations against Harvey Weinstein, the star of Hollywood's longest-running superhero franchise, Pig-Man.
That makes it hard to keep up. So, if you want a single vignette that sums up not just the Weinstein story but the broader cultural environment, I commend this one, from Ronan Farrow's reporting - the story that NBC, covering for Weinstein, declined to run and that he wound up taking to The New Yorker. It's 2010. Weinstein is at the Cannes Film Festival, where he meets the French actress Emma de Caunes (whose dad I was on TV with a zillion years ago). A few months later, he asks Mlle de Caunes to lunch at the Ritz in Paris:
Weinstein told de Caunes that he was going to be producing a movie with a prominent director, that he planned to shoot it in France, and that it had a strong female role. It was an adaptation of a book, he said, but he claimed he couldn't remember the title. "But I'll give it to you," Weinstein said, according to de Caunes. "I have it in my room."
So they go upstairs, and Weinstein steps into the bathroom. He comes out naked, with an erection.
That's progressive values Hollywood-style: Hey, I'm fully committed to providing more roles for strong independent females. I might give you one in return for a bl**job.
Until this last week, I doubt anyone has spoken truth to the power of Harvey Weinstein in three decades. Indeed, he seemed to enjoy the winks and nudges of the coy insider jokes made about him by Seth McFarlane and 30 Rock. In such a cozy pampering cocoon, you can see how a predatory thug ends up so self-unaware that he thinks nothing of heading the campaign to spring Roman Polanski from his rape problems. I was surprised to recall how much Weinstein there was in the Polanksi story of eight years ago. Here's what I wrote on October 2nd 2009:
As the feminists used to say in simpler times, "What part of 'No' don't you understand?"
Quite a lot, if the reaction to Roman Polanski's arrest is anything to go by. I didn't know, for one thing, that, if you decide to plow on regardless, the world's artists will rise as one to nail their colors to your mast.
Whoopi Goldberg offered a practical defense – that what Polanski did was not "rape-rape," a distinction she left imprecisely delineated. Which may leave you with the vague impression that this was one of those deals where you're in a bar, and the gal says to you she's in 10th grade, and you find out afterward she's only in seventh. Hey, we've all been there, right? But in this particular instance Roman Polanski knew she was 13 years old and, when she declined his entreaties, drugged her with champagne and a Quaalude and then sodomized her. Twice. Which, even on the Whoopi scale, sounds less like rape, or even rape-rape, and more like rape-rape-rape-rape.
But heigh-ho. After pleading guilty, the non-non-rape-rapist skipped to Paris and took up with Nastassja Kinski, who was then 15, which in Polanski years puts her up there with Barbara Bush. He was eventually arrested en route to Zurich to receive a lifetime-achievement award – no, no, not for the girls, for his movies. For three decades, he was, to be boringly legalistic about it, a fugitive from justice – and there's no statute of limitations on that. But, of course, throughout that time, he was also a "great artist," which his fellow artists (Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese) and even the French Foreign and Culture Ministers think ought to trump a little long-ago misunderstanding over anal rape. The Berlin Film Festival announced collectively that it was shocked by "the arbitrary treatment of one of the world's most outstanding film directors," and defending the outstanding director because he's an outstanding director quickly became the standard line of defense. Debra Winger denounced the Swiss authorities for their "philistine collusion": No truly cultured society should be colluding with the "philistines" of American law enforcement. Polanski, explained the producer Harvey Weinstein, "is a man who cares deeply about his art and its place in the world." And if its place is occasionally in an involuntarily conscripted 13-year old, well, you can't make a "Hamlet" without breaking a few chicks. France's Society of Film Directors warned that the arrest of such an important artist "could have disastrous consequences for freedom of expression across the world".
Really? For the past two years, I've been in a long and weary battle up north to restore "freedom of expression" to Canada. On Monday afternoon, in fact, I'll be testifying on this very subject at the House of Commons in Ottawa, if France's Society of Film Directors or Debra Winger would like to swing by. Please, don't all stampede at once. Ottawa Airport can only handle so many Gulfstreams. If only I'd known how vital child rape was to "freedom of expression," my campaign could have taken off a lot earlier.
Like Polanski, Weinstein "cares deeply about his art and its place in the world" - and so Meryl and Dame Judi and all the rest were prepared to cut him decades of slack, just as they did with Polanski. Also from my 2009 column:
Working on the film "Chinatown," the writer Robert Towne found it hard to concentrate at the director's pad, what with "the teenyboppers that Roman would run out and take Polaroid pictures of diving off the f***ing diving board without tops on. Which was distracting. With braces."
Braces. Cute. Harvey Weinstein, the man behind the pro-Polanski petition, rejects the idea that Hollywood is "amoral": "Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," he told an interviewer.
Like his penis, Weinstein's moral compass is pointing due north, even as Hollywood's output heads south. "Compassion"?
Let us agree that Hollywood bigshots have "compassion" for people in general, for people far away in a big crowd scene on the distant horizon, for people in a we-are-the-world-we-are-the-children sense. But Hollywood bigshots treat people in particular, little people, individuals, like garbage. To Polanski, he was the world, you are the children; now take your kit off and let's have a "photo shoot."
The political class is beginning to recalibrate. In Paris, President Sarkozy's government withdrew its initial enthusiasm for Polanski after it emerged that even the boundlessly sophisticated French aren't eager to champion creepy child rapists just because they're celebrities. As Susan Estrich wrote, "Yes, he's made some big films in those years. So what?"
Hold that thought: "Big films," like what? Until "The Pianist" briefly revived his reputation, Polanski had spent the previous quarter-century making leaden comedies ("Pirates"), generic thrillers ("Frantic") and lame art-house nudie flicks ("Bitter Moon," with the not-yet-famous Hugh Grant). If that level of "great art" is all the justification you need for drugging and sodomizing 13-year-old girls, there won't be enough middle-schoolers to go round.
The cocky, strutting little Euro-swinger is old now, Roman in the gloamin', in the twilight of his career. The Polanski of "Chinatown" was a great director on his way up, his best years presumed to lie ahead. The junk of the past 30 years pretty much killed that. What he did wouldn't be justified if Polanski were Johann Sebastian Bach. But is this resume really "great art" to go to the wall for? Why, Harvey, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for "Bitter Moon"?
And that, in turn, raises another question: Earlier bad boys – Lord Byron, say – were obliged to operate as "transgressive" artists within a broader moral order. Now we are told that a man such as Polanski cannot be subject to anything so footling as morality: He cannot "transgress" it because, by definition, he transcends it. Yet all truly great art is made in the tension between freedom and constraint. In demanding that an artist be placed above the laws of man, Harvey Weinstein & Co. are also putting him beyond the possibility of art. Which may explain the present state of the movie industry.
As with Polanski, Weinstein's best work is receding in the rear-view mirror. Also like Polanski, he's now skipped to Europe - supposedly for "treatment". We shall see if he returns.
~In a couple of hours this Wednesday evening, Mark will be keeping his midweek date with Tucker Carlson, live on Fox News at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific. And join Steyn on the radio tomorrow afternoon, Thursday, with the great John Oakley live on Toronto's AM640 at 5pm Eastern.
If you're a www.steynonline.com/club/Mark Steyn Club member please check in with us Friday evening for the first episode of our brand new Tale for Our Time. If you're not yet a Club member, there's still time to join in time to hear tomorrow night's audio adventure, and to catch up on its three predecessors - The Tragedy of the Korosko, The Time Machine and The Secret Agent. Smaller budgets than a Weinstein production, but with fewer payoffs to silence actresses.