The Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck took a cultural turn and visited the New York Metropolitan Opera yesterday. James Levine, the Met’s legendary conductor for four decades, allegedly molested a teenager in the 1980’s. The allegations were described in a police report that was filed in 2016. A man stated that he met Levine as a 15 year-old child when Levine was a conductor at the Ravinia Music Festival in Illinois. Beginning the next year, when Levine was 42 and the boy was 16, the conductor touched the teenager’s genitalia and masturbated in his presence. The sexual relations involved hundreds of incidents and lasted for years, according to the allegations. Levine also served as a mentor to the teenager, wrote a college recommendation essay, and gave him tens of thousands of dollars of cash. The man says he is straight and that he was “confused and paralyzed” by Levine’s actions.
Now the Met says it is investigating. But I have more…
Today I attended a performance of an opera, and by chance happened to chat with one of the opera company’s board members. I asked him if he had heard about Levine. He said he didn’t know what I was talking about. After I summarized the story above, he said (I’m paraphrasing):
“I hadn’t heard about that, but it’s no surprise. I performed in the Met chorus in the Eighties and Nineties when I lived in New York. Everyone knew that Levine fooled around with teenaged boys. I’m pretty sure the Met paid off some of them.”
After I heard this–at the time, there was only one man making one accusation—it was reported that the Met suspended Levine, because three more men came forward saying that they had been abused by the conductor as teens.
Now, as the Ethics Alarms Rationalizations List explains, “The King’s Pass” (or the Star Syndrome), organizations often reason that their high-level performers should be allowed to get away with bad conduct that would never be tolerated in a lesser employee. They think that the unethical, or even criminal, individual is so important to their organizations that they will be better off keeping him or her excelling in their jobs than if the organizations exhibit integrity and hold them accountable. Thus we get Hollywood, actors and actresses, and Democratic politicians who wanted his cash contributions allowing Harvey Weinstein to keep abusing and even raping women for decades. We get NBC enabling Matt Lauer. We get Fox News ignoring serial abuse by Bill O’Reilly. We get Penn State pretending Jerry Sandusky wouldn’t hurt a fly, or unzip one. I get the syndrome. I know the warped but persuasive logic behind it.
But here is the Metropolitan Opera Company, enabling a man who was molesting children, it seems. These weren’t callous business types, cynical politicians, Hollywood scum, shallow jocks whose priorities revolve around x’s, o’s and national rankings, or greedy media moguls. This is an arts organization, an entity dedicated to making the world more beautiful and more civilized. Its board—and there are women on that board, and parents— is supposed to be made up of the best of us—philanthropists, scholars, the genteel, the generous, the beneficent, the wise.
And the Met looked the other way while their conductor was molesting teenagers?
I don’t get it.