The John Lasseter #MeToo Conundrum

What is the appropriate treatment for a leader, executive or artist who has been dismissed, disgraced, and exiled because of credible or proven instances of workplace sexual misconduct?

John Lasseter, the genius Pixar co-founder who was forced to resign from the Walt Disney Company in June after complaints that he engaged in unwanted “grabbing, kissing, and making comments about physical attributes” suddenly raises the question, because he is all of these, and now is one of the first men facing ruin in the #MeToo era to find a new position as impressive and lucrative—seven figures—as his old one.

David Ellison,  “Mission: Impossible” producer and founder of Skydance Media, a newish production company affiliated with Paramount Pictures, announced this week that Lasseter would become Skydance’s head of  animation and will start this month. “John is a singular creative and executive talent whose impact on the animation industry cannot be overstated,” Mr. Ellison said in a statement. “We look forward to John bringing all of his creative talents, his experience managing large franchises, his renewed understanding of the responsibilities of leadership and his exuberance to Skydance.”

BUT, he  continued: “We did not enter into this decision lightly. John has acknowledged and apologized for his mistakes and, during the past year away from the workplace, has endeavored to address and reform them.”

On his own behalf, Lasseter, who was the moving creative force behind multiple Pixar classics like “Toy Story” as well as Disney’s “Frozen,” said that he that he had engaged in “deep reflection, learning how my actions unintentionally made many colleagues uncomfortable, which I deeply regret and apologize for.” He added that he planned to build Skydance Animation in the same way he built Pixar, but with renewed dedication to the need for “safety, trust and mutual respect.”

Good enough? No, #MeToo is not pleased. Time’s Up, the #MeToo-spawned political group founded by Reese Witherspoon and Shonda Rhimes among others, protested in response to the announcement that offering a high-profile position to an abuser who has yet to show true remorse, work to reform their behavior and provide restitution to those harmed is condoning abuse.” The hire, Time’s Up added in a statement, “endorses and perpetuates a broken system that allows powerful men to act without consequence.”

Got it. Women, at least these women, want to see men ruined, shunned and reduced to living by crowdfunding and begging on the street if possible, without the certainly of due process and regardless of circumstances. How does someone like Lasseter show “true remorse”? They get to decide. What work do they have to do to reform their behavior? That’s the activists’ call too, I suppose. Meanwhile, absent a trial, what is restitution? If the women involved have a lawsuit, let them bring it. What is the cost of an unwanted workplace hug?

The Times story adds that multiple staff members, all anonymously, told managers at Disney that  Lasseter had become increasingly domineering over the years. What does that have to do with anything? A company founder and executive who is domineering! What’s the sentence for that these days?

The Times also provides insight into the Times Up/#MeToo trick of ensuring maximum ruination for men accused of sexual harassment by employing the idea that all offenders are the same. “The comedian Louis C.K. has pushed to revive his comedy career — to vigorous opposition — after admitting to sexual misconduct,” the story tells us, apparently to demonstrate a contrast. There is no comparison. C.K. was in the habit of masturbating in front of female colleagues, none of them his subordinates, and not in the workplace. He never denied the offense. Reviving his career means being funny enough that an audience wants to hear him and will pay for the privilege. His fate has no relevance to Lasseter’s situation at all.

Neither does Harvey Weinstein, though both were successful creative forces in Hollywood. Weinstein hasn’t been convicted (yet) of any crime, but what he has admitted to is repeated quid prp quo sexual harassment in the workplace, offering and exchanging work favors for sex. This is to unwanted hugs and spontaneous kisses as rape is pulling a woman under the mistletoe. These distinctions matter. Nothing Lasseter was accused of rises to the level of actionable sexual assault, putting him is a different, less dangerous, more forgivable class than Bill Cosby, Weinstein, Les Moonves, Kevin Spacey, and Matt Lauer, to name four. His “hostile work environment” creating habits also are not the equal of the most blatant sexual harassers on the long Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck passenger list, like the late Roger Ailes, many of whom engaged in cover-ups and threats.

John Lasseter is, in contrast, the more common sort of workplace harasser, a middle-aged to older man who learned bad habits when his conduct was common among his superiors and peers, and who genuinely doesn’t thin k he was doing anything wrong, or that every other man in a similar position did. I have been in many workplace cultures where uninvited hugging, kissing and tasteless comments on a woman’s appearance were tolerated (by both men and women, managers and subordinates). I have know many of the men who behaved like this well, and some who ultimately were dismissed for it. All of them felt that the rules had been changed on them, and that their punishment was unfair.

In truth, the rules had changed, but the ethics had not. Such disrespectful, degrading and subordinating treatment of women in the workplace was always wrong. For many men, however, the ethics alarms relating to such conduct had, and have, rusted solid. You know who John Lasseter is? This guy…

Do you think Uncle Joe really understands that he’s doing something wrong? I don’t. He’s even made statements about sexual harassment last year in an address to students at Rutgers,  telling them, “Sexual assault is not about sex. It’s about power. It’s about the abuse of power.” Joe would be horrified is someone said he was a serial harasser. He’s just being nice!

The Time’s Up!/#MeToo warriors want proof that men like Lasseter and Biden have changed their values and beliefs, but that’s not going to happen, because they think they are good people who were themselves mistreated. They can’t change their attitudes,  but they can absolutely change their conduct, because they have to.

Lasseter was properly punished at Disney. He lost his job and his connection to his own creation. He was humiliated, and was without work for many months. That’s hardly getting off scot free, and each new workplace is not obligated to punish an employee for misconduct at the previous workplace. Hiring John Lasseter to do a job he has a track record of doing uniquely well is not “The King’s Pass,” it’s good business. Apparently his contract with Skydance includes provisions that make Lasseter responsible for paying for “legal issues arising from future misbehavior.” The provisions also “indemnify Skydance from any past misdeeds that had not come to light in the due diligence process conducted by an outside law firm.”

Perfect. Lasseter has a second chance, and knows the consequences if he harasses again. If he does harass again, I would make the argument that he is a serial, compulsive harasser, and not fit for the workplace. I would bet that he has enough self-control to restrain himself. It doesn’t matter if he wishes he could exploit his power for cheap titillation and thrills: wishes aren’t unethical. I wish him good luck.

And Skydance too.

15 thoughts on “The John Lasseter #MeToo Conundrum

  1. Probably won’t generate huge amounts of commentary, Jack, but I think this is one of your most thoughtful and informative essays.

  2. What if Ms Witherspoon’s off screen activities are deemed by male producers as detrimental to their productions if she is hired to act in a film. Knowing that she has taken on the mantle of Torquemada I will not buy a ticket to or view any work in which she is involved.

    It has become obvious that the power dynamic has shifted 180 degrees so all men are in diminished power positions now.

  3. It would behoove companies to include mention in the employee handbooks about the need to avoid spontaneous hugging/touching, even if it’s not intended to be a romantic advance.

    • Er… it has been in every handbook from every employer I ever worked with.

      But those were unenlightened fly over country companies. Funny how the Self Appointed Elites seem to have had this problem all along, while preaching to the rest of us.

  4. I am reluctant to change any part of my ‘conduct’ because ‘I have to’. As I suspect so is Joe Biden.

    As a social animal of course I do adjust my conduct continuously as a result of the feedback I get, subtle and otherwise. I think we all do that. I want a quiet and harmonious life. I send and receive such signals. Personally I’d appreciate greater clarity : perhaps badges saying ‘don’t touch’ or ‘dry kiss OK’ or ‘grope only by appointment’; but I’m not going to get any of that.

    There is a lifetime of mysteries in the subtle communications between the sexes. This is part of the great joy and pains of being alive, and the core material for much of our art. Why are we having such problems? It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with religion. How come the great country that practically invented free love and Woodstock now seems to have some of the greatest hangups about sex?

  5. 1) There was once a day in age where the mainstream culture distrusted the entertainment industry, for a wide range of reasons, primarily because the entire basis of their profession hinged on some level of deception.

    2) Did that, somewhat distrusted “caste” of society develop generally non-normal social mores within their own ‘subculture’ that, on average, ran a bit opposite of the general culture that quietly distrusted them?

    3) Did some of those non-normal social mores possibly include less than preferred sexual protocols? Perhaps in which men were hyper-aggressive predators and women were ‘loose’?

    4) Would the century-long ‘golden age’ of the big screen, in which these actors/actresses could portray themselves to the mass culture as ‘normal’ individuals acting with ‘normal’ social values, have done a good service towards causing the mass culture to forget their ancestors’ general distrust of those members of the entertainment industry?

    5) Would the modern METOO movement, essentially born out of the sexual mess of Hollywood, then, be the entertainment industry’s purging of the old ‘deviant’ class as it moves to join the larger culture, OR is the movement merely evidence that we never should have lost of inherent distrust of them and their internal value-set to begin with?

    • 1) Yes. Absolutely.

      2) Again, yes. No doubt about it.

      3) Sounds like rhetorical question! Sure.

      4) Impossible. Part of the appeal of Hollywood was that it was another planet entirely, an alternate reality where incredibly beautiful people did the kinds of things people fantasized about, but were smart enough, once entering adulthood, to be able to distinguish fantasy from reality.

      5) The latter. Hollywood still has warped values, its just that there’s a power struggle.

  6. “The Time’s Up!/#MeToo warriors want proof that men like Lasseter and Biden have changed their values and beliefs, but that’s not going to happen, because they think they are good people who were themselves mistreated. They can’t change their attitudes, but they can absolutely change their conduct, because they have to.”

    I think this is too hopeful.

    I don’t think those movements want the objects of the fury to ‘reform’, they want them to burn. There is NO allowance for a repentant heart. NOR is there allowance for tolerating an old way of thinking until the old way passes on with that generation. They are furies and they want to burn people in effigy.

    • Agreed. The individuals who find their purpose in the progressive/far left/Marxist/3rd-wave feminist/woke/intersectional/etc. movements, generally don’t know what they want, because they really don’t want to be happy. Therefore there can be no endgame or measurable goal. They are miserable and want to make anyone happier than themselves miserable.

      It’s a shame, because there is a very real and sick cabal of powerful Hollywood and Washington creeps who do need to be busted (most are still at large,) but the wokeness racket has sabotaged what could have been a healthy movement to clean up these institutions. The whole thing jumped the shark when they cashed in whatever good name “#MeToo” had and tried to leverage it to derail a squeaky-clean Supreme Court nominee they didn’t like.

  7. ” each new workplace is not obligated to punish an employee for misconduct at the previous workplace.”
    Some folks just can’t or won’t grasp this concept. I helped prepare a defense of the promotional practices of my former agency when a female deputy sued us for sex discrimination because a promotion she wanted went to a male deputy who had been disciplined by a previous employer for a sexual harassment complaint. The single complaint (for which he only received a written reprimand, no suspension) was the only blemish on an impressive work record, but the deputy later resigned from that agency because he feared the complaint would continue to haunt him there. The previous employer gave him a glowing recommendation and after three years of outstanding service with our agency he was promoted to sergeant. The most recent promotion to sergeant before his had been a female. The female deputy who sued was a mediocre performer at best, with less time on the job. She had told other deputies that “he should never be promoted” because of the earlier complaint. After some preliminary back and forth in court, the insurance company predictably offered her a “nuisance settlement” which was accepted. After that, she triumphantly resigned from our agency and went on to sue two subsequent police employers in the next five years before marrying some rich guy and leaving law enforcement for good. The individual she sued us over went on to have a distinguished career and is planning to retire later this year. The “good guy” won.

  8. Sexual Economics: Another year or two of MeToo-ing and hugs-called-rapes and anyone who sells sex will make a fortune! The woke sex-workers with help from their customers will throw the pimps back in the gutter they came from and – strong-minded gals that they are – will run their businesses and free health clinics like the Storyville madams of yore, after negotiating with the sex workers union, of course. Both Dow and Jones will spike. As soon as the shares go public, I’m buying in.

    • Will it be the men or the women buying the sex? As men find that *ever* having sex can have drastic consequences, I can see them using prostitution anonymously as a substitute.

      But the women, who have been raised and encouraged to have a ‘healthy libido,’ may find that no bar buddy is willing to take a chance she won’t wreck his career two decades after the tryst. What is a girl to do?

  9. Put her fingers in her ears, a blindfold over her eyes, and sit down and think about what she really wants. Then she can go find a boy who’s willing to give her a hug and maybe even let her start the conversation.

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