Show Business Ethics: Sorry, Nobody Feels “Safe” At Auditions

An actress named Ingrid Haas complained about a demeaning experience auditioning for the Super Bowl commercial advertising Bon and Viv Hard Seltzer. In a first-person essay published by Vice titled “My Bikini Audition From Hell Shows How Little Hollywood Has Change,” Haas wrote that she was embarrassed when a male casting employee told the women in the ad’s audition that they would have to dance in front of a camera for 30 seconds. When she asked why they had to dance, she wrote, the man responded: “Welcome to corporate America. This is how we sell stuff.” The actress says that she was proud of herself for refusing to dance, but the experience “humiliated and angered her.” And, of course, she did not get the job.

Anheuser-Busch, which makes the product, is now making politically correct noises and condemned the behavior that Haas described,  insincerely or ignorantly, though the first is more plausible, with Chelsea Phillips, vice president of the company’s Beyond Beer division, telling the media,

“The behavior described in the Vice article is completely unacceptable and goes against everything that our brand and company stand for. I regret that this individual had this experience. Anheuser-Busch does not tolerate any discriminatory or demeaning behavior. I reached out to the production company who produced the commercial, because we hold our business partners to this same standard.”

Baloney. The audition as described was neither atypical, unreasonable,  abusive, nor inappropriate. The ad’s producer’s CEO said,“Each actor was asked to dance at the beginning of their audition as this was a way to show one’s level of confidence.” This is not unusual or wrong. Then he too lapsed into politically correct nonsense:

“I do not tolerate any behavior that would make someone feel rushed or uncomfortable. I have reviewed this internally with my staff to continue to make my office a welcoming environment where every actor feels safe.”

Nobody, literally nobody, in the acting profession believes this. Auditioning is a horrible, humiliating, uncomfortable experience, always has been, and always will be. I have been on both sides of the table too many times to count. Should a good and ethical director make every effort to treat auditioneers with respect and consideration? Absolutely. This is basic Golden Rule stuff. Do some directors abuse their power at auditions, or behave insensitively or cruelly? Yes. Does the fact that an actor or actress felt “humiliated and angered” at an audition prove that this was the case? No. You are being judged, asked to do things you might not want or like to do, and facing rejection with career consequences. The only actors who feel “safe” at auditions already know they are getting the part.

Never mind: activists gotta active. “It is extraordinary that this is still happening after the outrages of #MeToo,” said Cindy Gallop, a former advertising executive and the founder of the website MakeLoveNotPorn. “The fact it’s still happening demonstrates how fundamentally systemic sexual harassment is and that this is about power and abuse of power.” No the fact that Cindy would utter such fantasy world nonsense proves that such people are only looking for power, publicity and leverage, and that how certain professions have to operate doesn’t enter into their calculations at all.

When physical attractiveness is an element of a role, then an actor’s body, presence, confidence, fitness and sexual appeal are under scrutiny. Various directors have different ways of exploring that. An audition is often a test of confidence, willingness to take risks, modesty, and cooperation. Actors who are easily made uncomfortable and who think they should feel “safe” while selling themselves, their looks and their attractiveness to strangers are in the wrong profession. Ingrid Haas is in the wrong profession. It’s nice that she’s “proud” that she refused to do what the director asked, but I wouldn’t cast an actress that did that, and neither would any other director.

I once oversaw another director’s auditions for the gay comedy-drama “The Boys in the Band.” In the callbacks, the director asked all of the actors to strip to their underwear. He asked some of them to dance. He asked them to embrace and kiss other actors, all stranger. The auditions were very stressful on the auditioners, who were not all gay—they were never asked about their sexual orientation—and several said afterwards that they were uncomfortable. Personally, I would not have gone that far if I had been the director. However, the methods were defensible, and if an actor isn’t comfortable being semi-naked in an audition, it is a legitimate question whether he can pull it off in front of an audience.

Show business has, and must have, a different ethical culture than other fields. Pretending that it doesn’t just confuses the public. Yes, if Ingrid was asked to dance in a bikini in a job interview for a law firm, that would be inappropriate.


5 thoughts on “Show Business Ethics: Sorry, Nobody Feels “Safe” At Auditions

  1. This is the music (the song: “Milkshake”) that the casting director asked the young women to dance to in her bikini-top:

    I have a few different lines of though and, I assume, they will all be unwelcome! 🙂 It seems to be my role. But the purpose here is to discuss things in all their ethical dimension, no?

    1) One is to start at the very beginning: the attractiveness of woman. It is dual. On one side, a woman that stands for — that is appears in her feminine form (like the woman on the pasta label holding a sheath of wheat) — for virtue, what we recognize and value as *good*, and even for other values such as *justice* and *truth* — is aligned with those qualities and support them I guess one would say by aligning her image with them. This *use of the feminine* (as one might call it) is ancient. The most value-laden and *meaningful* feminine imagery in the Occident is, of course, the Virgin Mary. Sorry to be the one to point this out! But the ‘sacred feminine’ is a primary category and is the ‘underpinning’ of Occidental notions of truth, beauty, goodness.

    The image of the woman in the wheat field is, of course, that of Demeter:

    In ancient Greek religion and mythology, Demeter (/dɪˈmiːtər/; Attic: Δημήτηρ Dēmḗtēr, pronounced [dɛːmɛ́ːtɛːr]; Doric: Δαμάτηρ Dāmā́tēr) is the goddess of the grain, agriculture, harvest, growth, and nourishment, who presided over grains and the fertility of the earth. Her cult titles include Sito (Σιτώ), “she of the Grain”, as the giver of food or grain, and Thesmophoros (θεσμός, thesmos: divine order, unwritten law; φόρος, phoros: bringer, bearer), “Law-Bringer”, as a mark of the civilized existence of agricultural society.

    Oh, I get it: civilized society! What an interesting notion! But wait, hold on! That means that the sacred feminine has some kind of roll in the creation of civilization? The image of what is fruitful, that gives life, that represents an important *order*. Oh come on! Too mystical!

    2) Adults hardly need to have their attention drawn to the *other* side of the equation. To understand what that *other* side is, well, there is the video just above. OK, so without going any farther we have:

    On one side the sacred feminine, and on the other the use of the woman for a radically different purpose. Again, my apologies for you of tender feelings, but you either make a choice to direct your attention (focus, libido, energy, creativity) toward the higher dimensions in all realms, not the least being how you visualize woman and how you *dress her up*; or you go in the opposite direction, driven by lust,violence and brutality.

    Pretty much it is that simple. Binaries and dualistic explanations have their use!

    “Welcome to corporate America. This is how we sell stuff.”

    Everyone of course knows this, and everyone has been made to accept it: sexuality and sex-appeal is a tool of the marketer. The corporation that uses the tool cannot be blamed. The tool is there, it works, the object is to sell a product and earn money for stock owners. Therefore, you must accept that corporations will go to whatever length is necessary. You have no right to question nor to resist any part of this.

    The implications, of course, are larger than an add to sell some sort of soda-pop. The implications have to do with corporations (concentrations of private capital) that gain influence in the *public sphere*. Since their object is to have that influence, what ‘brake’ should stop them from going to the very limits of gaining that influence? There is no brake. Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year they inch along. Starting with the mere titillating … it is now moving into the zone of the openly pornographic.

    Does that work for you? You are happy I take it? This is what you want? Because you have no right to have any say in the matter. Oh, except that, yes, you can ‘disconnect’ from all of the vehicles through which this material is funneled into you mind, your hear, your imagination.

    You are not a person with rights! You have no rights. You are a blob of machine-consciousness more similar to a programmable apparatus and your owner is The Corporation.

    The ‘Marketing of Evil’ is really a good! The more money we have, the more such *products* we have to consume.

    Again, my sincere apologies for what, I assume, must appear as prudery or excessive zeal. But this is simple logos. The real issue is not the specific instance though — the contingent moment — but the Larger Picture of what is going on in our present. The corruption of society, with a special emphasis on the corruption of Woman, is in my opinion one of the most essential and basic keys to understanding a culture that is losing its bearings and lurching into various manifestations of social madness.

    One has to investigate causation. It is a philosophical project. How else could it be carried out?

    Addendum: It will happen, in the course of events, that the symptoms of unwellness show themselves. They will rise up in unexpected ways and places. That is what a *symptom* is [late Middle English synthoma, from medieval Latin, based on Greek sumptōma ‘chance, symptom’, from sumpiptein ‘happen’; later influenced by French symptome.

    The signs of the times, as it were. My argument, in a larger sense, has to do with a general unmooring from sound metaphysics and proper ideation. The restoration of things is what is demanded. And there is tremendous confusion about what this is and what it entails.

  2. Would an actor have a reasonable expectation that the casting call would describe stripping to one’s skivvies, or at least that the part would feature nudity/semi-nudity in the final production?

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