Sexual Harassment, Cancellation Culture, Anonymous Accusers, And Placido Domingo

A report last week revealed that nine women accuse towering opera figure Placido Domingo of sexual harassment.  None of the accusations have been investiaged or substantiated, and only one of them isn’t anonymous. Yet two American institutions, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera, immediately canceled their upcoming concerts with him, giving the now-familiar “safe environments” explanation. None of. Domingo’s many upcoming scheduled performances in Europe were canceled, however, as sponsors took what the New York Times calls  “a wait-and-see approach,” or what used to be known in this country as “Let’s not punish someone based on unsubstantiated  accusations alone.” Or fairness. Due process. The Golden Rule.

There are countervailing factors pulling every which way. As I understand it, #MeToo  and “Time’s Up” insists that female accusers must be believed, unless the accused is the black, Democratic Party’s Lieutenant Governor of Virginia, or the harassment is caught on camera repeatedly, as in the case of the Democratic Party front-runner for President. In the arts, these allegations have had mixed effect. Conductor James Levine has not performed in public since he was fired by the Metropolitan Opera last year after accusations of sexually abusive and harassing conduct were substantiated in an investigation, but when Pixar chief and creative muse John Lasseter was fired for being a serial hugger (rather like that Democratic Party front-runner) he was rapidly snapped up by a rival studio that gave him as much power and more money. Go figure.

There is the anonymous factor: it is my long held position that an anonymous accusation relating to the workplace should be regarded as no accusation at all, meaning that there has been one allegation of sexual harassment against Domingo. An accused individual cannot address claims when he doesn’t know their source or facts. I have been the target of false anonymous accusations—not of harassment—in my career, and as a manager in various businesses and associations, I told staff that unless they were willing to go on the record with an accusation of wrongdoing, I didn’t want to hear it. It is too easy to destroy careers and reputations with false accusations with no accountability attached.

The other issue is the multiple accusation factor. In sexual abuse and harassment, there are no one-time offenders unless there has been a massive miscommunication. The typical scenario is that a single accusation triggers several, often many, more with near identical facts. This is why I did not believe Anita Hill and Dr. Blasey-Ford, and why I did believe Bill Cosby’s many accusers.

Timing is also important. Ancient accusations of sexual misconduct—I would say anything more than five years old is dubious—arriving after memories have faded, evidence has vanished and seemingly timed to do maximum damage to the accused should be treated with skepticism and a presumption of  bad will, especially when the accused is a public figure.

And yet…

The report on Domingo’s alleged abuse of power is extensive and convincing , and reporters appeared to check their sources thoroughly. From the AP…

For decades, Placido Domingo, one of the most celebrated and powerful men in opera, has tried to pressure women into sexual relationships by dangling jobs and then sometimes punishing the women professionally when they refused his advances, numerous accusers told The Associated Press….accusers and others in the industry say there is a troubling side to the 78-year-old Domingo — one they say has long been an open secret in the opera world.

The “open secret” factor makes my sexual harassment senses tingle. Cosby’s perversions were an open secret. So were Harvey Weinsteins’ abuses, and Bill Clinton’s, Roger Aisles and many others.

Eight singers and a dancer have told the AP that they were sexually harassed by the long-married, Spanish-born superstar in encounters that took place over three decades beginning in the late 1980s, at venues that included opera companies where he held top managerial positions. One accuser said Domingo stuck his hand down her skirt and three others said he forced wet kisses on their lips — in a dressing room, a hotel room and at a lunch meeting….said one of the singer… “He was always touching you in some way, and always kissing you.”

In addition to the nine accusers, a half-dozen other women told the AP that suggestive overtures by Domingo made them uncomfortable, including one singer who said he repeatedly asked her out on dates after hiring her to sing a series of concerts with him in the 1990s.

So we’re into double figures now.

The AP also spoke to almost three dozen other singers, dancers, orchestra musicians, backstage staff, voice teachers and administrators who said they witnessed inappropriate sexually tinged behavior by Domingo and that he pursued younger women with impunity…Seven of the nine accusers told the AP they feel their careers were adversely impacted after they rejected Domingo’s advances, with some saying that roles he promised never materialized and several noting that while they went on to work with other companies, they were never hired to work with him again.

This is bad. Yes, based on this, I believe that Placido Domingo is almost certainly a sexual harasser who abuses his power in the industry and the workplace. It would be amazing if he were not.  Still, this is not on the record, all but one of the accusers and sources are anonymous, and nothing has been proved in a formal process.

Is it fair to punish anyone based on that—unless the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera were aware of the “open secret,” and had been willing to ignore it until the singing cat was out of its metaphorical bag.

Domingo’s statement is also a problem. “The allegations from these unnamed individuals dating back as many as thirty years are deeply troubling, and as presented, inaccurate,” he wrote.

“As presented”?

It gets worse…

“Still, it is painful to hear that I may have upset anyone or made them feel uncomfortable — no matter how long ago and despite my best intentions. I believed that all of my interactions and relationships were always welcomed and consensual. People who know me or who have worked with me know that I am not someone who would intentionally harm, offend, or embarrass anyone. However, I recognize that the rules and standards by which we are — and should be — measured against today are very different than they were in the past. I am blessed and privileged to have had a more than 50-year career in opera and will hold myself to the highest standards.”

Ugh.

Translation: “Yes, I harassed the hell out of those within my power, and assumed that it was welcome and consensual because I was kind of a stud, sexy and famous, so why wouldn’t any women love to be fondled and propositioned by me. I wasn’t trying to offend anyone or embarrass women, I just wanted to to use them for my own sexual gratification. There didn’t used to be anything wrong with that, but now there is, or so I’m told, and I’m 78, so I won’t do it anymore.”

I take this as a virtual confirmation of the reports. I also read it as a credible assurance that Domingo fondling, kissing and harassing days are over. The “safe environments” claim is disingenuous. What the Philadelphia Orchestra and the San Francisco Opera appear to be doing is embracing so-called “cancellation culture,” which holds that if someone ever engaged in wrongful conduct now furiously condemned by the Woke and the Wonderful, they should be excised from the culture permanently, shunned, shamed, and rejected. Furthermore, no degree of remorse,  contrition or reform matters. They have fallen from grace, forever.,,,even if the culture allowed and even facilitated the conduct in question.

Two polls…

8 thoughts on “Sexual Harassment, Cancellation Culture, Anonymous Accusers, And Placido Domingo

  1. The professional music industry is rife with this sort of stuff. Read “Mozart in the Jungle.” By a woman who was taken into a live-in arrangement by her high school oboe teacher at her arts high school. My friend and piano teacher was propositioned by a touring pianist after she had turned pages for him while he accompanied someone in a performance at her graduate music school. Evidently servicing the guy after the recital was part of turning pages. The problem is endemic to the industry.

  2. I hope no one takes this the wrong way but in order for this behavior to take place the perpetrator must believe that there is a strong likelihood of success without consequence.

    What job is worth debasing yourself over and if you don’t see it as debasement at the time – or at least soon after- then you are treating the behavior as a cost of getting what you want.

    The only way such behavior will stop is when the probability of losing a career for harrassing behavior exceeds the probability of some temporal sexual gratification. That requires the objects of the harrasser’s desire to call them out immediately without concern for their job prospects.

  3. The poll was a tough one. At this moment, there are no accusations against him which are anything other than he said, she said. We need more proof before taking action. But…

    There is a clear pattern, and literally dozens of women talking about it. That indicates a high likelihood of some kind of sexual harassment did, in fact, occur. It also suggests strongly that it was pervasive and almost habitual.

    His statement seems as much an admission of guilt as he could manage without actually admitting guilt.

    Put together, there is strong evidence, not reasonable-doubt proof, that he sexually harassed women throughout his career. My vote that he should be placed on no-tolerance status is dependent upon discovering no actual strong proof that he deliberately damaged the careers of his victims in order to exact revenge for not sleeping with him, or that he committed rape or sexual assault that went beyond an unwanted touch.

    If he did that, he should be stapled to Weinstein and Lauer and pitched into the honey badger pit. But I’d want more proof that just the supposition of a third party that someone’s career was damaged as a result of refusing to submit to sex with him. It seems plausible, but to me, that’s much more serious than simple harassment.

  4. I voted that he should be able to retire if there is proof of anything short of a crime, and that without anyone going on the record he should not be impacted at all, certainly short of more than a single on-the-record allegation without proof.

    The man may be despicable,. but the victims also allowed this to continue. If this is the price of your chosen career, and remaining silent is a part of that price, then you are complicit. (Yes, Sparty, I remember all of the rationalizing from past posts on this subject. Either speak up, or work somewhere that this is not the de facto price of admission)

    In no way does that make the victims at fault. It just assigns personal responsibility to where it ought to be, in each person, choosing for their own life. I have refused to engage in unethical and criminal behavior, and my family suffered financially for that. Who I am is worth more than what I own materially; I am responsible for me and not the actions of others. Others may hurt me, yet this life in this world has a way of balancing the scales.

    ‘What goes around comes around’ is a true proverb, and remains true even if I don’t see justice done.

    • All of this begs the question, how long will we allow women to keep these accusations under wraps for years only to make them known when they choose.

      It appears that the excuse of being afraid because society won’t believe them is no longer valid. We are at a point in time that we stop rationalizing why women or, in some cases men, permit these louts to do as they please. The primary responsibility for stopping unwanted behavior of others is the target of that behavior.

      If a woman was sexually harrassed in the past she should bring forth the accusation now or be subject to accusatory estoppel. Women are neither children nor incabable of mounting a legitimate claim in a timely manner.

      The hot stove rule applies. If someone harrasses you, burn them fast so they learn not to do it again.

      Don’t wait.

  5. The interesting question here, long term, is whether bulldozing and salting a person’s reputation in perpetuity is an appropriate punishment for these sorts of behaviors. Do we really look to opera singers or conductors to be moral lode stars? Or even movie producers? Matt Lauer made the big bucks because he was supposed to be the lovable boy next door who could chat with a bunch of women in the morning over coffee. He ruined that persona so he can’t play it any more. A tenor trying to seduce young sopranos and doing nasty things when they don’t hop in the sack. Does that disqualify him from singing operatic roles for the rest of his voice’s natural life? I don’t think so. For God’s sake, it’s opera! If there weren’t ill behaved villains galore, the basses wouldn’t have any parts to sing! For centuries, actors were considered the scum of the earth and not fit for proper society. Now George Clooney wants to be viewed as a moral icon? As Paul would say, “Hilarity ensues.”

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