1 Following a day in which various exigencies and responsibilities, plus fatigue and distraction, caused me to whiff on getting up at least three posts I thought were worthy of consideration, yesterday I failed to get any up at all. This makes me very unhappy, and I apologize. A fly-in, fly-out assignment in New York City had me up early and back late, whereupon I had my son’s birthday to acknowledge, the World Series to scrutinize and some aching feet to attend to. Priorities can’t be ignored, and being able to recognize when something you want to do and are devoted to doing just cannot be done well in the time allowed is a matter of life competence. Yet I hate failing loyal readers who care about ethics issues and rely on Ethics Alarms to explore them, and feel negligent when this occurs…fortunately, not very often.
Still too often, however.
2. The emergence of Hollywood director James Toback as a serial sexual harasser (at least) had me preparing a post about why theatrical directors are especially prone to this conduct. The gist of it was that in college, where participation in theater is often more social than aesthetic, directors forming romantic relationships with their cast members is neither taboo nor typically exploitative. Similarly, in community theater such relationships are not unusual or unethical, unless they interfere with a director’s artistic duties: casting an inferior performer because she’s your girl friend or because you want her to be is per se unethical. These are the cultures that produce many directors, and they enter professional theater, and later films, with bad habits that cannot be tolerated or continued in a professional context. Similarly, performers also come out of that culture. It may be difficult for some of them to comprehend that what is arguably acceptable in amateur settings is becomes unconscionable in a professional one.
However, this cannot explain Toback’s conduct. An astounding 200 plus women now say they were harassed or assaulted by him, and the list filled up in less than week. Compared to Toback, Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby seem restrained.
Actress Selma Blair, for example, says her agent arranged for her to meet Toback for a possible role in one of his films after her career had begun with promise. Blair says the meeting was scheduled at a hotel restaurant, but when she arrived the hostess told her that Toback wanted to meet in his hotel room. There, Toback asked her to perform a monologue nude, directed her to have sex with him, and said he would not let her leave until he “had release.” Then the actress says, he simulated sexual intercourse on her leg.
I begin my sexual harassment seminars by stating that the problem is one of ethics. If you have respect for human beings regardless of gender, if you are fair to people you interact with, if you are caring toward them and obey the Golden Rule, if you apply the three basic ethics alarms checks (“Does this seem right? Could I tell my mother about this? Would I want this on the front page of my local newspaper?”), then you won’t be a harasser. But I can’t begin to explain how someone reaches the point of depravity and utter contempt for women that he would behave the way Blair describes Toback behaving. This is, to understate it, uncivilized. Was he raised by wolves? I suspect even wolves would be horrified by his behavior. My father never had to sit me down at 13 and say, “Jack, it’s time for a talk. It’s never right to simulate sexual intercourse on a woman’s leg when she has come to interview for a job.” I didn’t need to be told this. Who needs to be told this who isn’t already a dangerous sociopath?
Somehow, the culture of Hollywood devolved to such a state that abuse of power and women became a social norm, and even conventionally acculturated adults had their values erased and replaced. That is the only way the Tobacks and Weinsteins could come to exist. That culture is now too sick and entrenched to be wiped clean by a few scandals. It is going to take a long time to change it, if indeed it can be changed. Continue reading →