Excusing Rape in the Name of Art

The most striking thing about the Harvey Weinstein revelations is the complete, almost syndicated, nature of the imputed wrongdoing. Seamlessness characterizes all successful cover-ups, but this one appears particularly sinister because narcissistic illusion was the participants’ stock-in-trade. It was also their Achilles heel.

According to reports, gorgeous, soigné women who affected tough, powerful personas on and off stage were, behind the scenes, belittled and overwhelmed by this monstrous overlord. Those who thwarted his advances were bought off. Others who weren’t bought off were silenced by collusive media. Still others were consigned to anonymity, abandoned to their own confusion. And still more others succumbed to a blended state of normalcy and moral unease, accepting professional favors and working with the man who had degraded them, probably wondering: Did that happen? It seems no accident that the film head married a fashion designer. With Weinstein able to force actresses on his payroll to wear his wife’s designs on the red carpet, he could burn his alpha-male brand onto the bodies of an even larger harem.

Everyone, underlings no less than, it is rumored, his own board of directors, were pimping for him, which must have been the point. I use “pimping” both in a corporate and sexual sense. Reportedly, Weinstein had a provision in his contract obligating him to pay for any consequences from his predations. I mean, what went down when private investors came a-courting? Was Weinstein listed as a potential liability? How did they cap the risk? By number of serial episodes per fiscal quarter? By the percentage of victims algorithmically projected to resist? Did the company take out Key-Man Insurance on Weinstein for the eventuality that is now upon them? I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek, but that’s how routinized the coordinated efforts to sate the man’s very specific aquatic/phobic/exhibitionist appetites appear to have been.

And that’s just the company! Beyond the company was a whole glamor industry of enablers. The next thing I wouldn’t be surprised to hear is that Obama was secretly writing a screenplay while in office. But of course in reality he was composing his Title IX “Dear Colleague” letter stripping male college students of their due-process rights because they were all, everybody knew, would-be rapists. Meanwhile he was welcoming Weinstein into the bosom of his family.

Mia Sorvino qualified her story of assault with the humble acknowledgement: “I still owe him a debt of gratitude.” To say nothing of an Oscar. Therein may be housed the Gordian Knot of ultimate motivation (which was, obviously, not sex). Who knows that the mogul didn’t spot early on the comers that long experience told him would go on to big things? His molestations or whatever they were muddied the waters. The women’s achievements would forever after be adulterated, in their own minds and now in those of the public. #Metoo notwithstanding, they appear in hindsight as poseurs, as ventriloquized speakers of feminist autonomy. 

How do you monetize moral ambiguity?

Sorvina and Tina Brown and Donna Karan and others hedging Weinstein’s bad acts in light of his genius -- or exalting Roman Polansky at Weinstein’s behest -- doesn’t this invidious indulgence show how the Left finds malevolence everywhere but in its own backyard? We all accept that art has a special place in society. Just as the philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that aesthetic perception was a unique form of cognition, we differentiate between work and creation. We revere genius. The law goes out of its way to protect originality. This is because creative endeavor embodies remnants of an ancient holism between spirit and mind that contemporary society has, ever since art decoupled from religion, irretrievably lost. In its impoverishment, society seeks substitutes. That’s understandable. But the Left goes beyond that. It gives auteurist creeps a pass. It privileges its “transgressive” heroes. It hoists to no-fault superiority those who present to our fatigued senses fabricated knock-offs of the sublime.

Consider these two other recent examples:

In an article in The New Yorker on the Resistance’s newest ploy to impeach the president via the Twenty-fifth Amendment, as well as pathologize the judgements of ordinary citizens, Masha Gessen glosses over the role of psychiatry as a repressive instrument of the state in the Soviet Union:

I once saw Alexander Esenin-Volpin, one of the founders of the Soviet dissident movement, receive his medical documents, dating back to his hospitalizations decades earlier. His diagnosis of mental illness was based explicitly on his expressed belief that protest could overturn the Soviet regime. Esenin-Volpin laughed with delight when he read the document. It was funny. It was also accurate: the idea that the protest of a few intellectuals could bring down the Soviet regime was insane. Esenin-Volpin, in fact, struggled with mental-health issues throughout his life. He was also a visionary.

So, the collaboration of psychiatry in the murder, relocation, and ostracism of millions doesn’t rank because a few “visionaries” could laugh about it afterwards? Notice for Gessen, it is only those fashionably afflicted few cherrypicked for fame by the West who merit a mention.

The other example is one I’ve written on extensively. Richard Prince, the appropriation artist, is currently being sued by Donald Graham, a professional fine-arts photographer who uploaded an image he created onto Instagram, only to see it reprinted by Prince, enlarged, and repackaged as the latter’s own. The cultural left celebrates and litigates as amicii on behalf of this tired reenactment of Duchampian tricksterism. Morality is for suckers like you and me, after all. And even though it is well-known that photographers and other artists who hustle for a living turn to Instagram to promote themselves, don’t count on Instagram to come to the working stiff’s rescue. It didn’t in this case, even though Prince violated its Terms of Service.

And copyright law -- well, as long as there is the New York Times et al., there will be an elite intelligentsia to pen hip apologias for their parasitism. Just like Weinstein did for Polanski; and Michelle Goldberg does for Weinstein; and Gessen and Suk Gerson do for the risibly named Duty to Warn gang of celebrity therapists currently assuring us they are thrusting themselves into the anti-Trump limelight not to aggrandize their own fortunes but for our protection. Note how effective the oh-so-solicitous psychiatric establishment was at warning in the case of Stephen Paddock.

By contrast, when Jack Phillips, a religious baker, beseeches the state of Colorado for meagre leeway in its application of its public accommodations law in order to fulfill his artistic vocation to serve God through his commercial craft, all hell breaks loose. The Left calls for the sliver of nonconformity Phillips threatens to be extirpated. The state decrees that Phillips’ employees submit to reprogramming.

Not that the Left will ever acknowledge the hypocrisy of its persecutory tactics. Phillips holds the sincere belief that his custom-made cakes are works of art and therefore “inherent speech” protected by the First Amendment, which takes priority over the state law that would compel him to participate intimately in a ceremony his beliefs proscribe. The Left disparages this preposterous idea, as it does all honest communicative labor not up to the level of trendiness they require. How dare Phillips consider his visually and symbolically elaborate confections “art”?

Besides, he should have known: sincerity is out. The line of demarcation is so obvious. Rapists and thieves are one thing. Devout Christians, quite another.  

The most striking thing about the Harvey Weinstein revelations is the complete, almost syndicated, nature of the imputed wrongdoing. Seamlessness characterizes all successful cover-ups, but this one appears particularly sinister because narcissistic illusion was the participants’ stock-in-trade. It was also their Achilles heel.

According to reports, gorgeous, soigné women who affected tough, powerful personas on and off stage were, behind the scenes, belittled and overwhelmed by this monstrous overlord. Those who thwarted his advances were bought off. Others who weren’t bought off were silenced by collusive media. Still others were consigned to anonymity, abandoned to their own confusion. And still more others succumbed to a blended state of normalcy and moral unease, accepting professional favors and working with the man who had degraded them, probably wondering: Did that happen? It seems no accident that the film head married a fashion designer. With Weinstein able to force actresses on his payroll to wear his wife’s designs on the red carpet, he could burn his alpha-male brand onto the bodies of an even larger harem.

Everyone, underlings no less than, it is rumored, his own board of directors, were pimping for him, which must have been the point. I use “pimping” both in a corporate and sexual sense. Reportedly, Weinstein had a provision in his contract obligating him to pay for any consequences from his predations. I mean, what went down when private investors came a-courting? Was Weinstein listed as a potential liability? How did they cap the risk? By number of serial episodes per fiscal quarter? By the percentage of victims algorithmically projected to resist? Did the company take out Key-Man Insurance on Weinstein for the eventuality that is now upon them? I’m speaking tongue-in-cheek, but that’s how routinized the coordinated efforts to sate the man’s very specific aquatic/phobic/exhibitionist appetites appear to have been.

And that’s just the company! Beyond the company was a whole glamor industry of enablers. The next thing I wouldn’t be surprised to hear is that Obama was secretly writing a screenplay while in office. But of course in reality he was composing his Title IX “Dear Colleague” letter stripping male college students of their due-process rights because they were all, everybody knew, would-be rapists. Meanwhile he was welcoming Weinstein into the bosom of his family.

Mia Sorvino qualified her story of assault with the humble acknowledgement: “I still owe him a debt of gratitude.” To say nothing of an Oscar. Therein may be housed the Gordian Knot of ultimate motivation (which was, obviously, not sex). Who knows that the mogul didn’t spot early on the comers that long experience told him would go on to big things? His molestations or whatever they were muddied the waters. The women’s achievements would forever after be adulterated, in their own minds and now in those of the public. #Metoo notwithstanding, they appear in hindsight as poseurs, as ventriloquized speakers of feminist autonomy. 

How do you monetize moral ambiguity?

Sorvina and Tina Brown and Donna Karan and others hedging Weinstein’s bad acts in light of his genius -- or exalting Roman Polansky at Weinstein’s behest -- doesn’t this invidious indulgence show how the Left finds malevolence everywhere but in its own backyard? We all accept that art has a special place in society. Just as the philosopher Immanuel Kant reasoned that aesthetic perception was a unique form of cognition, we differentiate between work and creation. We revere genius. The law goes out of its way to protect originality. This is because creative endeavor embodies remnants of an ancient holism between spirit and mind that contemporary society has, ever since art decoupled from religion, irretrievably lost. In its impoverishment, society seeks substitutes. That’s understandable. But the Left goes beyond that. It gives auteurist creeps a pass. It privileges its “transgressive” heroes. It hoists to no-fault superiority those who present to our fatigued senses fabricated knock-offs of the sublime.

Consider these two other recent examples:

In an article in The New Yorker on the Resistance’s newest ploy to impeach the president via the Twenty-fifth Amendment, as well as pathologize the judgements of ordinary citizens, Masha Gessen glosses over the role of psychiatry as a repressive instrument of the state in the Soviet Union:

I once saw Alexander Esenin-Volpin, one of the founders of the Soviet dissident movement, receive his medical documents, dating back to his hospitalizations decades earlier. His diagnosis of mental illness was based explicitly on his expressed belief that protest could overturn the Soviet regime. Esenin-Volpin laughed with delight when he read the document. It was funny. It was also accurate: the idea that the protest of a few intellectuals could bring down the Soviet regime was insane. Esenin-Volpin, in fact, struggled with mental-health issues throughout his life. He was also a visionary.

So, the collaboration of psychiatry in the murder, relocation, and ostracism of millions doesn’t rank because a few “visionaries” could laugh about it afterwards? Notice for Gessen, it is only those fashionably afflicted few cherrypicked for fame by the West who merit a mention.

The other example is one I’ve written on extensively. Richard Prince, the appropriation artist, is currently being sued by Donald Graham, a professional fine-arts photographer who uploaded an image he created onto Instagram, only to see it reprinted by Prince, enlarged, and repackaged as the latter’s own. The cultural left celebrates and litigates as amicii on behalf of this tired reenactment of Duchampian tricksterism. Morality is for suckers like you and me, after all. And even though it is well-known that photographers and other artists who hustle for a living turn to Instagram to promote themselves, don’t count on Instagram to come to the working stiff’s rescue. It didn’t in this case, even though Prince violated its Terms of Service.

And copyright law -- well, as long as there is the New York Times et al., there will be an elite intelligentsia to pen hip apologias for their parasitism. Just like Weinstein did for Polanski; and Michelle Goldberg does for Weinstein; and Gessen and Suk Gerson do for the risibly named Duty to Warn gang of celebrity therapists currently assuring us they are thrusting themselves into the anti-Trump limelight not to aggrandize their own fortunes but for our protection. Note how effective the oh-so-solicitous psychiatric establishment was at warning in the case of Stephen Paddock.

By contrast, when Jack Phillips, a religious baker, beseeches the state of Colorado for meagre leeway in its application of its public accommodations law in order to fulfill his artistic vocation to serve God through his commercial craft, all hell breaks loose. The Left calls for the sliver of nonconformity Phillips threatens to be extirpated. The state decrees that Phillips’ employees submit to reprogramming.

Not that the Left will ever acknowledge the hypocrisy of its persecutory tactics. Phillips holds the sincere belief that his custom-made cakes are works of art and therefore “inherent speech” protected by the First Amendment, which takes priority over the state law that would compel him to participate intimately in a ceremony his beliefs proscribe. The Left disparages this preposterous idea, as it does all honest communicative labor not up to the level of trendiness they require. How dare Phillips consider his visually and symbolically elaborate confections “art”?

Besides, he should have known: sincerity is out. The line of demarcation is so obvious. Rapists and thieves are one thing. Devout Christians, quite another.  

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