Harvey Weinstein and the Slow-Motion Theft of American Culture
"I cannot be more remorseful about the people I hurt and I plan to do right by all of them,” wrote movie mogul Harvey Weinstein upon being busted for all manner of sexual predations, before adding this only-in-Hollywood non-sequitur, “I am going to need a place to channel that anger so I've decided that I'm going to give the NRA my full attention."
Perhaps even more troubling, the day before Weinstein’s apologia came this unfortunate tweet from Nancy “with the laughing eyes” Sinatra, “The murderous members of the NRA should face a firing squad.”
The Nancy tweet stung more because my once exhaustive consumption of American culture had dwindled down to Turner Classic Movies, Major League Baseball, and the Sinatra Channel on Sirius, and then Nancy had to go and spoil it all by saying something stupid like, “I hate you.” I always suspected that Weinstein did, but even though Ms. Sinatra deleted her tweet, the contempt lingers.
I do not need to watch Weinstein’s Pulp Fiction any more than I already have, but Nancy is the mainstay host of the Sinatra Channel, a daily staple. Having just given up on the NFL, I have to ask myself how much more of our common culture will be denied me and the millions of Americans who would rather desert that culture than be demeaned by its custodians.
It has not always been like this. As recently as 1980, for instance, almost no one in the media openly disrespected people like me. As a young Reagan fan, I had come to that enthusiasm almost entirely through the mainstream media. There was no conservative talk radio to speak of, no Fox News, no Internet, and I caught up with National Review only occasionally at the public library. I watched the evening news and the Sunday morning shows without feeling aggrieved or abused, and I listened to NPR all day long.
Fresh out of graduate school, I worked as Director of Management at the Kansas City Housing Authority. NPR helped me keep my sanity. I was one of only a handful of conservatives working at this place, but no one mistreated me because of it.
Being a witness to the left’s stealthy corruption of the black community, I wrote several articles on what I saw. My African-American boss advised me to use a pseudonym but otherwise had no objection. The Kansas City Star, then still a nonpartisan enterprise, welcomed my insider perspective. Up until about ten years ago, the Star even reviewed my books.
At the time, I served on the board of a local professional theater, had a play of mine produced, and wrote and directed a couple of fundraising mystery spectacles for the theater. Today, like the editors of the Star, the theater’s decision makers will not even read what I submit.
Throughout the 1990s, I produced a series of historical documentaries for the local PBS station. In that the audiences supported my work, I kept getting asked back. For years, I appeared periodically on the station’s weekly news program. That has dwindled away to nothing. The Star reporters will not be on the show if I am. The station needs the Star more than it needs me. Nor have I been on the area’s NPR station in a decade. Like its mothership, the station no longer even feigns an interest in the sixty percent of its red state market that voted for Donald Trump.
In that my wife is a university professor, so were many of our friends. Although they knew my politics, they did not hesitate to welcome us into their world. Although my politics have not changed, we have not been invited to an academic dinner party in at least a decade. Nor have we gone to see a speaker or see a play at the university three blocks from our house in twenty or so years. Chelsea Clinton? Angela Davis? The Vagina Monologues? No, thanks.
I used to watch late night talk shows. Who didn’t? Then the bright minds at the networks thought it would be a good idea to have every one of the main players -- Fallon, Kimmel, Colbert, O’Brien -- compete for the same angry liberal sliver of the audience. Today, I find myself watching Johnny Carson reruns.
As for comedy, is there any? The 1970s saw an emergence of fresh provocative talent -- Steve Martin, Robin Williams, Andy Kauffman, Richard Pryor, George Carlin, Monty Python. None of them was conspicuously partisan. Today, many of the best comedians -- Seinfeld, Chris Rock -- won’t even play college campuses lest they offend the snowflakes.
“Saturday Night Live,” which debuted in 1975, sprang more or less from the side of the National Lampoon, which, if anything, skewed right. The show had a 1990s revival whose cast was arguably better than the original, and the show remained largely apolitical, at least until the emergence of Barack Obama/Sarah Palin. For eight years the Obama humor was tepid and unfunny. Today, the Trump humor is venomous and unfunny.
In comedy, only “South Park” maintains a niche on the anarchic right, but it is sufficiently vulgar the left doesn’t notice. On radio, Howard Stern has, if anything, upped the vulgarity. Unfortunately, he long ago abandoned his libertarian, street smart iconoclasm to keep the guests flowing on the Hollywood pipeline. Occasionally, he even cheers on the PC police.
Meanwhile, Weinstein’s Hollywood is in full decline. After years of ignoring middle America, its mavens decided it would be a good marketing strategy to insult that audience. It used to be newsworthy when the Oscars got political, even comical when, for instance, Marlon Brando sent Princess Summer-Fall-Winter-Spring (or whomever) to receive his award.
As late as 2003, Michael Moore was booed for his rant against our “fictitious president,” and host Steve Martin was cheered when he snapped back, "Right now, the Teamsters are helping Michael Moore into the trunk of his limo." Today, the audience would have cheered Moore and booed Martin.
The Oscars have lost their magic because so many adults have lost the habit of going to the movies. There has been almost nothing for them to see. When the worthy film Dunkirk surfaced this summer, I had friends ask me where the theaters were. They had not gone to the movies since Forrest Gump.
As to Broadway, it has taken a long, twisted road from Oklahoma to Urinetown. Always friendly to gays, Broadway is now bullied by them. Whereas the message once was, ‘please tolerate us,’ now it is, ‘celebrate us or else.’ Half the shows on Broadway, maybe more, are gay and/or trans themed.
Hamilton seemed to be a bright spot, and then the cast, with the full support of its producers, thought it would be cool to diss vice president-elect Mike Pence to his face. That will do wonders for the touring show. On the Tonys, to show their support for gun control after the Orlando gay nightclub attack, Hamilton’s Continental Army did a drill number without their weapons. They were trying to be sensitive. They just looked silly.
If nothing else, Harvey Weinstein is forcing our cultural masters to face the dark, unseemly side of an industry that much of America has seen through for years. Weinstein’s bust won’t make much of a difference, but it might just make a little.