It did not surprise me when the story about Harvey Weinstein broke and overtook the news in the US a few weeks ago. The fact that that kind of stuff goes on in Hollywood has long been the subject of gossip reports. What did surprise me was the onslaught of additional allegations against other individuals in the following days, specifically throughout Hollywood and the government. As Christians living in a culture dominated by popular entertainment it is important that we rightly think through what has transpired, assess our own social situations, think about how we can be a part of the solution, and evaluate how we will consume cultural entertainment moving forward.
Over the next four posts in this series, I will analyze the nature of the abuse, public reaction, personal response from the accused, victimization culture, vocational and social consequences that result from allegations, Christian response to allegations, solutions that lead to healing for both victims and perpetrators, art that encourages this kind of behavior in our culture, and I will propose several ideas that will help move society forward as we navigate through the waters of this disease that runs rampant in our society.
Recently a growing number of prominent individuals in Hollywood have come under fire after being accused of sexual abuse. Several have lost their current jobs and perhaps their entire careers in the industry. Some have denied the truthfulness of the allegations, while others have owned their actions. Time will tell whether or not the accused are guilty. In the Middle East in many cultures just being accused of something like this is enough to ruin a reputation. It seems that this is more and more becoming the case here in the West as well. So even if the accused are not convicted of any crimes, they will now always be looked at differently. The accusations whether true or not have negative effects that will surround these individuals for years to come. For those who are convicted or who have confessed that the allegations are true, the accusations serve as a wake-up call to our society about things that are happening behind closed doors all across society.
Charges range from groping, to forcibly kissing, to inappropriate self-satisfying, to rape. On several occasions, those who have called out others for their actions have been swiftly reminded of their own poor behaviors. Claims in the news now are going back over 30 years.
As I write this, Ben Affleck, Sylvester Stalone, Dustin Hoffman, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, James Toback, George H.W. Bush, Chris Savino, Roy Price, John Besh, Mark Halperin, Michael Oreskes, Lockhart Steele, Al Frankin, Louis C.K., Roy Moore, and others are under public scrutiny. For a complete list to date, click here.
It is difficult and scary for people to confront their accusers, especially in public. Many people who have been abused have signed non-disclosure agreements. These agreements are normally used to protect companies when deals are brokered with other companies so that trade secrets will not be released to third parties. The agreements have often been used in legal cases. Now it is being questioned whether or not they should be allowed in certain cases. To date these agreements have protected the reputations of individuals who have abused others, allowing the cycles of abuse to continue. Others have simply not said anything about their accusers before now out of fear that making accusations against powerful people will halt their own careers. Whether people are speaking out after signing nondisclosure agreements or whether they are speaking now because they no longer feel afraid, we still have a culture of fear when it comes to empowering victims of abuse. This culture is cultivated in school, in law enforcement, in families, in clubs or social organizations, and even in the workplace. Victims no matter who they are or where they are in society should be encouraged to report abuse. They should be given a place where their voice can be heard without fear of shaming or other negative consequences. Accusers should not be made to feel as if what happened was their fault or as if there is something wrong with them that caused it to happen. Those who are abusing others must be confronted and they must face consequences if this kind of behavior in our society is ever going to be reigned in.
Some have denied the allegations, others have said sorry, and others have tried to divert focus from what they did (such as Kevin Spacey). These responses will be analyzed further in part two.
It has been pointed out that there is a “massive moral vacuum” in our country right now. Public leaders in the government have acted as if they are not subject to the very laws they are responsible to uphold. This is nothing new. Recently Bill Clinton’s actions as President have even come under scrutiny again, but this did not start with him either. It predates JFK. But if our elected leaders are being accused of the same things that our entertainers are being accused of, they are not equipped well to stand up for morality and for the true victims of abuse. But then, who is? There are even scandals in the church. The only one without scandal is God. His word calls us to live a certain way, but we all fail. So we then ask, who can throw a stone? Should we throw stones?
This week Sarah Silverman commented about her friend Louis C.K. She states, “This recent calling out of sexual assault has been a long time coming…it’s good. It’s like cutting out tumors — it’s messy and it’s complicated and it is gonna hurt, but it’s necessary and we’ll all be healthier for it.” She goes on to say, “I love Louie. But Louie did these things.” She seems like she wants to support Louis, but at the same time she is angry about what he did.
Karen Covell of the Hollywood Prayer Network recently wrote about Hugh Hefner that, “Out of his own brokenness, he not only perpetuated the view of women in our nation, but pushed us out of our comfort zones with sexuality, nudity and objectifying women. Hef is a perfect example that sin causes brokenness and brokenness causes more sin.” Hugh longed to have a meaningful relationship, but traded it for a cheap substitute. That substitute opened the door for many in our culture to more openly objectify women. As women are objectified, their value is decreased. When people objectify men or women, they see them as nothing more than a means to an end. They do not see those they abuse as an end in and of themselves. As such they perpetuate sin.
Karen Covell also writes, “The Hollywood Entertainment Industry is exploding with accusations, pleas, cries for help, and #MeToo stories about women and men who have been sexually harassed, exploited, or abused by successful, highly visible men in Hollywood. Heartbreaking stories are coming out and people are being named in the frenzy. Shows are being cancelled, contracts broken, and in one film a character is being replaced by another actor, even though the film has already been shot and edited. And it’s all in the wake of criminal acts of sexual exploits. On one hand, it’s frightening to see the truth of some of our country’s greatest “stars.” On the other hand, it’s an incredible chance to have the truth come to the surface and for Christian insiders to pray for, minister to and speak healing truths into the lives of the people involved. We are now in “such a time as this” with the prayers and relationships that we have built up in the past decades. So, would you pray for us as we minister to the hurting, the fearful, the broken, and the angry TV and film professionals during this window of opportunity for truth, comfort, and healing in Hollywood.”
Hollywood is indeed in need of healing. Our government is in need of healing. Our society is in need of healing. Victims of abuse are in need of healing. Abusers are in need of healing. The healing we need requires legal consequences, mental and emotional help, spiritual help, and an open platform where we can all be called to something better.
In the next post we will be looking at victimization culture, and in more detail at celebrity apologies and public response to said apologies.
Dr. Scott Shiffer has a Ph.D. in Christian Theology from the B.H. Carroll Theological Institute and has been teaching religion classes since 2006. He leads Transformation Media Ministries, an organization to help believers think biblically about culture in America. Scott has given numerous presentations including one at Oxford. He has spoken at church retreats, youth retreats, conferences, and has taught discipleship classes for over 10 years. Scott is married and has three children. He has a heart for helping believers draw closer to God and for aiding them as they are faced with new challenges in America every day.