In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein sex predator scandal, entertainment studios are now scouring the sexual and behavioral histories of the leading lights – both those in front of and behind the camera.
Amazon Studio boss Roy Price is taking a leave of absence amid emerging details of an alleged incident of sexual harassment against Isa Hackett Dick, executive producer of The Man in the High Castle. And actor Ben Affleck is coming under fire for allegedly groping a number of women on movie sets.
For viewers, this current Hollywood moment raises the question: Can anyone still enjoy entertainment produced by a sex predator?
A Justice League composed of possible sex predators doesn’t seem so just
The allegations against Affleck threaten to derail the success of Justice League, the $300 million superhero tentpole film. Studio bosses have been hoping it will reverse recent downward-spiraling box office performances.
The new conventional wisdom is that nobody wants to watch a “Batman” in which man underneath the mask is a bad man.
The personal morality or lack thereof of celebrities has long lingered over audience’s acceptance of their entertainment. But why should it?
This standard doesn’t seem to be applied in any other field of endeavor. Few people, for instance, would refuse to enter a building designed by an amoral architect. Most homeowners wouldn’t worry about the after-hours behavior of the plumber who unclogs their drains.
As consumers, we tend to judge the final product, not the person who made it. If we were to apply that same principle to the movies we watch, Justice League’s Batman wouldn’t be any less of a hero – regardless of how unheroic Ben Affleck is or isn’t.
After the Bill Cosby sex predator scandal, reruns of The Cosby Show are nowhere to be found
Yet that’s not the way it works. Just ask Bill Cosby, the man who made a career out of portraying decency on television, but who was anything but decent when the cameras weren’t rolling.
Not only is he now a pariah unable to get work, but everything he ever did is tainted by rape charges that have ended his career. “The Cosby Show” was the centerpiece of 1980s family entertainment, but the reruns are now nowhere to be found.
The content of those shows hasn’t changed one iota, so shouldn’t viewers be able to separate the high-quality Cosby product from the low-quality Cosby person?
Sex predators Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, and Harvey Weinstein are still talented
The answer to that question seems to depend on how closely audiences identify with the performer in question. Many are asking how the fall of Harvey Weinstein will impact ticket sales. The likely answer is probably “not much.”
He’s a behind-the-scenes guy, and audience opprobrium usually applies the “out of sight, out of mind” principle.
For example, Roman Polanski had a prominent and lucrative career in the four decades since he fled the U.S. after his conviction on child rape.
While there are many people who refuse to patronize his films because of his pedophilia, many others overlook his crimes because they don’t have to actually look at Polanski when they watch his movies.
Contrast that with Cosby, who is front and center in every “Cosby Show” episode. All the time you’re watching the charming Cliff Huxtable, you are reminded of how for removed the real-life Cosby is from his fictional creation.
That disconnect makes for an uncomfortably creepy viewing experience. Since the goal of turning on the TV is to be entertained, it’s far easier to turn off Cosby and watch something else.
Time and chance happeneth to them all, even sex predators
Time and chance has a way of softening audience contempt for art produced by the contemptible, especially if the artist has been dead for a very long time.
Great authors, composers, and painters of past eras now get a pass on whatever awful things they may have done because nobody remembers any of that stuff. When listening to Mozart, people are free to enjoy the beauty of the music and ignore the weird scatological obsessions of the man who wrote it.
By the same token, in a few decades, Woody Allen films may be rediscovered by a whole new generation of fans who never heard the story of how cheated on his wife with her underage daughter.
But Ben Affleck’s Batman doesn’t have the luxury of time – if they want to keep Batman fans from staying home and watching old Adam West reruns.
(Harvey Weinstein, the former co-chairman and co-founder of Weinstein Co., attends the second day of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference, July 12, 2017, in Sun Valley, Idaho. Every July, some of the world’s most wealthy and powerful businesspeople from the media, finance, technology and political spheres converge at the Sun Valley Resort for the exclusive weeklong conference. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.)