Pop-quiz : How would you define a ‘progressive society’ ? Is it correlated only to scientific and technological advancements ? Or is it a cultural prerogative that trickles upwards to define scientific advancements for the people ? As Human beings, we are wont to define our accomplishments as a race through tangible measures. Bezel-less Smartphones, Re-usable Space Shuttles, AI – all of our achievements give the notion of a highly advanced species, bending impossibilities with each passing day. But are we measuring the other side of the coin with equal verve ? Philosopher John Gray is not convinced by it. He says: “The myth is that the progress achieved in science and technology can occur in ethics, politics or, more simply, civilisation. The myth is that the advances made in civilisation can be the basis for a continuing, cumulative improvement.” And he does have a point. Any technological milestone that we achieve is, more often than not, offset by cultural shortcomings that take us a few steps back. But here’s the thing – we are just too proud to admit it.
2017 has been an important year. This is the year when Einstein’s ‘mythical ‘Gravitational Waves were photographed for the very first time, which may allow us to detect worm-holes and black-holes. Interstellar is not just a movie anymore (Incidentally, Kip Thorne, who was the Scientific Advisor for the film, won the Nobel Prize in Physics for the very same discovery). Sadly, this is not what we are going to remember 2017 for. In October this year, the New York Times and the New Yorker came out with reports of several women who had allegedly been sexually abused by Harvey Weinstein, one of the biggest Hollywood Producers with movies like Gangs of New York, Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction and hundreds of other iconic films in his portfolio. As the industry reeled under the shock, reknowned actors like Angelina Jolie, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowan, Cara Delavingne and Lena Headey to name a few, came forward with their own encounters with this supposed “sex-fiend”. Although the Weinstein’s company’s PR department sprang into action by threatening to sue the papers that had broken this story, they soon realized that Harvey Weinstein was done for and fired him from the Board. As even more women came forward, telling stories which were frighteningly identical, the horrid truth about Hollywood was finally out in the open.
Also read: A Timeline of how it unfolded
Weinstein’s departure was a liberation of sorts for women in the entertainment industry. With the immense support from social media and journalists, women who had been debilitated under the powerful gaze of their perpetrators, often threatening to use their influence to end their careers, found the courage to come forward. A few weeks after the damning confession from Weinstein, actor Anthony Rapp came forward accusing Kevin Spacey of taking sexual advantage of him when he was a teenager and Spacey had been 26 years old. For the rare few of you who are not aware of Spacey’s body of work yet, it would be justified to state that he has been an institution. After films like The Usual Suspects, Seven and the 1999 film American Beauty, for which he won a Best Actor Oscar, Spacey reimagined his persona through the corruptible Frank Underwood with Netflix’s hit series House of Cards. Minutes after Rapp’s allegation, Spacey ‘came out’ and confessed, issuing an apology on Twitter:
Shameful as it was, what made it even worse was the fact that Spacey was consciously trying to gain sympathy by coming out as gay, in the middle of his jaw-dropping confession. This is the very fallacy of the infallible. We attach ourselves to celebrities through their characters so deeply that we forget that they are human beings too. They are as flawed and messed up in their heads as any common criminal. Except that being actors, they are able to hide it better than most of us. When you think of it, this scary realisation hits you – Are their on-screen characters so authentic because they are being themselves ? Is Frank Underwood so compelling because Spacey is Underwood – always conniving and being a banal opportunist ? It is unfair to generalise or even theorize every twisted character that has been played on-screen by any one worth their salt, has a bit of themselves in it but now that the veil has been lifted, the innards are ugly. Integrity is a lost cause now.
Also read: The Louis C K Story
The final straw in this sequence of events was drawn only a few days back when some female comedians came forward to share their stories of sexual misconduct that had been perpetrated by comedy legend Louis C.K. As if it had already become a pattern to be followed or a right of passage, C.K. also confessed to having done those things in a drunken state and also professed that he was not aware of the mental trauma it had caused. It is sad that someone who had made his name doing stand-up with sets that revolved around his acute observation of people, would somehow fail to see or realize this very obvious violation of basic social construct.
Interestingly, while discussing all this with my fellow-blogger, I happened to mention how eerily similar the behaviour of these men sounded to Mathew Weiner’s show Mad Men which was based in the 60s America when work-place culture was wrought with misogyny and sexism. Women were seen down upon as if they had limited intelligence and could not do sophisticated work, and thus had to resort to secretarial jobs. That didn’t stop their superiors, in positions of power, to hit upon them and make sexual advances without provocation. Amidst the cut-throat industry of Advertising, Mad Men makes for a compelling watch and it opened the gates for Weiner as a writer into HBO’s The Sopranos. As of Nov 9, Weiner has also been accused of sexual harassment by a former writer Kater Gordon who had won an Emmy for co-writing an episode with him. Although there has been no discrete comment by Weiner and the case is still under investigation, the respect for his craft has already withered.
With all the other cases in the backdrop, you can’t help but wonder if Weiner captured the misogyny so well because he, himself, practised it. Well, I would hate to be judgemental at this point without any discrete evidence of his wrong-doing but its undeniable that the world we live in has changed forever and would never be the same again. The only good that has come out of it, is that women all over the world would feel a lot more comfortable in talking about their experiences.
Also read: The untold truth of the Indian Film Industry
Bollywood is not untouched too. Actors like Richa Chaddha, Tisca Chopra and Ranveer Singh have come forward before trying to break the veil with their stories but we live in a country where celebrities are worshipped like gods. The media creates pulp fiction out of facts and we devour it eagerly. The elephant in the room is gradually smothered to death and Bollywood maintains its status quo. I hope that, taking a cue from Hollywood, we too create an environment where women would be listened to, despite who the accusation is about. The benefit of the Art does not and should not be extended to cover the breach of human rights. It not only maligns people, but also tarnishes the Art itself.
Progress. What’s that again ?