Why Are We Not Surprised?

The tepid response to the Weinstein scandal betrays a culture too comfortable with vice.

When news broke over the weekend that Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein had been very gross toward a lot of women, paying off at least 8 of them after encounters, the response was tepid. It’s not that nobody was mad, just that most commentators and other prominent talkers seemed to project that they were not at all surprised by this. It’s a story all right, but an expected one, provoking jaded sighs instead of hot fury. This is the same old, [insert favorite source of injustice] It’s systemic, man. Sigh.

When religious or conservative figures fall from grace, the reaction tends to be noticeably shriller. The talk show hosts were all pretty silent on Weinstein this week, giving some of the expected reactions on Twitter, but not exactly writing any jokes about him. Some will say this is due to that good old fashioned liberal bias in media, but there is a more proximate cause. Prominent conservative and religious figures like Ted Haggard, Bill Cosby, Josh Duggar, Dennis Hastert, and more recently the Pro-Life-in-name-only representative Tim Murphy fail against their stated values. Liberals like Weinstein are just being excessively honest. The one about the pastor and the prostitute writes itself. But the one about the starlet and her sleazy boss? Not exactly a joke. More like an entirely logical outcome.

Cultural conservatism, these days at least, does not prevent scandal. What it does do is punish people more harshly when they do commit scandal. This is a very good thing. Professing to uphold family values while sleeping around makes you not only a philanderer but a liar. The jaded response to Harvey Weinstein is an indictment of a culture that has made peace with vice. Given the choice, I’d prefer a culture that expects Mike Pence levels of circumspection in co-ed company than the permissive world that saw the Times’s Weinstein story coming a mile off and did nothing about it. If for no other reason than that it would make the fall harder. Notorious sin is a grave thing and shame can be a powerful deterrent.

One Response to “Why Are We Not Surprised?”

  1. Stephen

    I dunno, I don’t think the response has been tepid. The New Yorker ran a piece by Woody Allen’s son. It’s in every media outlet I can think of. Twitter still won’t shut up about it. Sure, some talk show hosts said nothing, but they’re known cowards and under the thumb of other Weinsteins, anyway. They’re mouthpieces for rich liberal interests, which is the same kind of structure that allowed Hastert and Cosby and Weiner alike to do the disgusting things they did. (Personally I’ve never really understood why they’re considered barometers anyway, not at least in the past 15 years.)

    I know it’s hard to believe I think this, but the dynamic is wealth and power, not simply accepted vice, that tempers our response. To answer the question in your title: we’re not surprised because we expect wealthy and powerful people to be corrupt, because money and influence is corrosive. Were people really surprised about Hastert? Or Haggard? Will people be surprised by the next one? Rapists like Weinstein ruined Judy Garland’s life, in a more conservative time. The only difference is that she indeed became a punchline, the “starlet and her sleazy boss” trope you named.

    You’re right re Pence vs Weinstein. Pence is over the top IMO but betting against yourself re: sexual misconduct is not a bad idea. I think my biggest frustration over all of this is that everyone, EVERYONE, knows this is the tip of the iceberg, but Weinstein was on his way out anyway. Plenty of people (Woody Allen, Louis CK, Brian Singer) are going to float over this unscathed.


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