The Harvey Weinstein scandal has elicited the right response from Hollywood and its purveyors—outright condemnation and ostracization. The film industry has made it clear that the abuse of one’s fame and power to take advantage of others is deplorable. Weinstein’s sexual harassment of producers, assistants and actresses has brought low a once influential executive in the film industry. The #MeToo response to Weinstein’s actions and the prevalence of sexual harassment and abuse was a sobering wake-up call to the misuse of power and privilege, and rightly brought into light taboos previously swept under the rug.
The time it took for these allegations to surface is testament to the power of celebrity exceptionalism. It’s astonishing how many stories from how many women it takes to expose one man, and how much clout one gains from success in entertainment. A friend of mine recalls a popular guy in high school always getting away with pecking girls on the cheek and slapping their butts because that was “who he was. Maybe that was a way of masking and justifying their own shame because he was too big a guy on campus to call out. I wonder how many in Hollywood secretly tremble at the thought of their own “mistakes”—locker room talk, inappropriate gropes—escaping and ruining their lives. Yet there remains the nagging fear that this will happen again, that social might will always make right.
It could also just be a numbers game, with social standing determined over which side has more ardent supporters, disposable legal compensation and superior PR teams. It should be noted that not every celebrity is safe from critique, and fame is a double edged sword. For instance, Doug Batchelor was roasted on Facebook when the General Conference posted a photo of him using his phone during a meeting while here I am on my phone for 40% of a church service and nobody bats an eye. Of course, audience plays a large factor as well. I mean for one, the English public demands a higher level of decency from the royal family of the United Kingdom than from those of of Vine-stars-turned-YouTubers. Clearly, celebrity exceptionalism definitely has its exceptions.
There are different types of fame. Few people expect actors and musicians to be moral pillars of society. We hardly consider what effects the roles we ask actors to play and the songs we want to hear might have on an actor or musician’s psyche. We know as outsiders looking in that famous people get away with a lot more than the non-televised. But maybe we don’t really mind. The ends nearly always justifies the means. Entertainment is taken as an acceptable end, no matter what it might cost for the entertainer. This Machiavellian principle is the same wager that any celebrity makes when attempting scandalous behavior. Overall, celebrity exceptionalism extends far beyond Hollywood and the White House. It’s time we call out wrong for wrong and disregard social consequences.