Hollywood was once a land of hopes and aspirations for a new wave of detached and rootless youth, committed to a modern American Dream of profound success and divine fame. In a time when everyone must be “someone,” Hollywood has provided limitless possibility and endless reinvention. Like all Edens, however, Hollywood’s radiance has dimmed; it is now a microcosm for the problems caused by America’s distant elite, for whom fair is foul and foul is fair. In the dark alleys and back rooms, behind star-lined boulevards, festers an unchecked, unyielding criminal culture. Despite the constant deluge of allegations, resignations, and empty apologies, we remain hopelessly unaware of the life of America’s elitist class of predators after they face the court of public opinion. While the socioeconomic gap between Hollywood elites and the average American may make such crimes seem distant and unimportant, harassment, groping, molestation, rape, and other crimes of a sexual nature are not exclusive to the upper strata of society. Rather, it is these upper echelons who, by exploiting their high positions of wealth and power, can silence victims and courts in the name of self-preservation.
In Hollywood, lawsuits vanish like magical acts. In most cases, those accused of sexual misconduct receive little more than public judgment: rarely are they seen inside of a criminal court of law facing a jury of their peers. Even more rarely are they seen behind bars atoning for their heinous crimes. Up to this point, society has been content with publicly chastising sexual predators and then allowing them to live out a free life in social exile. This is even considered a “best case” scenario for many of those seeking justice. Despite committing crimes for which jurisprudence would have them face the harshest words of the law, the rich and powerful, with their money, lawyers, and clout of prestige are able to silence both the justice system and their accusers with the threat of public humiliation and countersuits. With the weight of mighty establishments such as the Screen Actors Guild, The Academy, and shadowy social clubs, the mightiest roar is squashed into the puniest whisper. Hollywood bigwigs such as Woody Allen and Roman Polanski, despite the numerous claims of impropriety that have dirtied their names, have had accusations stick to them like grease to Teflon.
Those who bargain through and rationalize the acts of a predator are often unaware that they are complicit in the very acts they claim to denounce. Many feel a “connection” to actors and the Hollywood class so omnipresent in the media, but in reality, they know them only through the limited lens of the screen. To faraway fans and close relatives alike, these crimes may seem “out of character,” or simply appear to be the result of a momentary lack of judgement. Decades of psychological research conflict with this notion of the “out of character crime.” As the saying goes: where there is smoke, there is fire. Accusations of sexual misconduct do not come in drops but in a torrential downpour for those accused, revealing a pattern of abuse that stems from not a one-time moral slip but a serious psychological problem. The causes of criminal sex offense are hard to pin down, but a clear commonality among offenders exists: a chronic error in thought processes. In his groundbreaking study on criminality, “The Criminal Personality,” Dr. Stanton E. Samenow found that criminals suffer from the hamartia of lack of perspective. These people know “right” from “wrong,” except in situations that involve themselves. In these circumstances, criminals can shut off their consciences in pursuit of their most primal wants and desires. In this way, instances of crime are not uncharacteristic but rather indicative of character itself. When the public falls into the trap of believing that their idols are one-time criminals, these recidivistic predators bask in the ignorance of the masses and continue to operate in the open.
Collective culture has shifted away from promoting sexual gratification that emphasizes a self-centered, primal indulgence in pleasure, but not everyone has been swept along with the wave of change. Criminals, for instance, continue to embrace a predator-centric culture rooted in the misogyny of the 1960s, wherein sexual crimes are viewed as mere compulsions of desire and the evidentiary burden of proof for rape still falls on the victim. Criminals and commentators alike rely on antiquated thought as justification for such acts, which points blame not at the accused but at the culture surrounding them, when in reality it was the original crimes that led to the development of such a culture. Speaking on claims of sexual harassment against him, Sean Hannity turned the argument around and called his accuser a “serial harasser” who was part of a conspiracy to “slander, smear and besmirch [his] reputation.” Criminals constantly blame the system for the very actions that were its genesis. They are wholly responsible, yet still manage to deflect accountability.
Hollywood has been an integral part of the American image since the invention of the moving picture and the dawn of the entertainment-fueled modern era. Like the flashy drama and bright lights it creates, the outer image of Hollywood being the modernist “land of opportunity” of the nation was only ever a façade. Deep down, the film industry has core systematic errors and failures through which a culture of predators has metastasized and entrenched itself, living in the minds of arrogant men and feeding off the bodies of young women. Hollywood harbors criminals in plain sight: on the screens of televisions, movie theaters, and ever-present iPhones. Still we choose to ogle at the showy displays of theater, blind to the insidious sin that lurks in the darkness.