Isolation, Minimalism, Voyeurism, Abandonment

The Great Pretenders Part I: Hollywood’s Carbon Tax is Exposed

(The following is the first piece from my new Substack newsletter #MeToo CONFIDENTIAL which I’m posting here on 50lux because I’m currently in the mood for some system redundancy. Hope you all enjoy and please forgive me if this isn’t your cup of tea or, if it is, bring your self over to metoo.substack.com and enjoy your tea there with me!)

As the long overdue Summer of 2021 Time’s Up reckoning continues with CEO Tina Tchen deservedly following the embattled organization’s board chair Roberta Kaplan down Resignation Lane, I’d like to start off my very first #MeToo CONFIDENTIAL Substack newsletter with something I wrote over two and a half years ago.

“The Great Pretenders

The entertainment industry’s awards season has arrived in earnest and the January 6th Golden Globes brought up some concerns I’ve had since last year’s telecast. 

The first is that Hollywood hates #MeToo and the pretty pony it rode in on. The second is that Time’s Up was and is Hollywood’s attempt to create its own social justice hashtag phenomenon, once again coming from its own ranks, but this time a viral movement the industry can both take credit for and, more importantly, control entirely by limiting its focus. 

Yes it must be said. Time’s Up accomplishes great things connecting victims of workplace sexual misconduct with legal representation around the country. But that’s really the point of Time’s Up. The “around the country” part. Meaning far from Hollywood, where Time’s Up was founded with entertainment industry money by entertainment industry lawyers. 

Think of Time’s Up as Hollywood’s carbon tax. Do undeniably good works in Kentucky and Louisiana to garner good will from women’s groups and the public in order to deflect scrutiny from its own industry where historically rampant workplace sexual misconduct ignited the #MeToo revolution in 2017. 

It’s my opinion that Time’s Up represents a small optically correct self-serving pseudo-step in the right direction that puts many sincere and committed women in a position of being used by the prevailing powers of their various industries to appropriate the energy and hunger for change that gave birth to and drives the #MeToo movement.  

How else do you explain the Golden Globes telecast? How do you explain an industry that has, over and over again down through the decades, memorialized most every conscience-wrenching moment in the history of our nation’s onward march towards a more civil and just society, choosing to forego any mention at all of #MeToo, what the Los Angeles Times called the ‘most significant’ social justice movement in modern history? 

How do you explain a global phenomenon exploding off the Twitter account of one of Hollywood’s own, actress Alyssa Milano, taking the world into what has been referred to as the #MeToo era, and then juxtapose that with the person who triggered it all sitting quietly in the ballroom of the Beverly Hilton, given not a moment nor a mention on stage, her contribution to the forward progress of the entire species, as well as her presence in the industry she has worked in her entire life, all, completely and abjectly, ignored?

Alyssa Milano has advocated for the Equal Rights Amendment in the halls of congress and made her activist presence known by placing herself before cameras on a host of bedrock liberal issues from animal rights to gun control reform to more humane treatment of migrants at the border as well as being a leading voice in the push back against any perceived encroachment on the public’s right to vote. 

She speaks out daily from her Twitter account and in public appearances and has been recognized for her efforts by being honored by organizations such as the ACLU and GLAAD. A brief bio accompanying her recent op-ed in the Washington Post states that Ms. Milano is “the founder of #NoRA, focused on counteracting the influence of the gun lobby in the American political system.”

But it was #MeToo that placed the former child star in the pages of TIME Magazine along with the other famous faces who came forward before, during, and after the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke in October of 2017.

And it was Ms. Milano’s tweeting of the idea that brought her, along with victims’ advocate Tarana Burke, to their present status as social justice icons at the forefront of a movement the impact of which will continue to grip the public conversation around sexual misconduct for years to come. 

If Hollywood truly embraced #MeToo and what it represents in terms of progress for victims of sexual misconduct in workplaces everywhere and the effort to curtail a future wherein countless more victims will face the same abhorrent behaviors in pursuit of careers in its own industry, then one year out that industry would have certainly, at the very least, found time in a three-hour telecast to mention the person whose tweet and celebrity activism set off #MeToo. 

At best we might have seen an appropriately emotional and uplifting video montage highlighting the social justice sea-change the #MeToo hashtag movement had brought worldwide and the role the now unstoppable member of its own acting/activist community played in using the celebrity Hollywood afforded her to help make it all happen. 

But underestimating the willingness and the power of Hollywood to influence and control the #MeToo narrative and thus defend itself against the corrective efforts of something born from a desire to curtail sexual abuse in its own workplace is to overlook the greatest threat to #MeToo that it will likely ever face: The massive entertainment and media empire the hashtag phenomenon helped bring to a reckoning can easily absorb the principle voices of the movement and by doing so control both its focus and its targets. 

So instead of any mention of #MeToo at the Golden Globes, what we saw were Time’s Up pins. And Alyssa Milano would be afforded only one brief instant on television as the camera cut to her sitting docile and unbothered in the audience, seemingly happy just to have been invited. 

From the moment I first heard the words ‘Times Up’ on the stage at last year’s Golden Globes ceremony, I found the timing dubious and the wording and focus of the movement to be suspect. That something might be offered up as an alternative to #MeToo, however, and so quickly after the hashtag phenomenon’s explosion into a global conversation around sexual misconduct in Hollywood, was not a surprise to me at all. 

Hollywood had no control over #MeToo and #MeToo was wreaking havoc on Hollywood. What the industry needed above all at that precise moment was a catchy hashtag movement of its own but one that was subject to its own influence. Hollywood has always been in the business of cultural appropriation. From political movements to the most important American roots music to teen trends in everything from dancing and new waves in street style, Hollywood’s creativity in turning such culturally important moments into massive profits is unprecedented in the annals of American business.” 

(Yes, there was more to this piece and yes, you would want to see it. But no, I don’t want that kind of heat yet so I’ll stop right there.)

After #MeToo exploded in October of 2017, the rapidly approaching awards show season, beginning with the Golden Globes on January 6th, was Hollywood’s best chance to quickly rehabilitate its reputation with the public. They took the opportunity that very early January telecast afforded them and made damage control gold from it. It was a brilliant scheme, the imagery was perfect, and no entity in recorded human history is better at creating an image and selling it to the public than Hollywood. 

I know now that I wasn’t alone in cringing every time I heard “Time’s Up” during that telecast. Maybe it was because I’d been anticipating that Hollywood would try to somehow offset #MeToo by finding a way to appropriate the public call for change the hashtag phenom had triggered. But I couldn’t have dreamed up anything as diabolically brilliant as Time’s Up. In one fell swoop Hollywood created a viral hashtag movement of its own, but one with which it could obscure its true motives beneath the subterfuge of also having established an organization of women lawyers who truly did good works on behalf of powerless sexual misconduct victims badly in need of legal representation. 

Of course, we now know that that’s not all Time’s Up was doing. But, as it turns out, you really can only fool some of the people, some of the time. And you can only undermine the efforts of women to seek redress against sexual misconduct in their workplaces for so long before the patterns become clear and those very women would begin to expose the darker purposes of Time’s Up. 

So Hollywood won great favor with women’s and victim advocacy groups for Time’s Up helping those in places far from Hollywood or anywhere else the most powerful abusers in America lurk. On that end they certainly kept up the payments on their carbon tax. But what would they be getting away with in return? What toxic behaviors by powerful men would be covered up and permitted to go on damaging the lives of women? What did Time’s Up not want anyone to see?

How would the dirty end of the carbon tax deal play out in the real lives of women who’d experienced sexual misconduct in entertainment industry workplaces or in the vast political ecosystems that we now know would be near and dear to the hearts of those behind Time’s Up, and the organization of entertainment industry lawyers and Democratic Party operatives who were making the decisions at Time’s Up Now and the Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund?

Well, we’re hearing what that all looked like in the stories coming now from many sources, most famously Enough is Enough: An Open Letter from Survivors to TIME’S UP + National Women’s Law Center | by Alison Turkos | Aug, 2021 | Medium calling out Time’s Up for its many failings. The letter was co-signed by nearly 150 survivors including 17 obviously exasperated current and former Time’s Up clients and staffers.

The letter opens with the charge that Time’s Up has abandoned those it was supposed to be helping, saying the organization instead has been “working with our abusers in the shadows.” Of course it has.

“There is a consistent pattern of behavior where the decision-makers at TIME’S UP continue to align themselves with abusers at the expense of survivors. TIME’S UP should be ashamed.”

Later, the otherwise brilliant and brave letter makes this assertion. 

“TIME’S UP and the TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund were founded and funded to be visionary organizations meant to provide three-dimensional support to victims and survivors as we navigate the legal system and the public eye. TIME’S UP and TIME’S UP Legal Defense Fund were built to advocate for those who make the bold decision to hold our abusers accountable.”

I’m sorry, Ms. Turkos, but that’s just not true. It’s my most firm belief that Time’s Up was founded for the reasons laid out in this piece by me here in 2021 and, as I’ve shown, my suspicions about the organization go back as far as the moment I first heard those two words on the 2018 Golden Globes stage. 

I’m certainly not the only one who believes these things about the nefarious intent that inspired the creation of Time’s Up. You can be sure of that. And I don’t believe Time’s Up has lost its way. What I do believe is that thanks to you and the many women who are bravely standing up now telling of their experiences trying to find support and justice through Time’s Up, the duplicitous scam this organization always was is finally being exposed for what it is.

The first direct and damaging hit landed by the press on Time’s Up came back in April in The Daily Beast’s Insiders Say #MeToo Group Time’s Up Has Lost Its Way (thedailybeast.com) by Emily Shugerman. Ms. Shugerman’s article opened the Pandora’s box of what was actually going on at Time’s Up. (Now former) Time’s Up CEO Tina Tchen is quoted above the body of the article by a source as admitting in a staff meeting, “We have always been an organization of wealthy and powerful people,” Tchen said, according to the source. “That is what Time’s Up is.” 

Well what does THAT look like, Tina? We might all have been wondering before we even began reading the piece. Shugerman does not waste our time, describing Tchen herself as having conducted a “whisper campaign” against the documentary film On The Record that detailed sexual assaults perpetrated by hip hop and fashion mogul Russell Simmons. Tchen is said to have told staffers that the producers of the film were “not good people.”

But Tchen might have hastened her own departure from the Time’s Up stage when she shared that sentiment with one of the absolutely last individuals on earth she should have, Drew Dixon, the music producer whose experiences with Simmons function as the documentary’s main story line.  

“Tina Tchen said to me on the phone the night Oprah backed out of the film, ‘The filmmakers are bad people’ and when I disagreed with her she said, ‘You have to trust me on this,’” the survivor said. “She implied that Time’s Up would support me as a survivor, but only if I backed away from the film.”

The article adds the following note about the survivor quoted here, who has given permission for me to identify her as Ms. Dixon.

“The survivor spoke to The Daily Beast on the record, but later asked for her name to be withheld after a founding member of Time’s Up sent an email lashing out at her for participating in this story.”

(So let me add a note of my own here. Unless I’m given express permission to use a name I’m going to treat any survivor I allude to here on #MeToo CONFIDENTIAL as if they too might be a potential target of emails lashing out at them for having their names appear on my newsletter. And so for that reason I won’t be, by and large, using survivor’s names here. There will certainly be exceptions as I feel they are warranted such as in the case of very public persons or those who I have decided must be called out for any of the many problems associated with the current state of #MeToo. But if anyone recognizes themselves by way of their story being told here and wishes that their actual names should appear then please drop me a line and I’ll rewrite those sections to positively ID you.) 

Caught Up

Last Saturday night, on Twitter, peddling her latest piece on the troubles at Time’s Up, New York Times reporter Jodi Kantor, who won a Pulitzer exposing Harvey Weinstein, the rapist whose decades long reign of terror in Hollywood was ended by the women he’d assaulted speaking out to Kantor and her partner Meghan Twohey, as well as The New Yorker’s Ronan Farrow, got her own reputation entangled in Time’s Up’s problems, partly for when she used a superlative to describe a statement by Time’s Up co-founder Shonda Rhimes regarding her organization’s current troubles. Kantor called Rhimes’s comment one of the most forceful quotes she’s ever published in her career as a journalist. 

That tweet, and the glossing over tone of the article itself, angered many on Twitter.

So I’d like to end my first piece here on #MeToo CONFIDENTIAL with a superlative statement of my own for Ms. Kantor. Here it is.  

From the moment it was conceived of in some industry law firm or top agency’s executive suite, to its disingenuous launching at the 2018 awards shows, right up until this very moment, there has NEVER been a more deliberate betrayal of a social justice movement than what Time’s Up perpetrated against the women in Hollywood, in politics, and doubtless elsewhere who tried to fight back against their powerful abusers by daring to come forward and simply say, #MeToo.

Postscript:

Make no mistake, the forced resignations of CEO Tina Tchen and board chair Roberta Kaplan from their leadership positions at Time’s Up is a great victory for women everywhere and survivors of sexual misconduct in particular. That it was a collective unified expression by survivors saying Enough is Enough that ultimately drove both Tchen and Kaplan out is a graphic demonstration of the true power that exists when large numbers of women, or anyone else, speaking as one, demand better from an organization that is supposed to be operating on their behalf.

This victory belongs to those women who rose up and demanded accountability and that there should be serious consequences for those responsible for their betrayal at Time’s Up.

But if anyone believes that the intrinsic nature of what Time’s Up is and the fundamental reasons it was founded are things that have or can be changed by simply replacing its current leadership, I would caution that such an outcome is extremely unlikely.

What is much more likely, in my opinion, is that those who continue to place their faith in Time’s Up will inevitably find themselves right back where they were just a few days ago with this organization, facing the same crushing disappointments as it continues to undermine survivors seeking support and justice by way of its promised assistance.

Because I don’t believe that Time’s Up was created for the purpose of doing what it purports itself to have been created to do. In fact, I believe the opposite. I believe that Time’s Up was created as a diversion from the infinitely more potent #MeToo movement. That its true purpose was to dazzle and distract the public and women’s rights advocates’ attentions alike away from #MeToo by accomplishing truly good works, far from its bases of power, for women who badly needed the legal help Time’s Up could provide them. But all while acting, as one survivor put it, as a spider’s web to attract and capture and ultimately frustrate others who turned to the organization seeking support and justice after facing abuse at the hands of the powerful and well connected.

These are the things I believe. But they only scratch at the surface of what I’m going to be writing about here on my new Substack newsletter.

Please subscribe if you don’t want to miss any future pieces by me and rest assured they will be arriving here and in your inboxes very soon.

Coming next week: The Great Pretenders Part II: Nexus of Evil

Doesn’t that sound like fun? You don’t want to miss it!

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No Hill to Die On

The Woman is Perfected: Diana & Nikon

I don’t believe in the metaphysical world. That doesn’t mean, however, that really weird things don’t occur quite regularly in my life just to mock my foolish lack of faith. This book, that I’d read a number of years ago and which had greatly influenced my thinking about photography, was placed on my nightstand by me not long after the pandemic had given rise to the unprecedented isolation that characterized most of 2020.

I was, as maybe many of us were, wanting to revisit some of the things that had once mattered in shaping my world view, but that I’d moved past over time and maybe even forgotten. We had a lot of time to fill and I’m sure we each were reaching for anything that might help us get through a very tough moment in all of our lives.

But the book just sat there for well over a year. It didn’t reach for me and I likewise returned no favors.

Photographers have been known to greatly dislike books like this. Art critics, intellectuals, great writers, almost as a rule, not photographers themselves, weighing in on someone else’s craft is rarely taken well. But, for the most part, people like Roland Barthes, Susan Sontag, John Szarkowski, and Janet Malcolm have been well represented among the many north stars in my own photographic journey.

The first I ever heard of Ms. Malcolm was one summer day when I opened my mailbox in the early 1990s to find a double issue of The New Yorker magazine. The cover art work stopped me cold. A baroque color illustration of a deceased woman readied for burial with a frame bearing some words that I soon realized was poetry so powerful it would change forever my perspective on poetry itself.

Inside the magazine was the reason for the double sized issue. An article, hands down the greatest magazine piece I’ve ever read, entitled The Silent Woman, written by Janet Malcolm, about the the tragic and painful life of the great 20th century American poet Sylvia Plath. As with the subject of so many New Yorker pieces that I loved back in those days when I kept up a subscription, I had absolutely no knowledge or interest in the topic of either poetry or Sylvia Plath prior to opening my mailbox that day.

This piece, which was in two parts, was actually Ms. Malcolm’s entire forthcoming book, printed exclusively for New Yorker readers in its entirety prior to publication. If I can write my way out of a paper bag today, I would argue it is because of my exposure to and complete absorption of this one Janet Malcolm article on the poet Sylvia Plath that summer.

So when, much later, I learned that Ms. Malcolm had written extensively on the subject of photography, I sought out whatever I could find. Unfortunately, I could only find the intriguing title of this book that still sits on my night stand, Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography.

It seemed like years before I could actually get my hands on a copy of the book. But when I did, I was immediately struck by how much this writer, who I’d connected with so profoundly on subjects that held no prior interest for me: poetry, someone else’s marriage troubles, the pitfalls of biography, etc. was now able to articulate my own inarticulate viewpoints on photography as if she were reading some part of my subconscious mind.

The Diana in the title did not refer to Princess Diana, I quickly ascertained. And that was just the beginning of my enlightenment and the enrichment of my perspectives on what had become an absolute obsession for me, the making and taking of photographic images.

We have a balcony now. And at some point in the middle of June it became absolutely perfect for sitting out on our balcony in the mid-afternoon when there is no direct sun bearing down on us. But it was also excellent for catching up on some long overdue reading there in the still quite bright California daylight. So, after over a year of looking down at this book on my nightstand, haunted with guilt every morning and night, I grabbed Janet Malcolm’s collected New Yorker pieces on the subject of photography pictured above and started to once again read through her great work.

Of course the writing and insights and opinions throughout Diana & Nikon had lost none of their relevance or impact or their lasting influence or ability to inspire me.

It took a couple of weeks of leisurely working through the writing to finish the book. I took my time and that was a great part of the pleasure. As I said, this would have been beginning in the middle of June. This year, 2021.

Diana & Nikon: Essays on the Aesthetic of Photography is a first edition hardcover book that has been in my possession for a better part of two decades. I read it when I first got it, referred to it maybe once or twice over the years, and other than that didn’t touch it again until early last year when I placed it on my nightstand with the intention of reading it during the pandemic lockdown, something I failed to do at that time.

But I finally read through the book beginning in mid-June and finishing it before the end of the month.

I learned only a few weeks later that Janet Malcolm had died on June 16th 2021.

Okay, I still don’t believe in the metaphysical world. That doesn’t mean, however, that really weird things won’t continue to occur quite regularly in my life just to mock my foolish lack of faith.