‘Casting’ Crimes


Due to glut in supply and lack of demand, a capitalist world assures that the free market relies on aggressive competition. The forms this competition takes vary according to the fields of demand, be they business, media and film, teaching, government services and so on. It absolves the competing parties of ‘ethics’ because any edge over the other is welcome as long as it does the job well. This is partly a reason for the growth of the unorganised sector of work that treats its employees miserably and compromises on their basic dignity and rights. However, the exploitation inherent in this competition- be it that of students committing suicides due to poor marks, politicians slandering each other to access larger vote-banks, businessmen buying off parties standing in their way, people working in ‘hereditary’ occupations on account of nepotism, or farmers being forced to kill themselves because of the ravages of the market; all these forms need to be condemned. Denying someone human rights to satisfy one’s own desires should not be justified in any way. One manifestation of the ‘dirty secret’ of this world is that of skeletons tumbling out of hunky dory media houses and film studios, namely in the practice of the casting couch.

Famous Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, well-known for his irascible temper and success in the industry, has been accused of sexually harassing a minimum of 40 actresses who have spoken out in a shocking New York Times issue. He is reported to have asked actresses for sexual favours, conversed with them inappropriately and unprofessionally, and forced them to subject to his whims (mostly of a personal nature). Notwithstanding the interesting parallels that can be drawn between this movie mogul and Donald Trump’s ‘locker-room talk’, it must be remembered that this is not surprising because everyone in the industry is well aware of what goes on behind the scenes. The complicity of journalists, actors and actresses, and politicians forms a murky nexus that condones exploitation as has been remarked by TV writer-producer Peter Mehlman “Our business takes place under office headsets, over acoustically dangerous restaurant tables and we just want to — need to — be in the know enough to say ‘Oh my God,’ make the most convenient joke and then whisper the open secret to someone else…it would nice if we recognized our own complicity in monstrous conduct . . . but then this isn’t a nice place.”

Many critics and feminists have reflected on the reasons for this deliberate silence and silencing of the victims. Some associate it with the problematic stance of the objectified portrayal of women on the silver screen, because ‘selling their wares’ as Hollywood fantasies (Marilyn Monroe comes to mind) is perceived as justifying asking for the ‘wares’ in real life. After all, trouncing competition needs extra effort and resources, which for many women and men are identified as non-consensual pleasure given to those in power. It can be traced back to the conjoined role played by and attributed to the first recorded actresses-prostitutes, such as Nell Gwyn. Not succumbing to this pressure or bluntly rejecting it halts one’s career completely.

“Hotel rooms inhabit a separate moral universe,” Tom Stoppard observes, explaining the use of private spaces for professional services as unethical and oppressive. All these factors combine to give the likes of Weinstein unfettered power, making them behave like megalomaniac ‘gods’ because they are indispensable and many new power-holders attribute their rise to them. Meryl Streep’s joke at the Golden Globes converts its lighter vein to a darker reality, “I want to thank God — Harvey Weinstein…The punisher. Old Testament, I guess.”

Feminist actress Mayim Bialik recently penned down an op-ed about surviving in a world of Weinsteins. Her essay was centred on criticizing the need of “immersing” herself “in a business that rewarded physical beauty and sex appeal above all else,” which incidentally inaccurately positioned her argument because it seemed like she was indulging in victim-blaming. By emphasizing on how her conservative values and lack of adherence to beauty standards protected her from the casting couch, she completely misses the point. Sexual harassment is not about what one is wearing, how one looks, or the choices one makes. It is dependent on an unequal world where respect and security for women and men, are missing. The victim is never responsible for Weinsteins to prey on him/her, because assault must be viewed as an attack that is not invited. The predators need to be made accountable, not the prey.

-Contributed by Tript

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