September 19th, 2021


How #MeToo Revives the Damsel in Distress

Suzanne Fields

By Suzanne Fields

Published March 9,2018

How #MeToo Revives the Damsel in Distress

Oscar has no penis. That was the startling revelation of Jimmy Kimmel in his opening monologue at the Academy Awards. This statue of limitations will be remembered for the attention Oscar got in 2018 for being neutered, not to be confused with being transgender. Who knew?

This is the emcee who debuted in "The Man Show" back in 1999, touted as a show "by men, for men, about men," drawing on boorish stereotypes of beer-slogging, woman-leering, feminist-loathing, insecure chauvinists. That Kimmel complained about the "Oprah-zation" of women, but that was before liberal ladies who lunch talked of drafting Oprah to do what Hillary Clinton couldn't.

He's come a long way, baby.

His raised conscience makes him a spokesman for the Left Coast, elevating him to what Vulture magazine calls "the new Walter Cronkite," the sage of television in the '60s who was marketed by CBS News as the "most trusted man in America."

Many of the powerful men in Hollywood who were toppled for naughty behavior with women were conspicuously absent from this year's Academy Award ceremonies, and beautiful women draped in expensive gowns to accentuate their curves and cleavage (all the mourning black was left at the Golden Globes) were pleased to let them know that their days of potency and power were numbered.

Two men accused (but definitely not convicted) were there to represent the notion that talent trumps testicular tampering. Kobe Bryant, accused of rape, took Oscar home for best animated short for "Dear Basketball," and Gary Oldman, accused of domestic violence against his wife long ago, won best actor for a dead-on portrayal of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in "The Darkest Hour." The applause for each of them was deafening, as if the audience wanted a moment of fighting for the real purpose for being there, to honor performance and creativity in movies.

If creative people through history had to be judged by what people accuse them of having done, we'd have a much shorter and much more airbrushed cultural history. Hollywood would be a ghost town. The bad, the mean and the ugly of Hollywood men should not go unpunished, but "Sentence first, verdict afterward," as set out by the Red Queen in "Alice in Wonderland," has sometimes played out unjustly in the excess of #MeToo.

The celebrated bias against men is pervasive at the moment, and social critic and equity feminist Camille Paglia suggests it could revive the stereotype of women as hysterical, volatile and vindictive. "Treating women as more vulnerable, virtuous or credible than men is reactionary, regressive and ultimately counterproductive," she writes in the Hollywood Reporter. "For all its idealistic good intentions, today's #MeToo movement, with its indiscriminate catalog of victims, is taking us back to the Victorian archetypes of early silent film, where mustache-twirling villains tied damsels in distress to railroad tracks."

Hollywood, ironically, has never appreciated message movies. A famous cliche, usually attributed to producer Samuel Goldwyn, warned, "If you want to send a message, call Western Union." Actors who speak lines written for them are sometimes impatient to speak for themselves, and they have turned the Academy Awards into a stage for tedious protest messages. That's doesn't make the beautiful people appealing or thoughtful. It's as if politicians stood up in Congress to say, "Here's looking at you, kid," or "As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again." Movie scripts are not a politician's medium.

Every generation finds the Academy Awards ceremony that most suits it, but in bifurcated America, the split between Hollywood and the rest of the country is particularly acute, the show's ratings having been the lowest ever. This should tell Tinseltown something. The lives of movie stars have always been rooted in conflicting context, but this year, Hollywood seems as insular as a small town in Iowa.

In The New Yorker, Roger Angell recalls my favorite Hollywood story, telling how Bette Davis, who was nominated for 10 Academy Awards more than a half-century ago, was once his summer neighbor in Maine. He overheard a conversation between his daughter and hers when the girls were busy with castles in the sand.

At the tender age of 6 or 7, the Davis daughter reflected "Malibu cool," whereas the Angell daughter, close in age, had seen only one movie, a nature documentary called "Beaver Valley." The movie star's daughter proudly told her visiting friend that she was going to be in her mother's next movie, but the East Coast child was not impressed. She had only one question: "Any beavers in it?"

For those of us who don't live in Hollywood, which includes nearly everybody, it gets harder and harder to find the beaver. This should tell Tinseltown something, too.

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