Harassment In The Media Workplace

Christopher Fowler
new-york-times As Netflix cancels its renewal of 'House of Cards' just after Kevin Spacey's comments, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were connected, but no; cancellation of the long-running series had been planned way beforehand; not that you'd know this from hysterical articles in the UK press. The problem was not so much, I think, with the allegations themselves - Spacey's casual, forgotten advances to an underage boy over two decades ago, to be followed no doubt by a tsunami of other complaints - but the ill-judged way he handled the response, somehow managing to blur the lines between the accusation and a decision to reveal what everyone already knew; that he was gay. Did anyone really buy the story that he was walking his dog on Clapham Common after midnight when he had his wallet lifted? Of course we rightly applaud the brave actresses who have united against Harvey Weinstein, and I hope this shift in the moral climate holds. But the accusation against Spacey feels as if it's on shakier ground. It seems believable that Spacey doesn't remember the rebuffed advance. Why has the actor in question waited for 21 years to make the accusation, considering nothing happened? Was he, like Bruce Robinson, profoundly affected yet not affected enough to actually speak out? It wasn't as if he had anything to lose by doing so. Nobody was there to tell him he'd never work again. As a young aspiring writer and occasional model it never occurred to me that I was attractive enough to draw the attentions of those with whom I worked, but looking back I most definitely was the subject of attempted seductions, by both men and women, over a number of years. They included three female TV producers and at least three men in the film industry. One man who worked for Rank Films for many years was the subject of ridicule throughout the industry. We knew what this revolting low-rent Weinstein got up to (if the stories he himself spread about were true) and avoided him like the plague. Two were eventually jailed. Although I was shy and ludicrously naive I was not particularly fazed by such behaviour, even when I was taken to Amsterdam for a shoot that did not appear to exist. I called out the producer in question, got an apology and was returned to London. I can only speak for the film industry, but this kind of creepy casting-couch behaviour pretty much disappeared with the end of British independent cinema. In the late 70s/ early 80s I would bump into Jonathan King, who was employed by the BBC to film in different European countries, openly bragging that the corporation was paying him 'to set a new shagging record'. Now the production system is corporatised, so the past can be examined. The Weinsteins, the Kings and their ilk are dinosaurs. King was released from jail in 2005 and is already back in court over 17 further abuses. 220px-Jonathan_King_Allan_Warren For me at least, being propositioned was not a big deal. So I
was taken for drinks after a meeting under false pretences; I was not sexually assaulted or made to feel deeply uncomfortable, as the Weinstein actresses were. Aware that I was only being considered for work because someone fancied me, I rebuffed advances without a second thought and moved on. The trouble is, you pitch your talents to older people who want to hire you for your youth. It's largely what you are selling. An unspoken contract once existed throughout media and entertainment. You would politely decline and make a note to avoid that person in future. The mere fact that I survived in as tough an environment as British film meant that
I was no delicate snowflake; I knew exactly what I was getting into, and where to draw the line. I'm glad the past is being examined. Recently someone in the film industry with whom I worked was jailed for corrupting minors. The appalling thing was that we all knew he was suspect, but did nothing about it. To be fair I'm not sure
what we could have done but cry 'Witch'. However we should be aware that there's a thin line between a genuinely traumatic memory and a social panic. For details of the latter, read John Martin's 'Seduction of the Gullible', a study of the Video Nasty panic, or look up 'Satanic Child Abuse in UK', the story of a devil cult which was given credence by members of the social services who bullied 'confessions' from children - the after-effects of which are still being felt.    


Matt (not verified) Wed, 01/11/2017 - 08:40

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Its only upon reading about these things in the press that you realise that you too have been sexually harassed. Many many times in my work place this has happened. I didn't even consider it harassment in my younger years, in some cases I found it boosted my confidence to know I was desirable. Who knew I was actually being sexually harassed? Men aren't, are they?

Brooke (not verified) Wed, 01/11/2017 - 13:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

"...there's a thin line between a genuinely traumatic memory and a social panic." Worth thinking about. For a country that elected a president notorious for his remarks about sexual harassment and his televised abuse of his female opponent, we have suddenly become very righteous and indignant.

Helen Martin (not verified) Wed, 01/11/2017 - 22:25

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I've been bullied at work but never propositioned. I was reasonably attractive when young and don't tell me that it doesn't happen to teachers because I know it does. I must have had an iron guard of some sort or was so nasty a person I was left alone.
Girls need to be prepared for the undesirable creep that will turn up in their workplaces. I think we get that, but obviously we must prepare boys even more carefully, because I get the feeling that it is much easier for them to find themselves in an impossible position. You have to be sure of yourself to call the organiser when you're in a foreign country at their expense (although Amsterdam might have rung a few bells). There were all sorts of jokes in the 50s about casting couch advancement and statements that such and such an actress got where she was by that means but the suggestion was that the actress was ambitious and might well have initiated the action. The feeling you got was of "not quite a nice girl". Blaming the victim sometimes, I'm guessing.
People in power taking advantage has always been there but it needs to stop. We do have to watch for the "me-toos" who want their moment in the spotlight or who really want revenge for real or perceived slights. How to tell the difference?

Ian Mason (not verified) Wed, 01/11/2017 - 22:41

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

I knew that there was some sort of 'moral panic' element to all this but that thought didn't really gel until Chris brought it together for me above. It doesn't necessarily mean that there isn't some underlying wrong there, but the way that suddenly all sorts of historical claims of abuse are coming out of the woodwork has much of the 'moral panic' or incipient witch-hunt about it. Expect more of this, and expect an attitude of 'guilty once accused' to creep into some of the allegations.

If I was one for conspiracy theories (and I'm not, except as light entertainment) I'd point out how useful a moral panic would be to distract us from the shambles that is Brexit and the shambles that is the Trump administration. I'm not entirely sure that society isn't capable of manufacturing a morally unambiguous, easily condemned crisis just to distract itself from the difficult, complex and messy set of problems that global politics currently presents it with.

For those interested in the 'Satanic Child Abuse in UK' witch-hunts a friend of mine, one Gareth Medway, wrote an academically rigorous but still eminently readable history and de-bunking of this, published by the Cambridge University Press. I can't find where my copy is or I'd quote title and ISBN too.

Ian Luck (not verified) Fri, 03/11/2017 - 13:42

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Never cared for Jonathan King. He had what I would call an eminently punchable face. Smug bastard.

Diogenes (not verified) Sat, 04/11/2017 - 00:18

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Ian, as Homer Simpson opines, the Germans have a word for everything. A punchable face is "backpfeifengesicht".

Ian Luck (not verified) Sat, 04/11/2017 - 07:56

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

Diogenes - you've made my day. That's simply wonderful.

John Griffin (not verified) Sat, 04/11/2017 - 23:32

In reply to by anonymous_stub (not verified)

When working in local government, my team had an assistant (female, mother of two) who ten years later was a director of local services having shagged her way up the hierarchy (her final shag being a butch pipe-smoking lesbian who wore tweeds, honest). At 25 I became the toyboy of a female director (47) but had no ambitions, I genuinely found her immensely attractive; one nght in bed she asked me if I realised I was shagging the wrong person as she couldn't get me promoted. I ws a bit puzzled, I was there for her amazing personality, her amazing figure (Junoesque) and her indefatigable appetite.Over a career spanning over 40 years in local government and educaiton I continually meet those who will use their sexuality to advance, or if rebuffed, to bring down their rebuffers.