As Weinstein shuffles off to jail, publications ranging from the Times to the New York Post have called the guilty verdict a “relief.” Nothing could be more accurate. In the short term, the country is letting out a long sigh. Thanks to the bravery of Weinstein’s accusers, women have collectively pointed out that this kind of monstrous behavior has no place in the world. For parents of certain types of kids, there’s another layer why the verdict against Harvey Weinstein should give us hope for the future.
The casting couch has been canceled.
For as long as most of us can remember, the idea that sexual favors were part of many career trajectories in the performing arts was so embedded in pop culture that there was even a casting couch joke embedded in Toy Story 2 (Pixar deleted it last year so don’t rush to Disney+). Consciously or not, this was — and still is — something that every parent worries about for their kids with performing arts-leanings. If you’ve got a kid who wants to get into the theater, music, dance, or the movie business, the horrifying stories of Michael Jackson, Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and yes, Harvey Weinstein, are enough to discourage you from supporting a would-be star.
My own daughter is not-quite 3, so she’s nowhere close to being old enough to audition for a play or a movie, but my wife and I do notice a performative streak in her that is both wonderful and terrifying. (Just now from the other room, she told her mom “I’m always loud!”) She excels in dance class. She recites lines of dialogue from books and TV shows with a theatrical air. She is, in short, a total ham. (For what it’s worth, her old dad spent a decent amount of time on stage in NYC telling stories and giving readings.)
Now, I don’t not want my daughter to become an actor or a dancer or a musician, but the prospect does frighten me. As Tarana Burke and Ronan Farrow constantly remind us, young people who enter the entertainment fields are dealing with a power structure reinforced by personal-cum-financial relationships that pretty much put the powerful in bed with the powerful. No surprise that victims have historically paid a higher price for speaking up than abusers have for their crimes.
The dangers facing children and women pursuing a career in Hollywood or Nashville or NYC are not unique, but they are perhaps more extreme and better understood than the hazards facing would-be engineers. Surely a Weinstein-type can be found in nearly every type of work environment, but it also seems as though performing arts represent the natural habitat for that kind of predator. Parents knew this long before the fear could be expressed in terms of #MeToo. What is changing now is that there’s reason to hope that chasing a dream will no longer present quite so high a risk of encountering a nightmare.
The Weinstein verdict doesn’t solve the problem, but it will give the powerful and vicious some pause. It will also create a precedent for accountability. That’s cold comfort, but still comfort.
Combined with Bill Cosby’s verdict, Harvey Weinstein’s jail stint represents some kind of movement forward for the culture of all performing arts. It’s overdue and probably slightly overhyped as a resolution, but it’s meaningful to those of us raising the next generation of theater kids.
Kurt Vonnegut once joked that “If you want to really hurt your parents…the least you can do is go into the arts.” Most parents worry about their kids going into acting or music or theater because there’s no money there. But, the clearer and more present fear is that it’s an industry crawling with scumbags. That’s likely still the case, but those people have been put on notice.
Today, my daughter’s dance teacher told my wife our girl was ready to go up to the next level, ahead of schedule. Will, she end-up on stage as an adult? I don’t know. But I do know that, because of the Weinstein verdict, my wife and I will worry roughly 10 percent less. It’s not much, but it’s a lot.