The Price of Immorality

As I am not a sexual predator or even a low-grade pervert, I do not know what drives men like Matt Lauer to expose their genitals to women. I think it has something to do with power, or a lust for it—which is odd, because men like Lauer, and Harvey Weinstein, and Louis C.K., and many others, are already far more powerful than the average man or woman could ever hope to be. These are the newsmakers and the trendsetters and the guys who sell out entire auditoriums at $100 a head. So maybe power, like nicotine, is both addictive and fleeting: one becomes desensitized to being on television and being talked about every single day, so one must drop one’s trousers in front of a surprised woman every now and again to get that sweet fix.

As I have written before, God willing this is just the beginning, and that the crusty, smelly underbelly of famous pervert denouement will continue to be exposed, bit by bit—one can hope, anyway. But as is always the case, there is such a troubling subtext to this latest revelation: we are hearing that same familiar chorus, that “everyone knew” about Matt Lauer’s behavior, but nobody really did anything about it. One gathers that people were afraid of Matt Lauer, which is kind of ridiculous. Matt Lauer is probably the least intimidating man in American media today; I’d be more worried about squaring off against Ira Glass or Jimmy Fallon than I would against Lauer.

But of course people weren’t frightened by Matt Lauer’s diminutive figure; they were frightened by what he could do to their professional lives, their career. Lauer allegedly exerted a great deal of control over both the personnel and the news at 30 Rock; if you weren’t on his good side, you might not climb the ladder or even get a foot on a rung. You want to become a journalist or a well-paid high-ranking staffer behind the scenes, or else you just don’t want to rock the boat at what is probably a cushy job, so you keep your mouth shut. That makes sense—if you’ve made your peace with perverts, I guess. But most people haven’t, and would in fact say precisely the opposite. Yet still: “everyone knew.” Everyone always knows.

I want to submit that, looked at in a certain light, there is almost as much shame in keeping quiet for cynical personal reasons as there is in doing the act itself. Indeed, you can explain (though obviously not excuse) the behavior of most of these men fairly easily: they are mentally ill, they are psychotically power-hungry, they are sick sexual deviants who get their rocks off by terrorizing and harassing women. But what of the key grips and coffee runners and secretaries and co-workers—are they sick, or psychotic, or mentally ill? No: in many if not most cases they are just trying to get ahead in the industry and they don’t want to get a reputation as a whistleblower. That’s their excuse. So it seems like this is an awful kind of double-edged sword: on the one hand we have legions of perverts exploiting their power in order to gratifying their own sexual perversions, and on the other hand we have far too many people who are willing to buy careers with silence. I do not think we can fix our sexual degeneracy problem overnight. But I suspect it will never be fixed so long as enough people prize their own paychecks over doing what is obviously, self-evidently right.


  1. Beck

    I’m waiting for a few everyday women to begin outing their former college professors concerning the latter’s sexual shenanigans. I think the academy is a promising, untapped keg that deserves to be sampled. Sexual access to an ever-changing pool of young women has always been the great, unspoken benefit of a college professorship, and maybe now that needs to be examined critically.

  2. David

    Such behavior is always present when people spend time together whether it be socially of professionally & is greatly exacerbated when there is a power differential between the people interacting. Of course, a professional setting where one person (usually a male) holds power over the other makes it even more likely. Places like the entertainment industry & universities (as cited by Beck above) are especially fertile ground because of the high turnover of persons in those environments combined with individuals holding power over the advancement of others.

    In Hollywood, all but a very few performers live on a knife edge where they are constantly looking for the next employment opportunity. Virtually all jobs are short term & if you are not a marquee performer, your reputation & future employment can be destroyed in an instant by a Harvey Weinstein. A similar, if not as extreme, power dynamic occurs in colleges & universities although one would hope that such institutions make some attempt at policing their employees. As we recall the story of Jerry Sandusky we are reminded that at times these institutions prioritize self-protection over protecting their wards. The Catholic Church has likewise been guilty of such abrogation of responsibility, reminding us that bad behavior arises in many places where you would hope people would maintain better standards.

    These are issues of power more frequently than they are issues of sex. The fact that witnesses are victims as often as is the recipient of the unwanted attention only demonstrate just how pervasive the evil effects of such behavior. These evils are exacerbated by the fact that it is highly unlikely that a report of sexual harassment will result in corrective action. A victim of harassment will invariably be “prosecuted” in response to such claims. As an illustrative example, prosecutions for rape, a far more heinous crime, typically result in 6 incarcerations for every 1000 incidents of rape. Victims, & by association, witnesses see very little benefit & often pay a great personal price for reporting such behavior.

    The only way this will change is if there is a broad social movement, such as may be happening now, where significant numbers of people stand together & declare: “no more.” A similar moment happened in American history with the civil rights movement that came to a head 50 years ago. It didn’t eliminate racism but it at least made it untenable to openly exhibit racist behavior. Let’s hope that the current movement will advance the cause developing workplace environments that are free of abusive sexual behavior.

    • David

      I came across this link that indicates just how wide spread is the practice of sexual harassment. While Beck above correctly points out that colleges, which many consider to be bastions of liberal thinking, are fertile grounds for the types of harassment we are currently discussing, such abuses are also widespread in areas that might be less readily associated with a political bias. The Restaurant industry is apparently an industry where sexual harassment is widespread.

      It should be apparent to any casual observer that this issue is not about politics, or even sex, it is about people in power abusing their power. This should not be a partisan issue, it should not be about evil government, evil corporations or evil organizations in general (except in as much as the organization attempts to cover up the evil behavior of its members). It should just be about powerful people expressing their own personal, well, evil.

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