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.