I’ll admit that America’s Entertainment industry often strike me as an alien world. Two recent examples are Hollywood’s reaction to the arrest of Roman Polanski and the reaction to late-night television host David Letterman’s affairs with subordinates.
The first reaction to Letterman is ho-hum. He revealed the sexual relationships with staffers while relating an account of an effort to blackmail him. It was presented in a way that evoked laughter from the audience. On Monday night, he apologized again to staffers and to his wife who, he said, “has been horribly hurt by my behavior.”
While other entertainers have taken a few comic pot-shots at Letterman, the reaction in general has been that it’s no big deal. There is, however, one element that makes it a big deal — and that is the unequal power relationship that exists in their workplace.
In the public sector, any politician who exploited subordinates would — or should — be driven from office. Any law enforcement officer who exploited prisoners would be summarily fired and possibly jailed. Any teacher who took advantage of a student would, likewise, be fired. A business executive who engaged in the Letterman behavior with corporate staffers would be quickly dismissed. And any military officer who committed even one breach with a subordinate would be drummed out of service. So why the double-standard here?
The point here is not about Letterman and his wife. Their relationship is their business. It’s the workplace setting coupled with the unequal boss-employee power relationship that makes this a firing offense.
Worse than the CBS inaction or the industry’s silence on Letterman is the Hollywood reaction to the Polanski arrest. The actress Debra Winger was among the 100 Hollywood celebrities who signed a petition asking for the release of film director Roman Polanski for raping a 13-year-old three decades ago. (It wasn’t “rape-rape” says Whoopi Goldberg, since charges were reduced to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.) Winger had this to say about Hollywood and the Polanski’s crime: “We stand by him and await his release and his next masterpiece.”
No big deal. As with a person in custody, no 13-year-old can consent to sex with an adult, expecially one who at the time was 43 years old. But, hey, “we stand by him and await his… next masterpiece.” Much of Hollywood has no clue about the nation’s values.