Have you seen Wag The Dog? It’s a satirical film about politics and elections and, if I remember correctly, it was released around the time of the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal, about the president running for re-election who creeped on a young girl and hires a Hollywood publicist to create a diversion – which ends up being a war. Timely, non?
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the film, John Oliver moderated a panel discussion with the cast last night in New York. Dustin Hoffman was there. And, given that Dustin has made his own sexual harassment headlines recently, John went there. If you’re a fan of John on Last Week Tonight, you know that going there is true to his brand. If he didn’t go there it would be a betrayal of that show’s purpose. And, besides, when a sex scandal is an essential plot point of the film – WHY WOULDN’T HE GO THERE?
Dustin Hoffman took exception. Click here for the Washington Post’s summary of how it all went down and click here to read Deadline’s take. I highly recommend you read both. Because it’s a difference in tone. Look at Deadline’s description of what happened, using the word “derail” to describe it:
They continue that kind of characterisation of the conversation through the article, with words likes “agonising” and “anguished”. They’re trying to convey to you how uncomfortable it was. Perhaps unfairly uncomfortable. But you know what? If comfortable has been what predators have been feeling for far too long, comfortably protected that is, isn’t it time for a little discomfort?
Well, not for certain members of the audience. They paid to hear about the film. And some of them felt that this was offside, that where the discussion went was not what they came for. A few weeks ago, when I wrote about Ben Affleck’s appearance on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to promote Justice League and Colbert asked Ben about his association with Harvey Weinstein, you could hear some audience members groan. It bothered me then and it bothers me now.
The avoidance of discomfort is one of the founding pillars of polite society. It’s the dinner party tip, right? Don’t talk politics or religion. I’m beginning to feel like, more and more, prioritising politeness is one way to keep people silenced, why issues aren’t confronted, why so much bullsh-t isn’t interrogated. Because we all want to maintain a nicey-niceness while ignoring the rot that continues to pop up through the floorboards.
And you know what? It’s not like Dustin Hoffman wasn’t part of why the conversation got “derailed”, if that’s what you want to call it. Apparently he kept coming back to the issue in order to defend himself, feeling injured by what he interpreted to be a personal attack. By blaming the internet and social media, outrage culture, and later by talking about what an ally he is to women, especially after he made Tootsie.
THAT, right there, is entitlement. And entitlement is very much the problem. Dustin Hoffman showed us that he believes that he was entitled to some f-cking respect and that it was an insult to him that John would question his feminism. Well isn’t that what we’ve all been examining over the last two months since Harvey Weinstein got exposed? Because you know what would have diffused the situation? What would have diffused it would have been to just keep saying something along the lines of, “I understand that some people have heard some stories about me and were disappointed. Right now is not the time for me to have my say. Right now, it’s time to hear more stories from women. We need to provide more opportunities for women to come forward. I’m here to listen”. The end. It’s not an admission of guilt. It wouldn’t cost him anything. And it would put the focus on what needs to change. Is it a perfect response? No. I’m not sure there is a perfect response. But it’s a BETTER response than what we got. It’s not sanctimonious and it’s not self-serving. Even Ben Affleck got that marginally more right than Dustin Hoffman did. And when Ben f-cking Affleck is doing better than you, you really need to get your life.