I typically dedicate this blog to the celebration of existing or rising hyphenates. In this case I want to use all my limited powers of persuasion to inspire a new one.
Obviously, we’re all pretty disgusted by the sort of sleazery and misogyny we’ve seen coming out of the Weinstein case. Men of power who think they don’t have to live by the normal, civilized rules of society. There are people just like this in every sector of public life. Politics (obviously, famously), sports, business, music, film, advertising, even the medical or military worlds. Overall they’re a minority, yes. But, these predators are out there. Doing their thing right now. Imposing themselves on the less powerful of all ages and genders. Sometimes it is sexual. Other times it is simple dehumanization—treating others like pets or furniture. How are these remorseless pigs created? Some were raised that way in ugly Darwinian-based households. But, I have a theory on the rest.
Without a doubt, these modern-day Caligulas hold most of the blame for their actions. They’re indefensible. But, behind every abuser is a battalion of sycophants. And the next rung down is an even larger army of worshipers. The press. And all of us in the fanbase. You see, the strange irony is that here in America we love to chide the British for their Royal Family and the near-dei-fication and worship of certain people over others. The idolization of powerful personalities, classes and bloodlines runs deep. Supposedly, American culture is more of a level playing field though, right? A meritocracy where all people are created equal? Well, yes and no.
Sure, we have plenty of rags-to-riches stories here. But, the truth is, we Americans still love to thrust people onto pedestals as well. We rally around those with money, celebrity, charisma, talent, success, looks, domineering personalities, physical prowess, notoriety as well as notoriousness and treat them like demi-gods. And our culture collaborates by hoisting them up into near mythical status by endowing them with unimaginable power. With almost no accountability. Then, they surround themselves with Sycophants who attend to their every need, laugh at every little joke, pump them up with praise, tell them they’re special--even infallible--and look the other way when they act like old-world Sheiks. Just watch any episode of HBO’s “Entourage”—basically a 16-year-old boy’s vision of what “making it” in America looks like. The theme is Success = Pussy.
And I venture to guess that more men laughed and elbowed each other in the ribs during the wildest, most ribald scenes in “The Wolf of Wall Street” than cringed or considered it a cautionary tale. Because, sadly (very sadly) we expect this of our most powerful. It’s the stuff of legend. And people like Weinstein and Trump whisper in private that this is how all civilizations have conducted themselves for eons. “To the rich go the spoils”, they chuckle. The “spoils” being, getting to do whatever the fuck you want to whoever you want. “They’ll let you do it!” was Trump’s other most infamous hot mic line. While Sycophants look the other way. Or worse yet, corral young girls into hotel rooms and then magically melt away. Or cover the abusers’ asses by making conciliatory phone calls, threats or installment payments.
While there have been high profile cases of Senators and their pages, Presidents and interns, CEOs and secretaries, Guitarists and groupies or Athletes and fangirls--Hollywood—in all its liberal glory—has probably been ground zero for this phenomenon more than anywhere else. Hollywood seems to be the mecca of sycophants—those who hope to cling to these demi-gods and parlay that job into their own creative ascension. Nearly every creative force in Hollywood is a magnet for these barnacles. One cannot blame the attraction. But one can most certainly hate the impending result. Worship. Unchallenged allegiance. Blind obedience to people who happen to possess uncanny talent. Or a list of credits. Or gold statuettes. Or a budget to exploit. Firsthand, I have seen this both imposed and willingly lapped up to varying degrees and it is one of the most disgusting human displays of inauthenticity you can imagine.
Respect, reverence and admiration are one thing. But, it is this army of morally-ambiguous and desperately ambitious Sycophants who are the answer to the moral blight we face. They alone face the choice of digging deep, finding their souls, containing these monsters, curbing their impulses or…sharing the blame. When Donald says, “Watch me grab this pussy”, they need to say “To hell with your loyalty pledge”. When Harvey mutters he wants to corner a girl in a hallway and masturbate into a potted plant, they need to look him in the eye and say “Get some help”. When some musician or athlete or corporate douchebag says “This is just how things are”, someone in their entourage needs to step in the way and say “You do not get to be alone with her”. No matter how close to the sun that young girl wants to fly.
Because Moms and Dads, brothers and sisters and good honest cops can’t be everywhere all the time. In the same way that General Kelly and General McMaster are supposedly “separating us from the chaos” (i.e., President CheetoHead from the nuclear football), the everyday Sycophant (malignantly-ambitious Hollywood assistant) needs to shed his/her team uniform and step the…hell…up. Because a Sycophant is like kindling for that fire known as abuse. The abuser thrives on their winks, giggles, high-fives, knowing nods or silence.
Well, we know who you are, Sycophants. We know where you work. We know what your job titles are. We know there is no union for Sycophants. And we know you probably don’t have the money for an army of high-powered attorneys. So, you need to seize this chance to rehabilitate. Now.
I call for the extinction of the Great American Sycophant.
This sub textual job title needs to disappear. Like, yesterday. Only then, maybe—just maybe—those empathy-challenged abusers will realize that “power” can still bring them plenty of creative autonomy or business innovation or standing ovations or your name on a building or political self-determination or personal wealth or even mind-blowing personal fulfillment. But…not without following the rules of civilized behavior. That shit will not stand.
No winks. No nods. No elbow to the ribs. No giggling in the motorhome. No plausible deniability. No hush money. No semi-circle of exorbitantly-paid lawyers providing cover for some Sodom and Gomorrah tribute party. The Soon-To-Be-former-Sycophant—if he/she can conjure the balls—just might be a cure for all of that. They could be behind-the-scenes Hollywood heroes in all this. Like those valiant Production Designers. Script Supervisors. Best Boys. Colorists. Or a thousand other unsung heroes. By simply refusing to play the game. The Soon-To-Be-Former-Sycophants can decide as a matter of honor to lock arms and be the firewall for abuse. This is more than possible. It’s ridiculously necessary.
We’ve all driven through neighborhoods with lawn signs that read, “Drive like your children live here”. And like you, I do think twice and I do slow down.
Well, maybe we need a sign in every corporate break room, every locker room, every talent agency, every backstage green room, every law firm, every publicist firm, every motion picture studio, every production company, every advertising agency, every Senate chamber and every C-level washroom that simply reads, “Conduct yourself like your daughter or your sister works here”.
And then, watch the soul of the Sycophant be the next Great American Comeback story.