I am writing this from a hotel room in Hong Kong. It’s cool outside, but it will be cooler in the coming days, or so the weather forecast I’ve been keeping an eye on suggests. As expected there is little to nothing on television, so I am watching the BBC. On the ticker below, a headline scrolls about Pixar co-founder John Lassetter, and how he’s taken a leave after allegations of improper behavior. Specifically, the line was, in quotes, “unwanted hugs”.
I like hugging people. I was (well, perhaps, still am) what you’d call “touchy”. I did that more in college. I had an inkling people were uncomfortable sometimes, but I brushed it off. I was a naïve 16-year-old.
Sometimes I still find myself being too touchy for comfort. Sometimes I get carried away and not realize things. But things are different now. I’d get a telling off, often from my girlfriend. “I know you mean well,” she’d tell me, “but that was too much, I think.”
I have already reckoned with this many times over the past few weeks. I’ve written about it, even, on my other blog. It’s been roughly six weeks since the first allegations around improper behavior from (now disgraced) film mogul Harvey Weinstein surfaced. It’s been roughly six weeks since the proverbial Pandora’s box has been opened, unleashing a torrent of empowered women finally stepping forward to tell their stories, of men in power on many fields and on every dot on the spectrum going one step too far. As for the rest of us, we’re now wondering if what we’ve always thought was just being nice was inappropriate to begin with, even if we never had even a trace of “sexual” on it.
It’s tricky, this, but at the very least this is a conversation that’s long overdue. But I’ve always thought we should be talking about this with care and understanding. We should come in with the mindset that everything is a gray area. There’s no denying that there are terrible people out there, who have – and will – take advantage of their lofty positions to coerce others into doing what they want. But most of us are just caught in the middle of the crossfire, not fully understanding how one thing leads into another. In this scenario, there are villains, but there are no heroes – just civilians trying to navigate their way through an obstacle course. Now, one wrong move means death – or, at least here, instant, and constant, vilification.
I’m writing about this here because, well, this conversation is inescapable now. It’s everywhere. The past few days both my Twitter feeds are filled with favorites and retweets, of people alleging this or that, or of people saying we should continue the fight, or of people saying we should slow down and take a better look at what we’re dealing with. Occasionally there would be explosions. As I flew in to Hong Kong the annual The Rest is Noise event has dropped one band from its line-up due to what they described as “deeply disturbing allegations, one of which was confirmed by the accused band member”. This comes a month after they had to drop another act for the same reasons. While writing this, I chanced upon an Esquire Philippines article outlining allegations against a third band.
I’m afraid of being misconstrued. I don’t intend to defend anybody, or to put anybody down. I am most definitely not in a position to abscond anybody, or perhaps to even speak – what the fuck do I know anyway? I don’t even go to gigs!
Getting involved in this particular conversation can be futile sometimes, I think, especially when it gets this charged. But I’m foolish enough to wade in, again. Perhaps a few ground rules? Maybe, “when someone is proven to have done wrong, respond accordingly”? Or, maybe, “don’t assume everybody is either a hero or a villain”? I don’t know. My thoughts are running away from me at this point.
But I know that this conversation must continue, and for this conversation to achieve the results it’s meant to achieve, we all have to be uncomfortable. We all have to look at ourselves. Pointing the finger at someone who we thought was a creep isn’t enough. We risk equating the act of taking down specific monsters with the more difficult, and more concerted, act of taking down the culture that allows these monsters to fester. Making sense of these “unwanted hugs” is never going to be easy. Even Ronan Farrow, one of the journalists who revealed the existence of a “machine” Weinstein set up to prevent his victims from coming out against him, admits to having had that moment of self-reckoning, about how he initially encouraged someone close to him to keep quiet so as to not rock the boat.
Ignorance does not absolve anybody, yes. Yet, many who realize they may have crossed the line will want to get it right, and they will do this with the purest of intentions. Care and understanding. I hope it isn’t too much to ask. [NB]