Sexual Harassment And The Age Of The Unenlightened
Written By: Anton Sawyer
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I'm going to start this article off with a warning. This piece is about sexual harassment and how one human being can wield so much power over another. I am not condoning ANY of the actions that are written about here. I am not trying to justify, normalize, or try to make any of these events "OK" ... I'm also not going to candy-coat it, either.
With the recent sexual harassment allegations against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), the comment sections of many news outlets and social media always center around a chorus of "how does this happen?"
From the beginning of the Me Too movement in 2006, there has seemed to be a near-constant stream of those with power being outed for past transgressions. Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Roger Ailes, one after another leading a procession of fallen multi-multi-millionaires. When investigating all of the celebrities who have been arrested, arraigned, took plea-deals, or are currently incarcerated, there has been one person that I think epitomizes the underlying conditions present in this sickness; Ron Jeremy.
Ron Jeremy was a porn-star during its heyday of the 1970s, 80s, and 90s. He was one of the top paid—and top attracting—male porn-stars of any generation. As of October 28, 2020, he is currently looking at 30 counts of sexual assault dating back to the 1990s. If found guilty, he's looking at 330 years in prison.
When you look at the breadth of his career (especially in the fact that he was paid to have sex with literally thousands of women), it makes one ask why someone would sexually assault women when they could wait a day or two for their next role?
The concept of someone using their power over another to gain some kind of advantage as it pertains to sex is nothing new. But in the 1990s, we got to see the Anita Hill congressional testimony about the sexual harassment she received from Clarence Thomas.
And who could forget Monica Lewinski and the famous blue dress?
We also got to see films like "Disclosure" bring this topic to life. By the end of the decade, there was this feeling in the American hive-mind that everything was taking a step in the right direction. Sexual harassment training became mandatory across the nation for a majority of those in the workforce. Many companies also started setting up special sensitivity training classes for their employees and had special investigative wings at the corporate level to track any complaints. To quote The Simpsons: "Everything's coming up Millhouse!"
But as we have seen so many times before, both the entertainment and political arenas tend to operate by a different set of rules.
Though I can't speak too much on how the giant Washington machine works as far as its moral attitudes, I can give a glimpse inside a portion of the entertainment industry: the music biz. There may be differences between the entertainment complex and politics, but to be honest, I can't surmise that any institution predicated on generating absurd amounts of cash through public figures would work too much differently either.
For four years (all of 2014 through all of 2017) I worked as a music journalist for a couple of different music and entertainment magazines. Growing up I loved the huge rock bands like KISS, Alice Cooper, AC/DC, Rob Zombie, but it was my passion for more underground music that served me well when I became a writer. During my stint, I interviewed/reviewed bands with gold records, Grammy-nominated and Grammy-winning artists, bands with silver records from the U.K., winners of the Spellman Award (Norway's Grammy), among others. I covered everything from funk to punk, blues to black metal, classical to country, and all points in between. Most of the bands either dipped their toes into the waters of commercial success or were once huge but had been relegated to theaters. Though I did a lot of album reviews, my bread and butter were interviews and concert reviews. Throughout my tenure, I covered the performances of over 300 bands; I lived at the clubs. It was because of the time I spent there and the group of people I was constantly around, I got exposed to these different sets of rules.
I saw guitarists who had been strung out on heroin the entire tour and had become a mess of a human being, be able to jump right up and hit the stage, delivering the goods every night. I would see singers completely drunk backstage and then when the stage lights came up, they'd have a power puke, hit the stage, and never have an issue performing.
These indiscretions weren't just held to drugs and alcohol.
The worst thing I ever saw involved the lead guitarist of a 90s alt-rock band that had flirted with fame in the form of a top-40 hit and gold record. His new band was performing a show I was reviewing. Since he was a "name" I wanted to interview him. I got told by the road manager where I could find him. I walked to that area of the backstage section, turned a corner, and saw him standing there with a woman on her knees crying, to which he said "don't cry, just suck." I walked away and didn't speak to him that evening ... or ever.
After a couple of months of seeing this activity, I began going to the venues really early to talk to tour managers, merchandise people, basically anyone who would answer my questions. I wanted to learn the mechanics of the business and how these shenanigans could flourish. It was during one of these sessions that I spoke to a security guy (who had once managed an arena touring act in the 80s) for about an hour and finally got the mechanics of it all.
Using rounded numbers, a club level band (depending on which rung of the ladder they are at on the national touring scene), can command a guarantee of $1,000 or more. This means no matter how many people show up, the band makes a grand regardless. The ONLY thing that matters is getting to that stage. The other 22 hours of the day are typically unsupervised. Whether you day drink and hit the stage totally blasted, as long as you can meet the expectations of all parties involved, then it doesn't matter. If you are a band that does a ton of touring, as long as the machine keeps moving, nobody really cares in most cases.
Let's take this to a larger scale. Let's say you are an actor who commands a couple of million per movie because the film studio knows that whatever you're in, it's going to bring a certain minimum amount. As long as you are able to fulfill expectations, every eye turns blind. Like the music industry, if you are someone who is generating a large amount of money for your business partners, and you like having multiple sexual partners around A LOT, then that's what you will receive. Whether at a club or in your makeup trailer on a film set, if you make enough money, someone will make sure anything, and more importantly anyone, will be there when YOU need them.
In 2016 I did public relations for a band that I was given the honor of joining on their North American tour. From the west coast of Seattle and Portland to the east coast in New York. From Pennsylvania to Idaho and all points in-between. By this point, I had seen misogyny on a lot of different levels, but it was always towards fans or groupies. This time there was a woman in the band itself, so I was curious to see if that slight shift in the power dynamic would modify my experiences. It didn't.
The fact that she is utterly beautiful (and did some modeling outside of the group) seemed to impact the minds of guys who would be near her at times because you would always hear someone say something about her appearance in some sexualized manner. Because she was a guitarist they would also say things about her abilities, or the ever-popular "wow, she carries her own gear." It was almost like every night on the tour her gender or appearance was being slagged on by someone. Halfway through the tour we stayed up all night driving and talking about being a woman in the music industry. It was sad.
She started playing in bands in her late teens. In fact, at the age of 19, she was touring America with her band opening for 80s arena juggernaut Ratt. She told me how she learned early on that she was going to have a challenging road ahead because of her gender specifically. That it's incredibly hard, even in the 2000s for a woman to be treated equally. I asked her about the things that were said to her by the men that were in the venues and she shrugged it off. She had thick skin and learned to let a lot of it roll off her back. When I asked her why, at this point with this all of this experience, doesn't she put her foot down?
She broke it down pretty simply. The club-owner who was giving her crap about carrying her own gear and making suggestive comments pays the band a $600 guarantee. She made it clear that if she retaliated, they could lose the booking, the $600, and then be blackballed from ever playing in a club in that town again. It had happened to her a number of times before.
It was a sobering realization. To combat this, as a society what do we do?
Sure, there have been a lot of politicians over the last decade or so who have either resigned out of embarrassment for their indiscretions or were voted out by the populace. We have seen more groups come together to try to hold more people in charge accountable, but can it be ever stopped, period?
Do we stop watching movies?
Stop listening to music?
Stop giving power to anyone at any time?
There's never going to be a movie studio executive who is ever going to tell a multi-million dollar bankable star what they can or can't do. There's never going to be a tour manager who tells their singer to stop shagging that groupie and stop keeping those 20,000 people who paid to see you from waiting any longer. And there's never going to be full accountability as long as there are repercussions to victims of sexual harassment.
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