Saturday, 11 March 2017

Let’s talk about Casey Affleck

The issue:

Ben’s kid brother won an Oscar, and people complained. Not because of his performance, but because Affleck is a man accused of sexual harassment on an earlier project, by two separate women. Both cases were settled out of court. The criticism is that yet another man has been able to use money and power to get away with demeaning (and possibly criminal) behaviour towards women, and not only move on with his life, but rise above the clamour to win fame and critical acclaim. This sends the wrong message, many say.

The argument:
Let’s be clear about one thing, here. Casey Affleck has been convicted of no crime. He has been accused of actions which are possibly criminal, more likely simply ill-advised. The line from many seems to be that this should make him ineligible for an Oscar, or other awards. Ignoring the fact that awards for acting talent are not based on the moral character of the actor, it seems a little heavy-handed to condemn a man for the rest of his life, for actions he may have committed. Do we want to live in a society where the very act of accusing someone constitutes a life-long black mark? Is this the type of judgment we aim for?
Now, since the cases were both settled out of court, there can be no way of really knowing what happened. We cannot know whether the claims were completely true, completely false, or a mixture of the two. We cannot know whether Affleck is a lecher, or whether the women spied the chance for a quick buck and took it. Or, again, some combination of the two. If the women involved had cared enough about the integrity of the matter to eschew the settlement and proceed with their cases in a criminal court, it’s probable that by now we would have a much better idea of what went on. But they didn’t. They took their money and went away. What does that tell you?
Now, I am not saying that absence of proof means nothing ever happened. And I am not naïve enough to be unaware of the problems with the court system. But to simply give up and walk away – how serious could the actions have been?
I find it disturbing that a man who, as mentioned, has not been convicted of anything, has yet come dangerously close to being crucified by the court of public opinion, as has happened to others before him. To assert that he is now no longer worthy of praise for work well done, because of allegations which the accusers took money rather than push forward, seems excessive and dangerous. 

The rebuttal:
First of all, it needs to be stated that the kind of action that Affleck is accused of is criminal. It is sexual harassment, and should not be tolerated by the industry. Until more is done to punish those who do things of the sort, there will be no disincentive for them to keep doing it.
And Affleck is the latest in a long line of rich men who have been accused of harassment and other, more serious crimes against women, and lived to tell the tale, careers intact. Admittedly the claims are not as serious as those levied against Cosby, Allen, or Polanski, but that doesn’t mean they should be trivialised. From all these case, though, we can see one thing clearly: wealth allows you to make problems of this nature go away. Wealth provides a security net. And the settlement process allows this whitewashing to happen.
Here’s the thing: cases of rape and harassment are under reported. Those that do make it to trial do not achieve a high success rate. Add to that the trauma of the proceedings, as well as the stigma which inevitably and unfairly attaches to the victims, and you can easily understand why the women involved would choose to settle rather than push their cases forward.
The settlement doesn’t imply that the actions never occurred, merely that the women involved were probably too unsure of success to believe that pushing things further would be worth it. The whole system, which should support the victim, often works against them. And make no mistake, women deal with this shit all the time, to a greater or lesser degree. There’s an argument to be made for that fact that these women deserved their settlement, for putting up with what they did.
I’m aware I’m assuming guilt in a lot of what I have said above, and as stated, there’s no real way to know that without a trial. But the way the world works points to some kind of inappropriate action having happened, and it’s be foolish to think otherwise.
The final kick on the teeth is that society accepts it. Life goes on. Mr Affleck gets his Oscar and his praise, and from an artistic point of view, maybe he deserves them. But what sticks in the craw is that even if he is not the type of man to do the things he was accused of (which in itself is hard to believe), there are many more like him who are, and who continue to get away with it while the world looks on and claps politely.

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