Harvey Weinstein and the Diabolic Imagination

In his Redeeming the Time, Russell Kirk remarks of our age that rather than nuclear fallout or mass destruction, “The grimmer and more immediate prospect is that men and women may be reduced to a sub-human state through limitless indulgence in their own vices—with ruinous consequences to society generally.

He goes on to say, however, that because the modern age is so willingly and efficiently diseased many who see these “tribulations” are “tempted to shrug, sigh, and murmur, ‘What cannot be mended, must be endured.’ Yet, if most people so resign themselves, indeed all is lost.”

When considering the sexual assault allegations published several months ago against Harvey Weinstein, co-founder of Miramax and The Weinstein Company, my own reflections on the filth of our age were similar to Kirk’s diagnosis. “Indulgence in one’s own vices” is certainly a civilized manner of terming what the man is accused of. Thank goodness so many actresses have had the courage (finally) to come forward and break what seems to be an industry-enforced silence. They have ceased to shrug and sigh. They have ceased to be resigned to the normalization of such horrors. And so I wished to close the chapter. But the story strikes me as much more muddled and aberrantly immersed in what T.S. Eliot called the “diabolic imagination.”

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This second thought came to mind when I accidently came upon the recently published statements against Mr. Weinstein by actresses Uma Thurman and Salma Hayek. A weary Thurman spoke with the New York Times last month about her many years enduring predatory behavior by the accused during the filming of two major film ‘feats’ for Miramax, Kill Bill and Pulp Fiction. The narrative recounts a perverse world of directors, meetings, and lewd nightlife that among other things forced a starry-eyed 16 year-old to become “street smart” in the most depraving ways possible.  On learning and regretting these ways, she remarks, “You become more compliant or less compliant, and I think I became less compliant.” Still, after the success of Pulp Fiction, she found herself in fashionable hotel “vestibules within corridors within chambers” alone with Mr. Weinstein and the repulsive prospect of his sexual propositions.

A similar story is told by Salma Hayek. After successfully arranging a deal and beginning production with Mr. Weinstein on her heterodox Frida Kahlo film project, she endured threats and propositions from him on set and when attending rather perverse private social gatherings. When halfway through the filming, she alleges that Mr. Weinstein threatened to shut down the project unless she and another actress agreed to enhance the story’s written lesbian narrative by shooting a nude scene together, with “no room for negotiation.” She agreed to do the scene, not wanting to forfeit her work or disappoint favors asked.

Clearly these are stories of a predator at work. But what gave me pause were the ladies’ descriptions of an ugly, over-sexed, utilitarian social and work world that had clearly been normalized for everyone involved. The materialistic sex culture of Hollywood is so well acknowledged that it seems to have become a moot point. The popular reaction to the drama of this year’s Golden Globe Awards Ceremony is an interesting example. Almost all women attending dressed in black attire as a symbol of their mutual protest against sexual harassment and objectification. This “Times Up Now” movement was reported as “one piece of a much broader action plan to combat sexual harassment and inequality in the workplace…” But reports of the gatherings following the Golden Globes verged on the ridiculous. Headlines such as “A-Listers save their most daring dresses for the afterparties,” promised details of the scantily-clad ladies dressed proudly in black sheer lace dresses. Objectification par excellence.

Ironically, but not unsurprisingly, actress Salma Hayek is aware of this paradox. As she noted about Mr. Weinstein, “In his eyes, I was not an artist. I wasn’t even a person. I was a thing: not a nobody, but a body.” She seems to be on to that lynchpin that animates this hedonistic social world, the porno-graphic. In Deus Caritas Est, Pope Benedict noted that in the modern age, “Eros, reduced to pure ‘sex,’ has become a commodity, a mere ‘thing’ to be bought and sold, or rather, man himself becomes a commodity.” Dehumanization of the person is required in order to transform the soul-animated body into an object to possess or image to control. Less rational, yet more pervasive than the old pornographos of the Greek temples of Bacchus, this reduction of sex is actually the archetype for modern social relations and female sexual “empowerment” in our day. The Pope Emeritus concludes, the person immersed in such a culture “now considers his body and his sexuality as the purely material part of himself, to be used and exploited at will. Nor does he see it as an arena for the exercise of his freedom, but as a mere object that he attempts, as he pleases, to make both enjoyable and harmless.” It was this fact that prompted me to revisit Kirk: “…limitless indulgence in their own vices—with ruinous consequences to society generally.

The thing known today as “pop-culture” is largely and regrettably generated by the entertainment industry and the pop-glorification of its disordered social underworld. Its reductionist understanding of sex and the body are now common place. The perverse social parties, pastimes, and slang associated with such an understanding are common place. (One doesn’t even have to endure a quick survey of the latest top music videos to verify this; you can simply walk into a children’s clothing store, visit the grocery, or go to a sporting event to be assaulted with happy ‘sex-pop’ music.) The ‘industry’ delivers a fundamentally materialistic understanding of human life and purpose with an absolute denial of the transcendent—what Kirk and Eliot understood as the diabolic imagination. This deconstruction of the person, this perverse sexual ‘vision’ of men and women and their relations seems accepted by most with a zombie-like resolve—accepted even by those lamenting its violent expressions in the actions of the sick predator. There’s a reason Kirk termed the diabolic imagination a “narcosis.”

The exposure of an industry-wide sexual harassment culture is clearly a victory for the restoration of the dignity of the human and the healing of the victims. However, until we have the courage to disavow the materialist notion of mankind that made this culture possible, Kirk’s warning booms: they will simply “shrug, sigh, and murmur, ‘What cannot be mended, must be endured.’”


  • Sara Kitzinger

    Dr. Sara Kitzinger is a professor of Humanities at the Thomas More College of Liberal Arts in Merrimack, New Hampshire.

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