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Wednesday, Oct 25, 2017

Is Hollywood following the path of the universities?

Creating an alternative legal system is not only dangerous—it's self-destructive

A ometimes these things are just predictable: the Hollywood sexual harassment scandal is now spreading to other countries.

According to the UK Daily Express, a British paper noted for articles about Brexit, flying saucer exposés, and articles with titles like “AI robots will soon be able to GIVE BIRTH to children”, a singer named Hazel O'Connor has accused Benny Hill of “pouncing on her” as she tried to leave his flat after an audition—way back in 1976. Benny Hill, whose eponymous TV show consisted mostly of speeded-up footage of the star lecherously chasing attractive female actors dressed as nurses, died 25 years ago. (Thus explaining why, as the papers blandly say, as if providing evidence of guilt, he did not immediately return our calls.)

Just so you don't have to look up the one about AI robots giving birth to children, what they say is that robots will print out human babies on 3-D printers.

You might ask, assuming the story about Benny Hill is real (not always a safe assumption these days), what could O'Connor hope to achieve by this? A dash of sympathy, perhaps, for having had the bad sense to appear in such a dumb show, and more for not recognizing its nature. But as with her Hollywood comrades, there's always a goal, even if not consciously recognized, behind such things.

In the USA, before you can file a tort claim for sexual harassment, you have to file a formal complaint with your employer. This takes time, and the clock starts ticking as soon as you discover the harm: in most states, including California, for a person over 18, you have two years (three for rape) before the statute of limitations clock runs out.

So these women aren't seeking a traditional legal remedy. And that's what makes it interesting. The goal seems to be to convict Harvey Weinstein and all the others in the court of public opinion. Whether the charges (nearly fifty at last count against Weinstein alone) are all valid or not, they are examples of a new, and potentially dangerous, way of handling misbehavior.

Conviction by bad PR can kill a person's career just as dead as a conviction in a real court. The accuser gets a sense of vindication, and no financial compensation. It's a good match for Hollywood, where the culture is based on creating perceptions in others. For an actor or actress, stardom depends on convincing others that you're charismatic and appealing.

This has drawbacks: if their subculture is so dependent on social approval, how can we believe them when they speak about politics? Are they sincere when they bash President Trump, or are they asking for approval again?

The idea of trying a famous person in the court of public opinion is not new. But in our connected Internet age, it's more effective. In order to work, the press has to be involved to rev up a widespread sense of outrage. That's why we always see vast numbers of accusations occurring at once. Without a mob effect, one cannot get a conviction.

In effect, this creates a parallel common law criminal justice system that bypasses our Constitutional protections. To an individual or organization that depends on public good will, it's an effective deterrent: rich executives, news commentators, and corporations donate tens of millions of dollars to accusers to avoid the bad publicity. In turn, these donations are taken as admissions of guilt. But at least rich executives and corporations have some defense.

What causes this? What Hollywood and our universities have in common is that they are populated by crowds of like-minded people who are cut off from opposing viewpoints, and dependent on the approval of others. Universities are further down this road. As in the 1960s, privileged college students are out of control: they're destroying historical monuments, suppressing the free speech of their own comrades, and using violence to spread an often authoritarian and racial ideology.

In both cases it starts by attacking behaviors and ideas that most people already find despicable. But it ends with a sharia-like system that is political and antidemocratic. As with the NFL, Americans won't put up with that for long. The activists hope to use this tactic to spread their ideology. What it will really do is destroy the institutions they care about.

oct 25, 2017, 5:28 am

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