The horror of Weinstein's casting couch

Harvey Weinstein is believed to be in Europe to seek therapy Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Harvey Weinstein is believed to be in Europe to seek therapy

The scandal surrounding Harvey Weinstein shows it is impossible to understand the history of film and television without recognising the central role, and potential horror, of the so-called casting couch.

This colloquialism refers to the capacity for auditions to turn into mechanisms for sexual exploitation. The casting couch is a kind of erotic theatre in itself: one in which would-be performers exhibit their suitability for a particular role and provide sexual favours.

It is a place with a very hierarchical power dynamic: ambitious, not to say desperate, talent; and producer, director or whoever with the capacity to make dreams come true.

As both the cliche and the grim reality have it, the talent is often a young woman, and the dream-maker an older man. This is the situation in which a 22-year-old Gwyneth Paltrow found herself when, she alleges, Weinstein made unwanted advances towards her.

In the revolting revelations emerging about sexual bullying by Weinstein - who denies the bulk of allegations against him - the power dynamic of the casting couch is shown to be a forum for sickening exploitation and potentially criminal abuse.

The most striking thing about the New York Times and New Yorker's reports is the elaborate lengths to which Weinstein and those around him allegedly went to facilitate casting couch sessions, usually in hotels.

According to several actresses quoted in recent stories, assistants would deliver on-screen talent before leaving them to their private rendezvous with Weinstein; and afterward, if they were upset, would help smooth things over by hushing things up or speaking to relatives.

It may be lazy or dangerous to extrapolate from the individual case of Weinstein to a broader problem in the media and film industries - though as I said in an earlier blog post, it is impossible not to see these awful allegations alongside those levelled at Bill O'Reilly, the late Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby and even Donald Trump.

I also said perhaps some good could come of this awful story.

If the casting couch ceases to be a forum for sexual exploitation of vulnerable, desperate performers by perverts; and if other women who have experienced the sordid worst of the casting couch feel they can come forward, the media and film industries may yet benefit from the depredations of this Hollywood thug.

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