Who Is Allowed to Be Monstrous?

Casey Affleck’s response to abuse allegations follows a familiar narrative

03.01.17
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“I guess people think if you’re well known it’s perfectly fine to say anything you want. I don’t know why that is. But it shouldn’t be, because everyone has families and lives.”

This is what Casey Affleck told Variety late last year in reference to the sexual abuse allegations he settled out of court in 2010. It was only a short aside in his 2,000-word cover story with the magazine, wherein his creative career was chronicled and heralded in great detail. He was and still is enjoying an unprecedented amount of publicity due to his Oscar-nominated performance in Manchester by the Sea.

The abuse allegations, now back in the spotlight, are quite serious. Violent grabbing, sneaking into beds, verbal disparagement, manipulation, intimidation. While they’ve been covered a lot — by Elle, TimeThe Atlantic, Vox, Teen VogueThe VergeNew York Magazine, The Daily Beastto name a few — every article seems to circle the same, haunting drain: Why does nobody seem to care?

It’s a question that became all the more pressing on Sunday night after Affleck took home the Academy Award for Best Actor in a Leading Rolestood on stage, face all aglow, and said: “I’m here because of the talents and goodwill of so many people they are impossible to name.”

Well, he’s right.

For women, men of color, people of other…the question of why nobody cares is a rhetorical one, and the answer is not mysterious so much as disturbing. Power, prestige and success have always had a short-term memory where the transgressions of white men are concerned. Woody Allen, Mel Gibson, Donald Trump, Johnny Depp, Sean Penn, Alec Baldwin, Charlie Sheen, Hugh Grant. It’s terrifyingly easy to rattle off the names of men who have continued to find fame and fortune following disgusting, often-criminal behavior.

“Isn’t that the crazy part of all of this? About being alive right now? That so much of your life — your world — can be destroyed by something like this?…Why am I being punished?…Do you even know any of the women who came forward?…I’m not perfect but I’m not saying I’m perfect…but this is fucking hard for me…”

The above sounds a lot like Casey Affleck, doesn’t it? It’s actually a line from the most recent episode of Girls, wherein a rich and famous white male writer invites Hannah (Lena Dunham) over to defend himself against sexual abuse allegations. The episode is subtle, brilliant and nuanced as it guides viewers to almost sympathize with this man — he’s smart and well-spoken, kind even, and he seems genuinely hurt and authentic in his love for his daughter — but ultimately he proves the allegations right. It was written before Affleck’s PR tour. The parallels are chilling and yet unsurprising. This narrative is not new.

The man in the episode is delusional, of course, so unaware of his role in society that he actually believes in his own goodness and innocence. This is a side effect of privilege we’ve seen play out across race and class relations as well. But abusive men are not — as gory movies and sensational media want us to believe — always so consciously and conspicuously monstrous. Sometimes they march with us and then treat us like meat at a bar. Sometimes they are kind and love their daughters and knit their eyebrows together and just don’t understand why we would do this to them.

Why we would do this to them.

“I was hurt and upset — I am sure all were — but I am over it,” Affleck told the New York Times.

He was over it.

Men and all people are far more complex than we give them credit for. It’s why so many accused men will say “Oh, but I could never” and people who love them will say “Oh, but he could never” but the truth is, he could and he might and so often he did and he will. Intellectual condemnation of misogyny and mistreatment of others do not make anyone exempt from participating in them, and as long as we fail to look inward where prejudice and conditioning and internal contradictions are concerned, as long as we continue to trust the words of men over those of their victims, people like Affleck will thrive.

“I believe that any kind of mistreatment of anyone for any reason is unacceptable and abhorrent, and everyone deserves to be treated with respect in the workplace and anywhere else,” Affleck told the Boston Globe yesterday, in a profile entitled “Oscar in hand, Casey Affleck now in the spotlight in his own right.”

And in so doing Affleck did what so many powerful white men have been able to do before him: use his platform and privilege to clear his name and conscience in one fell swoop.

Photo by Jason LaVeris/FilmMagic via Getty Images.

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