OSCARS 2020 TRANSCRIPT
2.6.20 / The Oscars
SEAN: Alissa Wilkinson, Vox. It’s the Oscars every year. The Oscar nominations come out and every year we hear about who was robbed. And this year it was women who were robbed. And more specifically, it was Little Women that was robbed. And every year I see everyone bemoaning the people who got robbed and the robbing of those people. And I feel like these people don’t understand the Oscars really work. And I was hoping that you could help them understand.
ALISSA: That’s my job.
SEAN: What are these people missing, Alissa?
ALISSA: I think most people just don’t quite know what the Academy is or what they’re picking when they pick the Oscars. They’re a very large group and very large groups tend to pick the middle option.
ALISSA: So that’s often what happens with the Oscars.
SEAN: Yeah. Who are these people? The Academy.
ALISSA: So the Academy is the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. That’s their full name. There’s about 9000 of them. It’s film industry professionals, you know, cinematographers and actors and directors, also publicists and executives. They right now sit at about 32 percent women and 16 percent minorities, which is up from 2015. But in the earlier part of the decade, the L.A. Times did some investigative journalism and found that the median Oscar voter was probably kind of a white guy who was older than 60.
SEAN: <Laughs> And if everyone on the Internet knew that, they would probably freak out a little less or at least temper their expectations.
ALISSA: Right. It’s not all that surprising that they’re picking things like The King’s Speech and Argo. It’s a lot more surprising when they pick movies like Moonlight.
<CLIP> WARREN BEATTY: And the Academy Award…
SEAN: Yeah. Well, as we all remember… they almost didn’t.
WARREN BEATTY: For Best Picture…
FAYE DUNAWAY: You’re impossible… come on… La La Land!
SEAN: And thennnnnnn they did.
<CLIP> JORDAN HOROWITZ: No. There’s a mistake. Moonlight, you guys won Best Picture. This is not a joke! I’m afraid they read the wrong thing. Moonlight. Best Picture.
SEAN: What do the people in the Academy — these largely 60 plus white men most respond to?
ALISSA: They seem to respond to a couple different things. They really, really, really love movies about Hollywood.
JOHN GOODMAN: It doesn’t matter. It’s a fake movie.
ALAN ALDA: If I’m doing a fake movie, it’s going to be a fake hit.
ALISSA: So a movie like Argo was almost a shoo in because it’s a movie about Hollywood kind of saving the world. That’s like perfect.
PHILIP BAKER HALL: The United States government has just sanctioned your science fiction movie.
ALISSA: They also like kind of ponderous historical dramas of different kinds. So they really love, you know, The English Patient.
<CLIP> THE ENGLISH PATIENT
MAN: You’ll have to forgive us. We’re not accustomed to the company of women.
WOMAN: Not at all I was thoroughly enjoying my book.
ALISSA: They like movies that are big and impressive.
RUSSELL CROWE: Father to a murdered son, husband to a murdered wife. And I will have my vengeance. In this life or the next.
ALISSA: But you know what they like even more than all those movies, Sean?
SEAN: Tell me.
SCORING – TREMENDOUS SIDEBURNS
ALISSA: You know, like political campaigns. They cost a lot of money. An Oscar campaign can cost the studio ten million dollars for one movie.
<CLIP> NEWS: And in the race to the finish line. The studio shelled out big bucks themselves because gold means green.
ALISSA: They’re spending it on screenings. They’re spending it on hosted events, luncheons, cocktail parties, meet and greets.
<CLIP> ANTONIO BANDERAS: But I am tired of the campaign. I am an actor. I am not a politician.
ALISSA: They do a lot of sending of swag.
SEAN: What kind of swag?
ALISSA: People get DVDs in the mail, I have piles and piles of them in my house.
ALISSA: So that they can watch the film. But they also send weirder swag though. So, for instance, I have a whole stack of coffee table books from movies like The Irishman.
<CLIP> THE IRISHMAN
JOE PESCI: It’s what it is.
SEAN: Is The Irishman coffee table book, like 4000 pages long as the movie was three hours?
ALISSA: It’s not, but it’s about two feet wide.
ALISSA: And apparently you can actually fetch about 80 bucks for it if you put it on the market.
SEAN: Oh, they’re like worth money?
ALISSA: Yeah. If people really liked the movie. They’re meant to be collectors items. They also sent even stranger swag. So if you look around my apartment, I, for instance, have a bobblehead of Ruth Bader Ginsburg that was sent out as swag to people who might be voting for the RBG documentary.
SEAN: Oh! That seems way better than a coffee table book.
ALISSA: Yeah, it’s kind of great. And it sits next to one of those Russian nesting doll things that I guy as part of the swag for The Death of Stalin. It has Steve Buscemi on the outside and then inside are increasingly smaller versions of all of the characters from that movie.
SEAN: <Laughs> That’s smart. That’s why you kept that one. Because it’s good.
ALISSA: Yeah. And they sent it with a bottle of vodka, which was very nice.
SEAN: Okay, well that’s just BRIBERY!
SEAN: It reminds me of the Golden Globes! People always talk smack about the Globes. They say that the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, who hands out these trophies, just wants to get their pictures taken with big celebrities. Are Oscar campaigns just as empty as that? Are they just about who gives the biggest bottle of Vodka?
ALISSA: It definitely happens in the academy. It definitely also is to a lesser degree, again, because of the size of it and also because the Academy does have a labyrinthine set of rules about what you can do to promote your movie — rules that they actually had to set in place, because Harvey Weinstein, of all people, was concocting more and more elaborate plans to get his movies in front of voters,
SEAN: Because that was the deal with Harvey. He could get you an Oscar.
ALISSA: Yeah. That’s why Harvey Weinstein was so, so powerful, was that he could turn your little film into an Oscar winner.
SEAN: So I imagine, though, you got to do more than just send some fun swag and have a nice reputation, though, like what’s the most extreme version of this campaign in like, I don’t know, the Harvey Weinstein classic sense?
ALISSA: Yeah. So just like in a political campaign. Opposition research is important.
SEAN: No! You sully the waters of the other movies?
ALISSA: You sure do. You plant negative stories. For instance, if you see a story about a movie that came out eight months ago, two weeks before the Oscars, then you know that somebody is probably behind it. And this is the consummate Harvey Weinstein tactic. When Slumdog Millionaire was up against one of his films, a story suddenly appeared that the Slumdog Millionaire filmmakers were exploiting their subjects.
SEAN: Oh, I remember that.
<CLIP> NEWS: It’s not where you’d expect to find one of the stars of this year’s favorite Oscar film. But this tarp tent is Azharuddin Mohammed Ismail’s home.
ALISSA: And it may or may not be true. And they called Weinstein and said, is this you? And he basically said, ‘Well, you know, I’m not saying it’s not me.’ That’s essentially what he said.
ALISSA: And so, you know, obviously that’s taking a page right out of political campaign books.
SEAN: That’s an extreme version. Is this sort of campaigning happening on a smaller scale, too? Maybe in a less negative fashion?
ALISSA: I mean, the whole idea is to build a narrative around your movie or around your actor or writers or whatever, that people feel like they want to vote for it the same way with a political candidate. You want to say, you know, this guy’s from outside the establishment. He’s going to come in and he’s going to change things or like this person overcame the odds. These are things people resonate with. Movies do the same thing every single year.
SEAN: The best story about the best story?
ALISSA: Yeah, the best story about the best story in these fit different archetypes. We have you know, here’s the underdog film that might just make it or here’s the movie that, you know, we’re going to give you the values that you want to be part of. Or here is a movie that, you know, embodies what it is to experience the power of art. All these different things are archetypes that really work on Oscar voters.
SCORING – LADYBUG (BMC)
SEAN: Let’s take it to present day. I mean, what are the best stories about stories we have this year? The underdog and all the rest?
ALISSA: So this year, one great underdog story is Parasite.
<CLIP> PARASITE: (In Korean): “Jessica, Only Child, Illinois, Chicago”
ALISSA: You might say, ‘How’s that an underdog? I feel like I’ve been hearing about it all year.’ But it’s the first Korean film to ever get nominated for best international feature, formerly Foreign Language Feature.
ALISSA: And if it wins Best Picture, it would be the first movie not in English to win in that category, which is a huge deal
ALISSA: Ever in the history of the Oscars. One thing they did very smartly to create a narrative around it is they released it into just, I think, one or two theaters.
ALISSA: And in New York, the big news was Parasite is sold out all weekend.
NEWSCASTER 1: South Korea dark comedy thriller Parasite opens in theaters today and it’s already a box office smash.
NEWSCASTER 2: Proving to be quite popular. People wait in the long line outside the IFC Center in the village tonight.
SEAN: I was at one of those sold out shows at the IFC!
ALISSA: Yeah. And people thought, oh my goodness. Like, I must see this movie that everyone is going to. That’s a great, great way to light a fire underneath your movie. And it’s a great movie. People really liked it. So word of mouth was very helpful there. But that’s an underdog.
ALISSA: We have Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. On the other hand, which is Tarantino, came out actually the same day at Cannes as Parasite did.
ALISSA: But it has a totally different narrative attached to it, which is that this is a film about Hollywood. Right. This is a almost a love letter to how Hollywood used to be to an older age.
<CLIP> ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: Hello, everybody. This is Alan Kincaid on the set of the exciting Get NBC and Screen Gems television series Bounty Law.
ALISSA: You know, it’s a movie about kind of one kind of acting, giving way to another kind of acting.
<CLIP> ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD: Now, if you think you’re seeing double. Don’t adjust your television sets because, well, in a way, you are.
ALISSA: And especially for Hollywood, people who feel like their industry is changing right now with the advent of streaming and things like that. It feels like that’s a movie that kind of taps into a feeling they’re having, too, of nostalgia. We also have movies like, for instance, 1917, which if I was allowed to place bets, that’s probably the one that I would bet on as best picture winner.
COLIN FIRTH: Deliver this to Colonel Mackenzie. There’s a direct order to cool off tomorrow morning’s attack. If you don’t, we will lose two battalions. Sixteen hundred men, your brother among them.
ALISSA: It’s a movie that’s kind of a very classic Hollywood film about like courage in the face of war.
COLIN FIRTH: You think you can get there in time?
DEAN-CHARLES CHAPMAN: Yes sir.
ALISSA: The idea of like someone persevering and overcoming the odds. This has always done really well at the Oscars. People just really like those kinds of movies.
ALISSA: And you might say the same thing about the Irishman potentially. Right. I mean, here’s another movie from arguably the master of American cinema, Martin Scorsese. It replicates a lot of what’s been popular about his work for a really long time and kind of puts a new spin on it.
<CLIP> THE IRISHMAN:
STEPHEN GRAHAM: This is how you dress in Florida? In a suit?
AL PACINO: For a meeting? Anywhere. Florida, Timbuktu, I dress in a suit. For a meeting.
ALISSA: I think the reason that one might be kind of coasting in, not at the position it hopes in the rankings is that it’s a Netflix movie and there’s still a large contingent of Hollywood that thinks Netflix is trying to kill Hollywood and that it’s killing the theatrical experience.
SEAN: You know, the whole time I was watching The Irishman, I was just thinking, this is great, but I’d love it more as a coffee table book.
ALISSA: <Laughs> Well, I have a coffee table book for you, Sean.
SEAN: Now, you keep it. It’s worth eighty dollars.
SCORING FADE OUT
SEAN: I wonder, with a movie like The Irishman, you got someone like Joe Pesci who like came out of retirement out of his like, you know, pushy cave to make this movie for his buddy Martin Scorsese. I can’t see that dude engaging in the Oscar campaign, engaging in a narrative, getting out there, telling the story to win an award. Does that happen? Do people ever say, like, man, this isn’t for me, I don’t want to do this?
ALISSA: Yeah, they do. I mean, Pesci actually has gotten the nomination in spite of that. But I think that’s because he’s a larger than life person. But yeah, not all actors love being on the road all the time. It’s exhausting. It’s several months of just going to awards dinners every night, maybe listening to yourself lose to the same person every night. And that can sometimes sink their chances. There were stories last year about, you know, Bradley Cooper just not loving that kind of a limelight. And that widely is considered to be one of the reasons, you know, he didn’t end up doing as well with A Star Is Born as he wants.
SEAN: I mean, is it a bad thing, the campaigning? I mean, is there a better way to do this or is this just the nature of the beast? Everyone still wants an Oscar, I guess, right?
ALISSA: Everyone wants an Oscar because they want to keep working. And an Oscar really makes it more possible for you to keep working because an Oscar winner gets hired. Right. Or even an Oscar nominee. On the other hand, you know, the campaign is kind of distasteful to a lot of people. And the academy likes to keep up this fiction that it doesn’t actually happen, that this is oh, these are people just going around and sort of going to parties and they’re winning on the merits. And it’s better if we remember that people are winning partly because they campaign really well. At the end of the day, I think everyone maybe wishes that the genie had never been let out of the bottle. But it has happened, and unless the rules are really tightened, it will probably continue to go the way it is.
SEAN: And like the Academy isn’t changing anytime soon, which means movies like Little Women or female directors like Greta Gerwig might just suffer under the weight of this sort of old guard.
ALISSA: I think that at some point a critical mass will be reached where enough of the Academy looks at a movie like Little Women and sees that, ‘Hey, this is actually a genius movie, right?’ This is great writing. Just because all of the characters in this film are women doesn’t mean that it’s not for men. But that does not seem to be what’s happening right now.
SCORING – ALL THESE PIECES
ALISSA: It’s going to take a while. You know, once you’re in the academy, you’re basically in for life. And so it’s going to take a long time for the composition to change.
SEAN: This whole time we’ve been talking about the big categories. The big movies. What about those little ones? After the break, how David got Goliath to notice he existed.
It’s Today, Explained.
MARSHALL CURRY (DIRECTOR): I’m Marshall Curry and I am a director. I directed the short live action fiction film “The Neighbour’s Window,” which is up for an Oscar this year.
SEAN: You’ve been to a few Academy Awards ceremonies. Is that fair?
MARSHALL: Yep, that’s right. So this will be my fourth. But the first for fiction. So I’ve had two feature length documentaries that were nominated and one short documentary.
SEAN: Cool, so, I mean, most of this episode we’ve been talking about the big campaigns that people like, you know, Harvey Weinstein have run
SEAN: …and big studios. It sounds like your experience might be slightly different, but I still have to ask, like, do you still run a campaign for, you know, best short, best documentary, short stuff like that?
MARSHALL: Yeah. I mean, so my first film came out in 2005, 2006. It was called “Street Fight.” It was about Cory Booker’s first run for mayor.
SEAN: I remember that!
MARSHALL: And that year we were up against March of the Penguins, which had made more money than any movie up for best picture that year.
SEAN: Mmm. I remember that, too.
MARSHALL: We had a screening in New York. We hosted the screening in L.A. I remember sort of putting my pennies together and buying a quarter page ad, a for your consideration ad that a friend of mine who’s a graphic designer designed for me in the documentary edition of The Hollywood Reporter and in Variety. And I thought like, wow, that’s that’s a real campaign. I like cut it out later and stuck it in my scrapbook as this… this was my campaign. But of course, when I got that addition in the mail, I saw that March of the Penguins had bought the entire cover.
SEAN: Oh, no!
MARSHALL: I just thought, oh, well, I did my part.
SEAN: So what did you do after your March of the Penguins experience? Because you got nominated again after that. Right?
MARSHALL: Right. Last year I had a short documentary that was nominated and it was called “A Night at the Garden.” It was only seven minutes long. It’s the shortest film nominated for an Oscar in like 50 years, I think people were saying. And it is all archival footage of a Nazi rally that filled Madison Square Garden in 1939. At this rally, 20,000 New Yorkers arrived carrying American flags. They said the Pledge of Allegiance.
<CLIP> MAN: I pledge undivided allegiance to the flag of the United States of America…
MARSHALL: And there was a huge 30 foot portrait of George Washington with swastikas on either side of them. And there were swastikas all over the room.
TRAILER MUSIC FADES IN
MARSHALL: And the leader takes the stage.
<CLIP> FRITZ JULIUS KUHN: You all have heard of me through the Jewish controlled press as a creature with horns, a cloven hoof, and a long tail.
MARSHALL: He attacks the press for lying about him. And he tells the audience that we need to take back America from the minorities who are destroying it.
<CLIP> KUHN: We, with American ideals, demand that our government shall be returned to the American people who founded it.
MARSHALL: And a protester runs out on stage and gets beaten up.
<CLIP> A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN
MARSHALL: While the crowd laughs and cheers.
<CLIP> A NIGHT AT THE GARDEN
MARSHALL: It felt weirdly contemporary, and so the entire film is just this archival footage with no commentary, no interviews. And for that, we decided that we would buy a 30 second television ad on Sean Hannity’s show. It was only archival footage of the rally. And then at the end, it says, “It can happen here. For your consideration.” But The Washington Post wrote a story about the fact that we had bought the ad and the CEO of Fox News must have seen that story because she personally intervened and killed our ad from being allowed to run on Sean Hannity’s show.
MARSHALL: And she made a big mistake, which is that she told the booker of the ad that she had personally rejected it.
MARSHALL: And so suddenly it became a huge story. What is it about America’s history that Fox News doesn’t want Sean Hannity’s viewers to know? What is it about this story that’s so frightening that they’re going to turn down an ad? So we took it to CNN, we took it to NBC, both of whom happily accepted the ad and aired it. And it became a story with hundreds of news stories about the fact that Sean Hannity’s show and Fox News’s CEO had personally rejected this thing from being allowed to be shown on Fox News.
SEAN: Wow. So this is like a real, like, advertising coup for you.
MARSHALL: It was crazy. I mean, it turned a very small ad buy into, you know, ten thousand times as much publicity.
<CLIP> THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: Fox News has rejected a national ad for the Oscar nominated anti-Nazi documentary short “A Night at the Garden” But The Hollywood Reporter has learned that a Fox News ad sales representatives said network leadership deemed it inappropriate.
SEAN: Do you have any idea why? Like a Fox executive reached in to personally reject your ad?
MARSHALL: I think that they recognized that we were trying to warn Hannity’s viewers that in 1939 there were demagogues who were attacking the press and during violence against protesters and and scapegoating minorities and wrapping all of this stuff in patriotism. And I think Hannity is an enabler of that kind of demagoguery today. So I was trying to go around him to speak directly to his audiences. And I think the people at Fox, the CEO of Fox, recognized that and didn’t want us to speak to his audiences.
SEAN: So by your own measure, did that really work as a campaign? Did you get more people watching your short documentary?
MARSHALL: A ton. I mean, the film was online, so you could just see the numbers explode. And I think it also helped us. You know, with the Academy, we didn’t end up winning. But I heard from lots of people that they had heard on NPR, they’d heard on CNN and MSNBC and places like that about the controversy. And it had made them watch the film and they saw the relevance in it.
SEAN: Well, I hope you win it this time around I’ll be paying extra attention during the best live action short film category and I’ll be listening for the name Marshall Curry.
MARSHALL: Thanks. Thanks. Nice to talk with you.
SEAN: You know what they say fourth time’s a charm.
MARSHALL: Is that what they say? I’m not sure about that.
PRESENTER 1: And the Academy Award for Best Daily News Podcast…
PRESENTER 2: You’re impossible! Come on… The Daily!
ANNOUNCER: This is the Daily’s third nomination and first award.
MIKEY B: Today. The Academy has given us the greatest honor in podcasting. So why now?
EFIM: I’m sorry no! There’s a mistake! Today, Explained. You guys won best podcast.
EFIM: This is not a joke. I’m afraid they read the wrong thing. Today Explained… You’re the best daily news podcast.
ANNOUNCER: This is Today, Explained’s first nomination and first award.
SEAN: Oh my goodness! Thank you. I wanna thank the Daily first and foremost. Love your work. Mom, dad, Nim, we did it! And oh my gosh. Umm… the producers. We wouldn’t be here without YOU. Haleema Shah, Brigid McCarthy, Amina al-Sadi, Noam Hassenfeld. Noam made so much music, too. Along with the Mysterious Breakmaster Cylinder. I can’t believe I’m saying your name on this stage right now Breakmaster. Thanks to Efim “THIS IS OUR DREAM” Shapiro. We did it, brother! And Jillian Weinberger who’s always been there for us. Ohh, mann… I know I’m forgetting someone.
SEAN STARTS TO GET PLAYED OFF – THE TALES OF HOFFMAN
SEAN: Cecilia Lei, thank you for having us back throughout this project.
And to everyone at the Vox Media Podcast Network, I know you’re staying up extra late to watch this on the East Coast, but we did it! Now, go to sleep! See you guys back at work on Monday. Thank you!
The Dire Dangers of Narcissism
Though I’m professionally distant from today’s media luminaries, I have a particular personal interest in the current narcissistic spectacle du jour: I went to college and was friends with Harvey Weinstein nearly a half a century ago.
With an admixture of feelings, I watch the scandal unfold. I’m horrified and angry at what Weinstein is charged with perpetrating. I’m confused and saddened by my former friend’s behavior. Yet, I’m not surprised, given what I remember about Harvey when we were students. That’s not to say I could have predicted this. I don’t identify with interviewees solicited by journalists to tell what they knew of ignominious scoundrels before they committed their heinous acts. Harvey Weinstein—from first impression of him being grandiose, sycophantic, and magnanimously generous to the progression of his unstable and rampant ambition—was intense, needy, insecure, ingratiating, and over-the-top in his endeavors.
I’m not invested in justifying or scourging Harvey. He’ll get whatever the consequences of his actions bring—spiritually and legally. I feel sorry for him, but ever more sorry for, and indignant about, the victims he is accused of abusing, exploiting, bullying, and oppressing. Such injustice must be vindicated—but that is not up to me. As a psychologist, my goal is to unravel and shed light upon the inner forces that develop into disastrous behavior. Since I consorted with Harvey and knew him well decades ago, I want to lay bare the seminal roots of an accused tyrant before he became one.
As a psychologist, I have something to contribute by explaining the wily dangers of narcissism, thus allowing potential victims to be informed and better protected. As an American citizen, I am alarmed and wary about the course and future of our country, our people and our principles. As a father, husband, and person with strengths and weaknesses who is desirous of healthy relationships, I, too, am vulnerable. Narcissism is an insidious monster, born of a needy and unstable ego that lurks for years, nursing its perceived wounds, until it explodes in aggressive and blind perpetrations. A healthy self-image must be nurtured. It can be achieved by hard work that includes the basis for self-respect and the practice of respect for others. Though the development of narcissism is neither predictable nor clearly delineated, certain factors may contribute to a self-aggrandizing ego and overbearing sense of entitlement:
- a “silver-spoon” upbringing, where material things and excessively indulgent opportunities became integral elements in the family culture;
- exposure to a series of traumas and humiliations;
- use of embarrassment to modify childhood misbehavior;
- employing self-flagellation to cope with insecurity; or simply
- relying on an escapist fantasy and the transformative illusion of becoming a legend and hero in one’s mirror.
Though we may recoil from the exaggerated hubris of the narcissist, we should also be respectful and thankful for not traveling along such an isolating and destructive path. As my mother often said: “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” To live a life of worthiness and honor, one must embrace gratitude and humility.
What Happened to You, Harvey Weinstein?
Do you remember me, Harvey? I know you’ve got a lot on your mind these days; but I’ll bet that if you heard my name, you’d say, “Mark… how the hell are you doing?” We go back a long way, Harvey, to some wild days at the University of Buffalo.
Remember the crowd? Janis Siegel (affectionately called Pumpkin), who went on to acclaim as a singer with Manhattan Transfer. And the creative and iconic Jay Beckenstein, jazz saxophonist with Spyrogyra.
Remember those all-nighters, the 4:00 AM greasy burgers at Your Host Restaurant? The anguished, drugged-out rants and discussions about the universe, who we were, and where we were going?
We grew up and went out in the world to different places. You were amazing, Harvey: intense, sycophantic, driven, disturbed, and needy. I identified with you—Jewish kids from New York, arrived in a blue collar city, ready to take over and show how much we knew and how things should be done.
You floundered, and then soared. It wasn’t long before you traded academics for an entrepreneurial path, on your way to becoming a juggernaut. You founded Harvey & Corky Productions, bringing big-name musical talent to downtown Buffalo. You soon rubbed shoulders with the top names and icons of our generation. It must have been intoxicating, far beyond the drugs that most used to reach for peace and imagined self-importance.
Throughout the years, I watched your movies and cheered you on. There goes Harvey Weinstein—I knew him in college; we were friends. I envied your success. From my intimate knowledge of your personality, I suspected that you were not happy or fulfilled. How could you be, never filling the immense void within you with something other than riches and accolades? Not to diminish your sweeping achievements. But you were so needy and insecure. How could anything the world had to offer be enough?
I wrote to you fifteen years ago, hoping to reconnect. But I never got a response.
Apparently, you tried to fill your deep inner void with surreptitious trysts, using your money and influence to sway and dominate young women—impressionable and aspiring beauties you used for your lustful and egotistical purposes. You used your money, power, and influence to lord it over people, to take advantage of them, and to coerce their silence. The chickens have come home to roost; the truth will not be hidden; you are exposed and in trouble.
It’s not for me to judge you Harvey. I just want to tell you something about women and men and power and accountability.
Females are not immune from deceit, hypocrisy, and the fleshly litany of sins. But females are to be protected and respected. They are “weaker” in some sense, but immensely more powerful than men in many respects. Our society inherently imposes on women mixed messages, psychological traumas, economic discrimination, and often the raw end of many deals. Our culture exalts and worships physical appeal, but quickly disregards and discards worthwhile human beings when their outward beauty fades. Ironically, we exalt and worship physical beauty, and yet we exploit it. The fleeting blooms of pulchritude and stardom leave women vulnerable and with undeserved dismissal or ostracism. Too many men strut their machismo, stricken with envy (and with the fantasy) that a woman can have sex any time she wants (whereas many men have to feel they must lure or seduce). Unfortunately, some men act out of this context to take advantage and force or exploit women. When the playing field becomes overly imbalanced, many women either withdraw into resentful passive aggressiveness—avoiding or manipulating intimacy—or act out with hostile projection—rejecting men or typecasting them as insensitive and only interested in exploitative sex. Though there’s plenty of blame to spread around, men bear the burden—historically, we have been at fault by dominating women and isolating them from full and equal participation in society.
With your overarching success, Harvey, you now have trouble (tsouris, in Yiddish) on a grand scale. My heart aches for you, and I pray for you.
I have some advice for you, Harvey, my dear old friend: it’s time for you to make amends, to acknowledge your wrongdoing, to seek forgiveness, and to make restitution—no holds barred. I know you must now resort to posturing for strategic legal reasons, but you are going to sacrifice a lot of money to pay for your mistakes. You can no longer “buy” people (and certainly not their silence). You will feel alone, and will be alone. You will have to give up the pretenses you have long abused to fill the abyss and mollify the gargantuan ego that hides the empty Harvey Weinstein.
Yet, there is someone valuable, tender, sensitive, worthwhile inside the blustering and offensive Harvey. This is an opportunity to find out who you really are, to change the offensiveness, and to develop into an honorable person.
God has used you, Harvey, and he is not done yet. Through these scandals, he is using you writ large to teach others; and he is bringing you to your knees in the hope that you will stay there and begin to acknowledge and worship him.
Truer riches await you, my friend, if you will only repent and ask for divine forgiveness and guidance. You must also seek forgiveness from the people you hurt, so many of them. It’s time to be open, sincere, and humble. You must unequivocally repent.
Years ago, you founded a big company—Miramax—named after your parents, Max and Miriam Weinstein. What would they think of their son now? I never knew Max or Miriam, but I am sure they always loved you. Why, Harvey, has it been so difficult for you to feel love?
The Harvey Weinstein I knew nearly half a century ago could never relax. He always had to prove something, to get more and show more. You were an intense and difficult person. But you were likable, Harvey, and you didn’t have to try so hard.
The term narcissism is taken from Greek mythology. Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and nymph Liriope. He was proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. He was drawn to a pool, where he saw his own reflection in the water and fell in love with it (himself), not realizing it was merely an image.
Today, narcissism is a psychiatric diagnosis and considered a mental disorder. It is also often used disparagingly in common parlance and description. Narcissism involves extreme selfishness, with a grandiose view of one’s own talents and a craving for admiration, and has come to characterize a personality type. Narcissists think extremely highly of themselves and are often driven to seek validation of their worthiness and inflated self-opinion by soliciting and even demanding the approval of others. They delude themselves that their boorish machinations and manipulations of others testify to their own self-worth. Though they may be capable of compassion and empathy, narcissists are so preoccupied with their own selfish interests and with validating themselves that they typically ignore or do not consider or recognize others’ needs, even the people closest to them.
Narcissists’ classic “me-first” posture often leads them to resort to aggressive acts that allow them to dominate or “win,” regardless of the costs. They love and need to be the center of attention, often usurping the limelight, dominating conversations, and controlling situations and people to serve their own ends.
It is when they are challenged or confronted with reality that the true pathological character of narcissists flagrantly emerges. Narcissists’ fragile self-image and ego structure do not allow them to acknowledge the egregious nature of their self-importance. Thus, is it is rare for them to apologize or admit wrongdoing. Remorse and repentance for their offensive actions almost never occurs (think Trump).
Thus, narcissists often have a problem with reality-testing; that is, they can only perceive events and circumstances from the same perspective as others when such “reality” supports and buttresses themselves in a positive and flattering light. Unfortunately, this infrequently happens. Instead narcissists twist and distort reality to suit their own views, inevitably causing confusion, alienation, and damage to relationships and the integrity and well-being of others. They constantly use people in devious ways, and invariably deny their motives and the unpleasant effects upon others. Narcissists have confounding and appalling obsession to blame others for what they themselves have done. A psychological term for this is projection. This is denial at its craftiest, and it is infuriating (again, think Trump).
When dealing with and referring to people who thought too highly of themselves, a dear friend of mine use to quip. “I’d like to buy you for what you’re really worth, and sell you for what you think you’re worth.”
We can shake our heads in disbelief or disgust at narcissism, and we can mock this condition with humor. However, don’t underestimate the dire danger of narcissism as the disorder affects all those who come into contact with the narcissist. Narcissists cannot have good relationships because they view others as opportunities to validate and gratify themselves. In psychoanalytic terms, they have poorly developed object relations. In plain language, this means that they cannot separate and distinguish between themselves and the legitimate perceptions, opinions, values, desires, and needs of others. What others experience (including hurt or neglect perpetrated by the narcissist) is blocked by the arrogant, center-stage prominence of the narcissist’s own needs.
Dealing With Narcissists
Because narcissists live in a bubble of self-absorption and denial, it’s very hard to break through their manipulations and defenses. Normal people (allowing for differences among individuals) have varying abilities to admit mistakes, acknowledge wrongdoing, apologize with sincerity, recognize their flaws and trespasses along with the negative impact upon others, and modify their behaviors to minimize the negative effects of selfishness. Not so with narcissists, as this is the core of their personality disorder.
It may be helpful to review the following guidelines in dealing with people you suspect of narcissism:
Expect self-centeredness and reality distortion
Because narcissists’ self-absorbed attitudes and responses are often provocative, it’s tempting to react with consternation, indignation, umbrage, and the like. However, if you keep your dismay and outrage to yourself, you’ll be in a better position to question the behaviors with a strategy of setting limits. Instead of expressing your emotional reactions to narcissistic self-centeredness, practice the strategies listed below.
Refrain from demonstrative emotional reactions
Tie responses to facts, evidence, and questions
When faced with narcissists’ bold claims, quietly question the bases for such statements. Or, just ignore them. For example, someone may proudly announce, “These people don’t know how to drive. I happen to be one of the best drivers on the road.” You could say, “ I guess so. But there is the issue of your three moving violations and numerous parking tickets.” Or, you could just let it go, and smirk to yourself.
Sometimes, simply questioning the basis for outrageous statements is enough to slow down the narcissist’s bluster. Remember Trump’s tirades about how he “knows more about Isis than any general in the military,” and his defiant complaint that he is “the victim of the greatest witch hunt in history”? There is no shutting down such an ego. However, one might ask, “Where did you acquire your military knowledge, and why were you not consulted and solicited before you became president?”
“Please give us some details about the other witch hunts against which you compare your own alleged persecution.”
And don’t expect an intelligent and coherent response to your questions!
Preface accountability and confrontations with acknowledgment and legitimate praise
Narcissists perceive questions, challenges, and alternate opinions—even facts—as threats to and defamation of their integrity. Therefore, it’s helpful to preface and intersperse your messages of accountability with reasonable and relevant praise toward the person whom you’re trying to get to really listen to you. Even appealing to their putative sense of discernment and justice may get you farther along on your attempts to bring reality into the conversation.
When I deal with pie-in-the sky people who live inside dreams inflated by their own sense of self-worth and entitlement, I find it prudent to ask, “I understand that, given your abilities and track record (?!), you expect this to work out as you’ve favorably planned…, but because you are smart, have you formulated an alternative scenario and plan?”
Set boundaries and repeat if-then consequences as they pertain to the narcissist’s behaviors
Inevitably, narcissists repeatedly step on the toes of others. Their transgressions may be verbal and/or they may take vindictive actions (hello again, Mr. Trump). Their self-aggrandizement can make it hard to keep a straight face; or, their attitude of entitlement may carry implicit threats for noncompliance or resistance. (Harvey Weinstein got away with his egregious behavior in large part due to his political and economic influence, much of which he wielded against much less powerful women. When he ultimately confronted a woman who was formidable and courageous, she pulled the plug, and the dirty slimy water that had accumulated in the bathtub over the decades slurped down the drain. Harvey was left sitting naked and shivering in his own filth.)
Granted, it’s not for individuals to take on the President of the United States. But the collective violations and outrage are propelling Trump to his comeuppance. Kudos to the brave people who have spoken the truth and challenged Trump, even at risk to their own reputations and careers! That takes integrity, confidence, and courage!
And Harvey? My old friend, your bullying and predation have ironically transformed the zeitgeist. Your secret life of lust, aggression, and intimidation now exposed has caused trauma and harm—shame on you! However, the notoriety has caused a groundswell of indignation, objection, and cries for justice. You have become the agent of change, long overdue.
The message is clear: If you abuse or intimidate women, it will come to light and you will pay.
Solicit commitments, promises, and contracts in writing
Remember that, as part of their sense of entitlement, narcissists do not hesitate to change the rules—including their agreements, commitments, promises, and respect for others’ needs—when it suits their purposes. Therefore, it’s wise to make a habit of solidifying commitments and promises in writing, with dates and signatures if possible. Though the self-entitled may scoff and sneer at such requests, pretend you are prone to mistaking the details, since your memory might not be as good as theirs (!) and remind them of the pithy saying, Black and white on paper is a lot clearer than the gray matter of the brain.
In other words, play dumb, like a fox. The narcissist may pity you and indulge you.
At the very least, keep your own meticulous records with details of words, actions, and dates. E-mails and texts establish a continual, accessible, and practical audit trail, useful for holding the narcissist accountable, especially when deception and conflict arise.
Be prepared for breaches of trust, intimacy, and fidelity
Precautions and attentiveness notwithstanding, you cannot change the basic flawed character of the narcissist. That’s not to say that people don’t change. Life experience, traumas, pain, and consequences are all great teachers. They even teach to the seemingly robust and impregnable bravado of narcissists (and, at best, it takes awhile). In his own way and with his own timing, God chips away at the lives and consciences of the foolish and hurtful. At his own discretion, he causes miracles to happen.
But the very nature of narcissism attacks trust, empathy, and consideration. Don’t be surprised when the narcissist (repeatedly) violates boundaries, flaunts rules, and sabotages trust, intimacy, and even your own faith. Remain loving, but be cautious and be prepared. Your sensitivity and good intentions are no match for the power of narcissism. Engaging in an argument or a major adversarial battle with a narcissist can be akin to stepping into the ring with a mixed martial arts fighter. No holds are bared. Be prepared for the unexpected. Be on guard. Protect yourself at all times. Expect hyperbole, manipulated facts, concocted falsehoods, inconsistencies, and outrageous lies. It’s all part of the package.
Narcissism’s Dire Consequences
Donald Trump and Harvey Weinstein are but two notorious narcissistic icons—caricatures writ large in a field of opportunism. Their transgressions leave us aghast, wondering how such egregious behavior could have escalated and continued.
Surely, someone like Weinstein, if indicted and convicted of a crime or crimes in a court of law, must be thwarted and punished. Trump is a much more complex matter involving political and constitutional issues that are still in the process of unfolding. However, the important take-home message is that there are many like them—young, old, male, female, prominent, less significant—who foist their attitudes and perpetrations upon the unsuspecting and vulnerable, the psychologically and experientially less sophisticated, and those with fewer defenses and resources.
Narcissists may be overtly offensive, or they may be furtive and wily—sheep in wolves’ clothing. In a culture that has inveterately promoted self-centeredness and a “me-first” value system, narcissists may seem to embody the cultural virtues, to blend in and prevail over the competition. But you will recognize them by their intransigence and lack of compassion for the basic welfare and psychological well-being of others. As legends in their own mirrors (or pools, as with the Greek Narcissus), they deem themselves the only ones who matter.
As a society, we should focus attention on identifying, dissuading, and modifying the development of narcissistic character. Respect for women—pervasive societal, legal, accommodating respect—is surely a good place to start. We are beginning to painfully learn those lessons.
But the battle against misogyny is not enough. Parents must teach their children that the world does not “owe” them. The government should provide more than minimal education and health care—service, schooling, and training that focuses on character development and resources for the ravages of character failure, including disorders of emotional bonding, anxiety, depression, trauma, and the depredations of addiction.
We need to return to God, individually and collectively. Each of us determines our own personal relationship with or abandonment of our Creator. Religion should not be forced. But spiritual living should be foundational and institutionally encouraged. The development of the soul and its conscience and compassion is incompatible with the “me-first” ethos that culturally reinforces narcissism.
When tragedy strikes, we become voracious Monday morning quarterbacks. We scrutinize the history of assassins and predators, looking for clues that should have exposed them earlier. However, social autopsies on misfits will not relieve us of the larger problem, nor will those efforts alone avert the perverse development of unhealthy, megalomaniac egos.
We must become a society, through and through, that values humility and teaches people, rank and file, to put others first. Against such a social norm, the Trumps and Weinsteins will identify themselves early as faulty people who need discipline, correction, and guidance to develop true and healthy self-love.
Narcissism may never be eliminated, for we are a prideful and sinful species. With regard to selfish insensitivity, some are given to robust excess, even to the point of outright cruelty. Recoil as we might from Trump and Weinstein, we should learn that we need to expose them earlier in order to prevent the devastating potential of narcissism from exerting its will.
Farewell to the Harvey I Knew
We can’t live in the past. The Harvey Weinstein I knew nearly a half century ago has gone his own way, as have I.
In college, you looked up to me, Harvey. In your desperate neediness, you couldn’t see through my pretense, my needing to appear hip and avant-garde. If I’d had your talents, Harvey, perhaps I would have gone much farther astray than I did. Money and fame eluded me, but I guess I was luckier than you. And life did not let me get away with what, in my insouciant arrogance and ambition, I secretly wanted to.
If we could have coffee, I’d share with you some of the ordeals that happened in my life, what I’ve learned and about the people who taught me. Despite many setbacks and traumas, I’ve been fortunate. I have loved and been loved. Women have been great teachers to me, some intimate, some maternal, and many have been platonic, wonderful influences. I have learned to respect women and to not take advantage of them. Except for my wife, I regard them as sisters, mothers, and daughters. I treat them with biblically directed protection, respect, and deference. I joke (respectfully) about the differences between men and women. I note with professional acumen the stereotypes that frequently characterize the brains and demeanors of the two sexes. I’ve written a book about this, too, aimed at improving harmony and satisfaction in marriage relationships.
With maturity, I have more confidence and less need to prove myself or be the center of attention. I’m more able to appreciate the difficulties women have in a male-dominated world. I’m grounded enough to speak up and to model for males how to respect, value, protect, and share equally with females.
With God’s help and the stringent sanctions of many people who knocked me off my self-constructed pedestal and put me in a proper place, I’ve tamed most of my narcissistic tendencies.
The Harvey Weinstein I knew has grown and devolved. Farewell naïve and callow college buddy. I still recognize you, Harvey; beneath the atrocities, there is a boy, now a man, desperate for satisfying love. I hope this is God’s way of teaching you how to find it.
— Mark Steinberg, Ph.D.
Investigative journalist Ronan Farrow spoke with “Good Morning America” Friday about the stunning revelations from his upcoming book on reporting stories that fueled the #MeToo movement.
A portion of Farrow’s upcoming book, “Catch and Kill,” includes the allegation from a former NBC News producer that Matt Lauer raped her while they were covering the Sochi Olympics in 2014.
Farrow talks about obtaining a recording from alleged Weinstein victim Ambra Gutierrez. His NBC producer Rich McHugh predicted the tape would be “the beginning of the end” for Weinstein.
We live in polarized times, but one thing still seems to be shared across the political divide: sexual misconduct. As Ronan Farrow documents in his absorbing new book, “Catch and Kill,” mistreating women is a bipartisan enterprise.
This can make for some twisted alliances. Farrow describes how he put together his explosive 2017 exposé of numerous sexual assault and harassment allegations against the Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, a longtime Democratic fund-raiser and “part of the brain trust around Hillary Clinton.” (Farrow’s article ran in The New Yorker in October 2017, five days after Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey of The Times published their article detailing harassment allegations against Weinstein.)
Farrow quotes gleeful emails between Weinstein and Dylan Howard, the editor of The National Enquirer, whose parent company, American Media Inc., was run by David Pecker, a staunch supporter of Donald J. Trump’s. Howard forwarded Weinstein some “dirt” on the actor Rose McGowan, who had tweeted the month before about “my rapist,” whom she didn’t name. “This is the killer,” Weinstein wrote. “Especially if my fingerprints r not on this.”
“Catch and Kill” gets its title from a tabloid practice that A.M.I. had honed over the years: purchasing a story in order to bury it. A.M.I.’s strategy is an essential part of this book’s narrative, but what Farrow suggests is that NBC News, which employed him at the time, did something with the Weinstein story that wasn’t entirely dissimilar. Instead of hush money, Farrow says, NBC officials used the institutional levers at their disposal to shut down his work on Weinstein — from intermittent discouragement to elaborate stonewalling to a legal review that turned out to be both labyrinthine and absurd.
They even ordered Farrow and his steadfast producer, Rich McHugh, to take the rather extraordinary step of halting their reporting; then, when Farrow’s article ran in The New Yorker, NBC released a statement saying that the reporting NBC officials saw (and that Farrow says they tried to impede) had not been up to snuff.
Farrow documents the bafflement and frustration he felt as he and McHugh devised strategies to continue with their news gathering. Getting women to talk on the record about sexual trauma is exceedingly difficult, requiring delicate negotiations and an enormous amount of trust. When NBC ordered Farrow to stop his interviews, he was put in the position of trying to reassure his nervous sources while his employer wasn’t reassuring him at all.
In “Catch and Kill,” Farrow talks candidly about his relationship with his adopted sister Dylan, who has long said that their father, Woody Allen, molested her when she was a child. Making his way to a hard-won interview with McGowan, Ronan — who feels guilty for asking Dylan years ago why she couldn’t “move on” — asked his sister’s advice for how to talk to someone who’s “accusing a very powerful person of a very serious crime.”
“Well, this is the worst part,” Dylan told him. “The considering. The waiting for the story.” She continued: “If you get this, don’t let it go, O.K.?”
He didn’t let it go, though there were plenty of people who tried to pry him loose. In addition to the “all white, all male” chain of command at NBC, there was Weinstein himself, waging a war on all fronts.Part of the book is about Black Cube, the mysterious Israeli firm that Weinstein’s team hired to conduct intelligence work, like compile dossiers on journalists (Kantor and Twohey’s recent book, “She Said,” recounts their experiences with the firm, too). Farrow learned about Black Cube when he started to receive leaks from two different sources. A Nissan Pathfinder he kept seeing in front of his home turned out to be a tail. He received multiple barrages of spam texts; he later learned that the texts were possibly connected to attempts to track his cellphone.
But Weinstein also cultivated an inside line to NBC itself. He would bark out the names of NBC’s top brass so that his assistants would get them on the phone and he could start cajoling and bullying. At a Time magazine gala, Farrow learned that Noah Oppenheim, the president of NBC News, was sitting at a table with Weinstein.
In the book, the warning signs about Oppenheim start out small but ominous. Presented at one point with a considerable list of Farrow’s findings, including a recording of Weinstein admitting to groping women against their will, Oppenheim wasn’t entirely convinced. “I don’t know if that’s, you know, a crime,” he told Farrow. “We’ve gotta decide if it’s newsworthy.” (Farrow gets some sweet revenge by depicting Oppenheim as a slick yet pitiable figure; a running joke in “Catch and Kill” is how nobody likes the film “Jackie,” a “morose biopic” about John F. Kennedy’s widow that Oppenheim wrote.)
It became clear to Farrow that NBC’s chain of command was nervous about the story for reasons other than an excess of journalistic caution. He learned that the network had brokered at least seven nondisclosure agreements with women who brought complaints of discrimination or harassment at NBC. Weinstein might have known something about this too. In a phone call to Andy Lack, the chairman of NBC News, Weinstein griped that “your boy Ronan” was digging up stuff from “the ’90s” and added: “We all did that.”
One of the biggest revelations in “Catch and Kill,” revealed toward the end, is that a former NBC employee named Brooke Nevils says that the former NBC anchor Matt Lauer raped her, forcing her to have anal sex despite her repeated protestations that she didn’t want to. Nevils describes what happened in exacting, upsetting detail. “When she woke up,” Farrow writes, “blood was everywhere, soaked through her underwear, soaked through her sheets.”
Nevils, like some of the other women Farrow spoke to, continued to have sexual encounters with the man she says assaulted her. She says she was frightened for her career; Lauer maintains that their relationship was “consensual.” She told Farrow that after one encounter in Lauer’s office when he demanded that she give him oral sex, she asked him, “Why do you do this?” and he replied, “Because it’s fun.”
“Catch and Kill” is mainly about these women’s stories, and the dueling efforts to suppress them and to bring them to light, though Farrow knows how to leaven the narrative, slipping in scenes of the occasional domestic squabble between him and his partner, the former Obama speechwriter Jon Lovett, as well as offering some necessary comic relief. Farrow can be disarmingly wry — “I knew my way around a paternity rumor” — even when writing about another shadowy psyops firm spying on him and other journalists. He got his hands on a document that included observations about journalists’ Twitter followers. “Kantor is NOT following Ronan Farrow,” it said, to which he responds in this book: “You can’t have everything.”
It’s a lesson that Weinstein, accustomed to having it all, never seemed to learn. Farrow describes several fact-checking phone calls with Weinstein in the days before The New Yorker published the article. The petulant producer was incredulous that the recording of him admitting to groping women still existed; he had long believed his lawyers had arranged an agreement with the district attorney’s office that the tape, made during a police sting, would be “destroyed.” (Spokespeople for the district attorney’s office later told Farrow “they never agreed to destroy evidence,” though when he asked a contact there about the tape during the course of his reporting, the person found it referenced in the case files but couldn’t find it.)
The behavior documented in “Catch and Kill” is obviously and profoundly distressing — not just the horrific abuse, but the various methods available to moneyed men who want to keep women silent, and the many ways they try to rationalize their behavior to others and themselves.
But there are some hopeful threads, too.
The first has to do, strangely enough, with the fury with which Weinstein tried to stop the journalists following the story; his extreme measures indicated that he knew there were institutions with sufficient power to hold him to account.
The second has to do with how some of the people Weinstein tried to enlist in his efforts turned into conscientious objectors and helped the other side. One of those turncoats was “Sleeper,” who supplied Farrow with incriminating documents about Weinstein and Black Cube. Farrow can’t tell us much about this source, but he does tell us this: “She was a woman and she’d had enough.”