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American Treasure Tom Hanks Had a Very Bad Answer to the “What Do We Do About Sexual Predators?” Question

Meryl Streep, Too.

For most of us, Tom Hanks is in the category of “If anything terrible ever came out about this person, I will shoot myself into space.” So rest easy, Hanks has not been added to the ever-growing list of Bad Men. He is, however, veering awfully close to Bad Men Apologist territory.

In a BuzzFeed Q&A promoting The Post, Hanks and Meryl Streep got into a discussion about separating the art from the artist. Hanks’ response falls short of our own favored stance of “F*ck ’em all.” Really short.

“If you threw out every film or TV show that was made by an asshole,” he said, “Netflix would go out of business.” That was clearly a joke, but in reality, YES, FINE. If we have to hand the reigns of film and television over to women and non-predatory men, the industry will be fine. Ratings will be fine–that’s being proven already. Oh no, Brett Ratner and Woody Allen have to stop making movies? That’s not that big a price to pay. All we have left are shows made by women and, like, Bryan Fuller? GREAT! The industry would be fine. We would be fine.

Let’s also be clear, there is a big difference between an “asshole” and a man who abuses his power to sexually harass and assault someone, let alone many someones systematically over their entire career.

He went on, “I think you do just have to–you wait. Because this is a long game. Picasso was a womanizer–this is not excusing anybody. You just have to wait and see how it settles over the long haul. This is not a sprint, this is a marathon. I think work does speak for itself, but character does come into the conversation at some point, but I think that lands over time.”

“At some point.” “Over time.” How does Hanks think these things happen? Because they’re happening now, thanks to a whole lot of people who are refusing to continue the wait and see line of defense. I adore Tom Hanks, but it’s not surprising that from his position, sexual predation and its effects on the very real victims might look like it can be “a marathon” seen best through hindsight.

It’s funny that he should mention Picasso. Just a few weeks ago, a Picasso exhibit came through my town and I was struck by just how obvious his misogyny was in his art. I knew he was a horrible womanizer and misogynist, but I’d never noticed how blatant that view is in his work, especially when drawing the figures representing his wife and girlfriends in relation to himself. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it–or at least I couldn’t.

And that’s what we’re seeing with all of these men. The art and the artist aren’t separate. Louis C.K. and Woody Allen were always telling us who they are through their work. It’s foolish to think that men like Matt Lauer and Charlie Rose–who decided the stories they wanted to report on and, as we now see, clearly had major issues with disrespecting and undervaluing women–didn’t influence the news cycle, didn’t influence what we think of as newsworthy.

For the history of art and entertainment, we’ve been separating the art from the artist and it’s obvious who suffers: women and POC. Young queer men. Anyone these predators sense any sort of vulnerability from. If Picasso were living today, maybe his career would be cut short. You know who we would no doubt have instead? An incredible number of other artists, including the women Picasso trampled on and the African artists that inspired his Cubism work in the first place.

And if Picasso were living, say, 20 years from now, he might (hopefully, in the brightest timeline outcome of how this entire current reckoning progresses) have the chance to be coming up in a system that does not value or reward men who abuse their power and rely on fame or talent to keep women down. Then he could choose between his art and his womanizing. The dream is to someday live in a world where one is not excused–let alone celebrated–so we can have the other.

For her part, here’s what Meryl Streep (who, elsewhere in the interview, criticized the lack of women in positions of power in Hollywood) had to say:

We still revere Shakespeare. I mean we haven’t thrown [The Merchant of Venice] out and there is no question that that play is antisemitic. There’s no question that The Taming of The Shrew is misogynist. Everybody has their blank spots, but the genius that understands about the human experiment is worth safeguarding and shouldn’t be touched…People who are terrible also have terribly clear insights on other subjects, so I don’t think you throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Again, there is a difference between “assholes” and “people who are terrible” and sexual freaking predators. It does a disservice to everyone involved, and only makes Streep and Hanks look incredibly ignorant of the state of their industry, to conflate them.

But to her point, have you ever seen a production of The Merchant of Venice that doesn’t address the antisemitism and turn it into a commentary on itself? It does not go over well, at least not in the versions I’ve seen. (I wish the same could be said about Shrew. The misogyny is often turned on its head and made into a talking point, but not always.)

Things change. Our values as artists and consumers change. We seem to be on a tipping point of changing values in what we’ll accept in our art and entertainment, and sexual predators are–again, hopefully, please–on their way out.

(via Page Six, image: YouTube)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) has a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri with her husband Brock Wilbur and too many cats.