The New York Times story compiling accusations of Harvey Weinstein’s pattern of sexual predation and the #MeToo movement that has followed in its wake activates a very old adage— better late than never. What needs now to be understood moving forward is the long history and practice of the open secret.
The open secret can be loosely defined as something obscured from the public, but largely assumed true by those in a privileged sphere of industry information. Harvey Weinstein’s “meeting” behavior was an open secret over decades in Hollywood. There was no doubt in my mind that agents knew. Attorneys knew. Executives knew. Talent knew. And yet ever more lambs were sacrificed on the altar of a Miramax deal. Looks like lambs were sacrificed on the altar of platinum records too.
R. Kelly was another open secret. If accusations are true, he has abused his power for over 20 years. That means for over half my life and the entire lives of most of my Editorial Board colleagues, sexual abuse of minors has simply been business as usual for Kelly and his industry enablers.
Entertainment is not a thoroughly rationalized business, however much it wants to be. My experience in the music business shows me that the best of its people are quite lovely, but the worst of the worst are also welcomed to the trough because any sin is permissible with gigantic profit margins at stake. A sick beat is a sick beat.
Why the sudden outrage? No one nailed Weinstein right after "Shakespeare in Love" won Best Picture. No one nailed Kelly while driving and singing along to "Ignition" either. While the cultural industries may be turfing Kelly and so many others under the cover of moral outrage, a far grubbier set of motivations is likely. Open-secret sexual abusers may be shown the door because they are old, and incomers are hungry. Open-secret abusers are embarrassing when they sidle up to one’s table during a power lunch in Beverly Hills. Above all, open-secret abusers seem to be crucified when they, inevitably, become less profitable than the public bother is worth. A few calls are made, an article or documentary is green-lit, and a bothersome crusty boil is lanced in full view of the public. Many celebrities have, predictably, distanced themselves from R. Kelly. One might want to ask if they would like to donate any royalties from his collaborations to charities for victims of sexual abuse. I think a large chorus of crickets will then be heard. It might make for a killer sample.