On Monsters and Humans
Updated: Dec 24, 2017
Salma Hayek’s NYT piece, Harvey Weinstein Is My Monster Too, is terrifyingly moving, and inspiring. It also made me wonder about the nature of courage and forgiveness, art and freedom.
I want to raise three points. First, Hayek speaks of confronting her previous “cowardice,” but I think she was remarkably courageous throughout her ordeal – saying “no” time and time again to the man holding, in her mind, the key to her art, thus to her sense of self, is nothing but courage, topped with resilience and skill to deliver, in an almost mythic-like odyssey, four “impossible gifts” to this devilish demigod. Speaking now, as she did, is perhaps more cathartic (so valuable in and by itself) than courageous. I would have found it far braver in the current opinion climate to forgive the monster than to throw another stone at It.
There are, I think, two kinds of forgiveness, calculative and compassionate. A calculative forgiveness sets the wrongdoing in an exonerating context: he has done horrible things, which makes him a monster, but he has also done good things, at times he’s a good person, which allows us to show some lenience. A compassionate forgiveness is about the wrongdoing itself, about understanding it and perhaps even finding traces of it within ourselves – by forgiving him we forgive ourselves.
Hayek briefly alludes to a possible, calculative forgiveness at the outset. Harvey is not just a monster but “a passionate cinephile, a risk taker, a patron of talent in film, a loving father.” Would that be enough? She admits having felt “proud” of her “capacity for forgiveness,” but then quickly turns that pride into a source of shame – for not divulging what it is she is forgiving.
Now that she has dared to tell the tale, I admit wishing she would close a circle and find yet more courage to forgive, taking the huge risk of being instantly transformed, in the eyes of many, from a brave soldier in the struggle to a “traitor” of the cause. Could she have taken a compassionate cue from another Harvey - PJ - who dared ask in the name of the monster, Who Will Love Me Now? Has Hayek decided to conceal her forgiveness, or has she retracted it? I don’t know.
Second, Hayek says Kahlo “had the courage to express herself while disregarding skepticism. My greatest ambition was to tell her story.” But it’s clearly more than storytelling for her – Hayek wants to be, to live, and to create, as courageously. And in that sense, this piece is a work of art about art (her film) about art (Kahlo’s), an attempt to redeem, it seems, at least one part of the film, which, she believes, fails to live up to Kahlo’s courage (a sex scene with another woman). She almost portrays her film as a painting seeking, but never achieving, pure authenticity – tainted by a stroke of brush ordered by the patron to humiliate the painter. But the painting, I think, is no less authentic because of that: Hayek was painfully aware of the harsh choice, and made that stroke of brush her own. By disowning it now, does Hayek paint a better picture? I don’t know.
Frida Kahlo, Diego and I, 1949
Third, instead of forgiveness, Hayek’s piece ends with this: “Men sexually harassed because they could. Women are talking today because, in this new era, we finally can.” I reject this sad conclusion. All men could, and still can, harass – but not all of them do; the capacity to inflict misery does not preordain the act. And women have been talking before, even when they “couldn’t” (recall Anita Hill’s 1991 testimony). That “capacity” (basically control – of assets and discourse alike) is nothing without a deep sense of choice. Predicating human choice on control is wrong, not just factually, but morally too. Turning our choices into an inevitable byproduct of control might help change the balance of power – long overdue – but risks undermining the courage to choose, which is the only thing that might give power any purpose.