JEP 18.1.18

There was something magnificent about Oprah Winfrey at the Golden Globe awards.


She commanded the whole room, perhaps as she stood there with the cameras on her, she commanded the whole media-connected world; by turn chat show host, enraged mother figure, avenging angel, future president even. She combined a range of roles all at once that dominated the stage she stood on, and the imaginations she had burst in on.


“Your time has come” she thundered, at the sex pests, the rapacious lascivious men wherever they were hiding. She declared Hollywood Jihad on the predators, in the name of the righteously indignant women and their tamed, docile and supportive men friends.


There was something magnificently apocalyptic about the stentorian “your time has come”. It promised that this was the end of an era, an ushering in of a time of peace, respect and mutuality in the millennia-long sex wars.


But, of course, and sadly, it’s only a cosmetic moment of Hollywood staged aspirational theatre, after which nothing much will change.


It’s true though that Harvey Weinstein’s time has come. He’s out of work now for good in the film industry, and rightly so. He became a nasty man, glutted on his own power, demeaning, diminishing and distorting the lives of the women he had power over. And with the #metoo campaign, a handful of other mini-Harvey’s have been flushed out into the open. Their reign of terror is over and numbers of women in their areas of sport, media or culture won’t suffer at their hands.


That can only be good.


But I have problems with this secular apocalypse that Oprah ushered in.


The first is the hypocrisy of the leading actors. There are photos all over the internet of Oprah and Harvey Weinstein, eating, air-kissing, chatting and laughing together. Sharing one party moment after another. ‘Everyone’ reports that they knew exactly how outrageously coercive his behaviour was. He was notorious. So why did Oprah the avenging angel say nothing about this in public before the Golden Globes, but instead celebrate his company and presence in private and in public?


Oprah’s Golden Globe pitch was, some immediately said, for the presidency. Her delighted and dewy-eyed acolytes were quick to say that not only Weinstein’s ‘time was up’ but that Oprah’s time had come. Look at her display of public courage and moral righteousness.


But in fact she had showed no moral courage about Weinstein, and no moral righteousness before the luvvy-mob get together.


It wasn’t just the special case of Harvey. Oprah had other successful, powerful and rich friends. One of her best friends, was Bill Clinton. As sex pest, manipulative and supremely powerful men go, he was in the front of the queue. Did she ever say to him “Your time has come”? Did she ever show any sense of distaste for his use and abuse of women?


Not as yet.


Meryl Streep was at the Golden Globes too, draped in the threatening and theatrical black. But for years she has been a close friend and supporter of Roman Polansky, who is being pursued for under-age sex with a minor. When did her moral courage and her defence of the women at the bottom of the artistic pile ever give her an uncomfortable or mildly difficult moment?


This vengeful mob begins to look more like an exercise in self-righteous indignation. When it really mattered, when it was under the covers still, when it might have cost either Streep of Winfrey anything, either in courage or convenience, they said nothing; they stayed silent.


The other great self-deception is that human nature will change because a chat show host, or a campaigning feminist, or an actress, says it will or should.


It has been one of the delusions of progressive culture, that constantly repeating that something ought to change will actually make it change. The fury directed at sexually dangerous, boorish and predatory men on the one hand while doing nothing to make any changes in the growing sexualisation and eroticism of our culture, stretching from sex selling things to sex selling people, leaves a credibility gap that is a chasm.


If the self-righteousness, hypocrisy and hubris were capable of making any lasting changes to our culture, we might be tempted to cut them a little more slack, but they can’t and they don’t.


Secular self-righteousness has a deeper problem. It doesn’t allow for forgiveness and redemption. There is no way back for the sinners.


The press, the mob, the howling avenging angels, expose (belatedly) what has gone rotten; but they can’t mend or cleanse the human heart, and can’t or won’t offer forgiveness.


William Blake caught the need for mercy and the priority of the changed heart, and linked it to faith in God and the incarnation. I prefer Blake’s words and prescription to Oprah Winfrey’s.


“To Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

All pray in their distress;

And to these virtues of delight

Return their thankfulness.


For Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is God, our father dear,

And Mercy, Pity, Peace, and Love

Is Man, his child and care.


For Mercy has a human heart,

Pity a human face,

And Love, the human form divine,

And Peace, the human dress.


Then every man, of every clime,

That prays in his distress,

Prays to the human form divine,

Love, Mercy, Pity, Peace.


And all must love the human form,

In heathen, Turk, or Jew;

Where Mercy, Love, and Pity dwell

There God is dwelling too.”


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