Can We Talk About George?

In the fire-hose of stories about men (well, mostly men, there was Mariah Carey, who I gather is a popular singer) abusing their social and professional leverage to inflict themselves sexually on relatively underpowered members of the gender of their choice, the George Takei story seems to be provoking wind in the grass, and crickets.

It bothers me. The story, the denial, and the silence. Briefly, a model and actor named Scott Brunton suddenly went public with a story he claimed to have “been telling [privately] for years,” in which Takei secured his phone number during or shortly after a breakup Brunton was enduring, later invited him over for drinks, and then, while Brunton was in an intoxicated haze — seeming to suggest a Cosby-like drugging — committed what we shall call manual sexual interference. Brunton says he pulled himself together, resisted, objected, and left.

Takei’s response is right out of a familiar playbook. He is “shocked and bewildered,” he has “wracked his brains” trying to remember who Brunton is, and such conduct is “antithetical to his nature.”

I want to believe Takei, the creator of a beloved sci-fi character, snarky gay activist of a dozen PSAs, hero of the Resistance to Trump’s America. But I can’t wriggle away from the observation that he sounds like the Mayor of Casablanca here. Or like scads of men with moral, social and political leverage who have discounted accusations of sexual bad behavior.

Let me hasten to remark that the world is not black and white. In my teens, I was a little on the ruthless side. The Bard College Campus Christian (we only had one) could have lodged a complaint against me for sexual harassment. His evangelizing was obnoxious and his bony frame was toothsome, and he oozed dick-in-a-knot sexual thwartedness at every pore. But really, it would have been classier not to put the blocks on him after he said he wasn’t interested, even if he kept sending mixed messages. On the other hand, I was nineteen, and had imbibed the myth that all men really, really want to get laid, just as some men have apparently internalized the idea that all women really want it. I grew up.

Takei, at the age when this allegedly happened, was forty-two or -three. At that age I was going through a divorce, had had a lot of time to grow up, and would not have forced myself on a carrot.

So if the story is true in whole or substantive part, even if it was half a lifetime ago for Takei, and something he would never repeat — part of a past self, say — it is something that a man should own. Maybe it’s not true and Brunton is an opportunist or has been put up to it, but then, that’s what Roy Moore says about his accusers. Maybe I will be able to go on enjoying my fondness for the man who satirizes homophobes and inspired a terrific musical and fenced his way through the Desilu sound stages. But I don’t like the story so far. And no one is covering it past the moment it broke, not even to the extent of the apparently well loved Kevin Spacey’s misdeeds (seriously: contemporary pop culture has long gotten away from me; I know he was something in something). This should not be the case; we love it when a Christian tightass founders, but a hero of social justice? Sorry, all flesh is grass.

The comic Louis CK — another showbiz person I wouldn’t know if I sat on him — issued a mea culpa that resonated over Twitter and hence into my news feed, to the effect that yes, he’d been an asshole; yes, he realized now what damage he’d done; yes, he was going to retreat and reflect. I don’t know if that’s redemptive, but it at least amounts to owning your own shit. Again, I don’t know the facts of the Takei case, but I may be the only person to react (on his Twitter feed) by saying that an apology of this sort would be the best stance if there is any truth in what Brunton said.  It all seems to be either “we love you George” or “you are a lying POS.” Meanwhile, most media seem asleep.

We live in a moral jungle, in which people are told that their sexuality is wicked and damning — the more so if they are gay or otherwise nonconforming — while other forces demonstrate the wink, the snicker, the implication that everyone says one thing and does another. Shit like this is going to happen until we have a social order in which an enthusiastic Yes is okay, a definitive No is respected, and everyone has learned the responsibility for seeking and abiding by the distinction.

George, I want it not to be true. But if it is, fricking own it. No one gets knee jerk exoneration, not Roy Moore, not Donald Trump, not you.

 

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6 thoughts on “Can We Talk About George?

  1. I confess that when I read about George I had the age-old nasty reaction of oh come on now… everyone is jumping on the bandwagon… how do we even really know? But that’s because I like him. I didn’t have this reaction to the other stories. In fact, I easily believe all of them.

    • Same here. And apparently a tape has surfaced from a Howard Stern show — I can’t get to the link so far — of Takei chuckling about past shenanigans involving seizing other guys by the package. Well, that’s exactly what Trump boasted about. You can’t exempt people you like. On the one hand, innocent until proven guilty; on the other, the situation has a familiar script. If this is a true story it sucks, if it’s an opportunistic accusation — and I’m stumped by what an accuser would hope to gain from it — it sucks. I’m just sad.

      And if this is all true, we also have the problem of people who have done great things in art or society or science, of discovering they have a nasty, disturbing side. There was a long article about Dustin Hoffman’s gross remarks to high-school girls interning on the set where he was working. I have loved every film I ever saw him in. Carl Sagan has probably made millions fall in love with objective science (he’s a little arrogant for my taste); I used to know a shuttle astronaut who had complaints, not whatever of sexual harassment from him, but of his dismissal of male hazing of women in science as “just boys dipping pigtails in the inkwell.” Do we wish these people didn’t exist or want to banish them from society? Or does accepting them warts and all make us like the party officers who think it’s okay for Roy Moore to ask a scared 14-year-old to feel his dick, so long as he’s not a Democrat? Well, I don’t think gross remarks to young girls or dismissal of sexist hazing is “okay,” but how do we peel the good away from the bad?

  2. Takei owns up to that Stern session, and says he was very uncomfortable. But me? I’d be uncomfortable getting anywhere near Stern’s show. George did it for years and years, and that show is not the epitome of what George stands for now. Takei made many a joke about women on there before he came out, so I can half-see being asked to judge hot men would have been a shock. I want to believe him, but I also still want to believe OJ didn’t do it (mostly because my mom didn’t want to believe it).

  3. This puts me in mind of a favorite observation:
    “[General] Allenby came nearest to my longings for a master, but I had to avoid him, not daring to bow down for fear lest he show feet of clay with that friendly word which must shatter my allegiance. Yet, what an idol the man was to us, prismatic with the unmixed self-standing quality of greatness, instinct and compact with it.” –T.E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

    So far my heroes who turned out to have “feet of clay” are Bill Cosby and Lance Armstrong. Art, performance, sport and scientific accomplishments–all are products of flawed humans. Perhaps it is better to save one’s admiration from those who have earned it, and admire the only the works of others.

    • Lance Armstrong is a vexed question for me. Yes, he cheated. But even without cheating he’d probably be one of the top five cyclists in the world. Those of us who can’t achieve at that level are rightly puzzled by why a person would want to compromise his integrity for that last two per cent of win, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to be in that league.

      Flaws can be part of what makes a person great. Lawrence jumps out as a case in point. Just not deliberate systematic predation. After encountering some non-predatory but very clay feet, I’ve made a resolution never to attempt to meet another author I admire, either.

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