The family drama around the Arrested Development cast continues to unfold. And like kids caught in the crossfire of feuding parents, it hurts to watch.
We’ve heard countless bad takes on #MeToo from Hollywood men. But this one feels personal. And it’s because it comes across as definitive proof that the house is still in burning, despite promising signs that things might be getting better.
To recap the situation at hand: It all started with a New York Times article that might as well be renamed “Well Actually: An Arrested Development Interview.”
The cast members of the beloved family comedy found themselves embroiled in a debate over the sexual harassment and abuse allegations against Jeffrey Tambor, which he recently relitigated in a Hollywood Reporter article, admitting to (among other atrocious behavior) publicly humiliating Jessica Walter with a verbal tirade on the set of Arrested Development. He continues to deny the sexual harassment allegations that got him fired from Transparent, though.
For those who had even a modest hope that the #MeToo and the Time’s Up movements were finally helping men in Hollywood understand systemic inequality and abuse in the industry, the conversation — along with the apologies and follow-up interviews — were an ugly wake-up call.
Despite over half a year of #MeToo, Hollywood men have apparently learned nothing.
The male actors at the interview took lead on not letting the female cast members (especially Jessica Walter) speak for themselves. They fell over each other to give Tambor’s behavior every excuse in the book, while simultaneously claiming they weren’t excusing it.
Some highlights: Jason Bateman talking over Walters to claim that everyone abuses each other in their Arrested Development “family,” further qualifying (twice) that it’s normal behavior in the industry — ignoring Shawkat’s assertion that this is exactly the problem. Tony Hale disregarded Walter as she said through tears that Tambor’s attack was unlike anything else she’d experienced in her 60-year career, only to again reiterate that everyone does this kind of stuff (though everyone agreed what Tambor did was demonstrably worse). Then Hale, Cross, and Bateman implied there was “context” to his outburst, followed by veiled suggestions from Cross and Bateman that Walter was kinda asking for it (“it didn’t just come out of the blue,” said Cross, “not to say that you know, you [Walter] had it coming. But this is not in a vacuum,” said Bateman).
What all of them and Tambor kept insisting is that he’s “learned.” What all of their actions made apparent is, despite over half a year of #MeToo, Hollywood men have actually learned nothing.
For months, women and their allies have spent a copious amount of energy showing Hollywood how the system is broken, that certain behaviors are no longer acceptable, that women are not listened to when they say they’ve been hurt, that men need to stop victim blaming, that it’s not women’s job to do this work for men, and that as a society we often have endless forgiveness for men who abuse while being very quick to disregard or malign the women who they victimize or who speak out.
Then what does a room of Hollywood men do when presented with the choice to either a) listen to a woman who’s saying she’s been hurt by a a self-admitted abuser, or b) defend said abuser?
Literally all of the above.
The only difference? Their complicit behavior is disguised with feigned understanding, like Bateman asserting (twice) that he doesn’t want to “belittle” the issues — before proceeding to belittle the issues.
The men who are sorry not sorry
To add insult to injury, after the interview led to some well-deserved backlash, Bateman’s apology started by saying it might “sound” like he did insensitive things and participated in the exact behavior #MeToo is trying to bring to light — but actually he “did not.” However, he’s totally sorry and learning (just like Tambor!). Hale gave a similar apology.
Based on listening to the NYT interview and hearing people’s thoughts online, I realize that I was wrong here.
I sound like I’m condoning yelling at work. I do not.
It sounds like I’m excusing Jeffery. I do not.
It sounds like I’m insensitive to Jessica. I am not.
In fact, I’m-
— Jason Bateman (@batemanjason) May 24, 2018
Whether or not these apologies are sincere or PR damage control (they sound very similar to others we’ve heard), no one can say definitively. But what we do know now is that we were naive to take men at their word about how they were learning from #MeToo and Time’s Up.
After, Cross followed up with the most egregious “apology” of them all. He gave an interview to Gothamist, and it reads at best like a display of his profound ignorance. At worst, it looks like an insidious attempt to turn the narrative against Jessica Walter.
Wait, is this still an apology?
In the interview, Cross vaguely alludes to an entirely unrelated incident, alleging that Walter once had a bad spat with Portia di Rossi’s stand-in actress. He gives no real details, claiming not to remember. But it’s enough to plant the seed of doubt about who’s to blame in all this, and uses moral equivalence to implicate Walter as participating in abusive behavior akin to Tambor’s.
He said, “There’s never an excuse ever for yelling at somebody and humiliating them in front of other people. And there was no excuse when Jessica did it,” only to later admit that her alleged offense, “didn’t have the same kind of feeling that Jeffrey’s did. Jeffrey’s took a lot of the focus. And again, I don’t condone that behavior.”
We were naive to take men at their word
It only gets worse. Cross went on to say that, despite “the extreme nature of [Tambor’s] yelling and dressing [Walter] down in front of the rest of the cast and crew, I think everyone else as well understood the frustration.”
Once again speaking on behalf of everyone in the cast and crew (including the women), Cross implies that everyone thought Tambor had some valid points, though his methods were harsh. Then, unprompted, Cross feels the need to reiterate that, “Nobody was happy, it wasn’t like, ‘Good, she got what was coming,’ none of that… But as I said, we have access to more information than you do.”
Most insidiously of all, Cross defends the male cast members for disregarding Walter for crying during the NYT interview, couching this disregard in the language of concern because: “Whenever there’s an occasion that somebody cries, it doesn’t matter how many times they’ve cried before, that’s a bad thing.” [Italics added for emphasis.]
It’s important to note: When you listen to the audio from that moment in the NYT interview, it sounds a lot like Walter is actually trying her best to hold back tears, quickly moving on to say how she has to let go of her hurt feelings and wants to be friends with Tambor again.
The men who are listening to women, while refusing to listen to women
But in case we needed further evidence that David Cross has learned absolutely nothing from #MeToo, he states several times that he has ignored the public’s criticisms over what he and the rest of the male cast members did wrong in the interview — until the women in his life expended their emotional energy to try and get him to understand it.
Because only when Cross’ wife, Amber Tamblyn (a leader of the Time’s Up campaign), and fellow cast member Alia Shawkat, “have a problem with it, then it’s time for me to shut up, and realize there is a problem.”
You know, because men only need to bother listening to women about the systemic abuses we all face when it affects the women they know personally. Right?
Though these women managed to convince Cross that he did something wrong and he’s willing to own up to and apologize for that, he admits to having no idea what he’s even apologizing for: “I will unequivocally apologize to Jessica. I’m sorry that we behaved the way we behaved. Whatever the criticisms are, I will own up. I don’t even know what they are.”
Tell me: What is the purpose of an apology, if the person openly admits to not knowing or really even caring to understand the behavior they’re apologizing for?
Throughout his interview, Cross acknowledges again and again that he knows he’s not helping the situation by giving this interview, and that he shouldn’t even be saying what he’s saying. So here’s another question: Why did he do this interview at all?
Well, shortly after his interview, the narrative around this situation showed signs of shifting. The Hollywood Reporter, for example, added his statement to an article on Bateman’s apology, highlighting Cross’ accusation against Walter.
David Cross said Jessica Walter had had her own outburst on set with a stand-in actress for Portia de Rossi, adding “to Jessica’s credit, she eventually apologized to the actress, and felt bad about it” https://t.co/H4hdXCezvz
— Hollywood Reporter (@THR) May 24, 2018
So by couching his apology in a larger story that accidentally-on-purpose implicated Walter in an “incident,” Cross started to slowly turn the tables.
Apology as PR strategy in the #MeToo era
Cross demonstrated how easy it continues to be for men to turn the narrative against women. Even in the unprecedented #MeToo era — which countless men claim has led us to be too trusting and too willing to listen to women who say they’ve been treated unfairly — it only takes a carefully worded accusation disguised as an apology to cast doubt on a woman.
Meanwhile, accused serial abusers need only admit that “lines got blurred” (to quote Tambor in the THR article) in order for people in this industry to fall over themselves with acceptance, jumping to their defense because he’s learned, he’s reconciled, he’s apologized, and he’s been semi-ostracized for like four months! Isn’t that enough?! What more could we want?
For starters, we want actual evidence that men in Hollywood are even trying to understand.
And no, PR apologies do not count as evidence. What these apologies show us is only that men in Hollywood have learned how to get better at sounding sincere while lying about what they’ve learned.
Because let us not forget: Walter was not even a woman who “spoke out” about Tambor’s abusive behavior. In fact, she tried to avoid it, with a rep for Walter telling THR that she “does not wish to talk about Jeffrey Tambor.” That didn’t stop either Tambor nor reporter Seth Abramovitch from using her as an example in his mea culpa comeback story.
Apologies have become a PR tactic during #MeToo, allowing accused men to get in front of the story by admitting to certain bad behaviors (using very careful wording) — while also successfully denying and diverting the conversation away from more criminal allegations, like Tambor’s sexual harassment allegations that no one is talking about anymore.
Because, again, that’s how easy it remains for the public to forgive and forget the transgressions of powerful men.
So remind me: What have the men learned exactly?
But Walter was not just an unwilling participant in Jeffrey Tambor’s comeback strategy.
After receiving no support from her supposed “family” for the initial abuse, she also now appears to be facing an attempt to negate whatever wrong happened to her through craftily indirect suggestions that she is a “difficult woman.”
That’s how easy it remains for the public to forgive and forget the transgressions of powerful men.
It’s a trope men often abuse to discredit and silence women, as highlighted by the survivors who spoke out about Harvey Weinstein or refused him — only to get immediately ostracized from the industry and their careers ruined after he labeled them “difficult women” to work with.
Can we vouch that Walter is the perfect picture of a victim, or a saint who never participated in the seemingly pervasive abusive behavior described as a norm on the set of Arrested Development? As Cross reiterates as justification for why he doesn’t need to listen to criticisms from women who aren’t his wife or Shawkat, no. We don’t know. We weren’t there.
But here’s what we do know: 1) Everyone, even Tambor’s fervent apologists, says that what he did was demonstrably worse than anything else that ever happened on set, including the alleged “incident” perpetrated by Walter. And 2) More importantly, neither Walter nor any other woman needs to be the perfect picture of a victim or a saint to deserve more support in this situation than Jeffrey Tambor, an accused serial abuser.
What this ordeal has shown is Hollywood men are quick to say they’re learning — even as they actively participate in the behaviors they’ve supposedly learned are bad. And that’s probably because they continue to refuse to listen to what women are saying, even in the #MeToo era.
From the sounds of it, certain male cast members of Arrested Development (and many other men in Hollywood) appear to be upset that Jeffrey Tambor and other accused men are being called out for abusive behavior that some women might’ve participated in too (though to much lesser degrees, they admit).
But to quote Alia Shawkat in the NYT interview, “That doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. And the point is that things are changing, and people need to respect each other differently.”
And if those men are upset that they’re being unjustly scrutinized and persecuted right now just because they’re men: It sucks, doesn’t it? It’s super unfair to be judged more harshly simply because of your gender. It’s an experience all women can sympathize with, since it’s been happening to us since the dawn of civilization.
And as this particular episode in the saga of #MeToo demonstrated, it continues to happen.