Myth-creation is a distinctive attribute of Americans. One of my favorite movies is “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.” John Ford’s classic told the story of a man, played by Jimmy Stewart, who was given credit for killing a homicidal thug in a small Western town.
In fact, it wasn’t Stewart who killed villainous Lee Marvin but John Wayne. No one knew it, though, because Wayne was hidden from view when he pulled the trigger. Stewart got the glory, and a myth was born at the expense of a more complicated truth.
This celluloid masterpiece says more about the American character than most of the sociological theses published over the last century. We want heroes, and we want them to be perfect, and we have an amazing ability to forgive them for not living up to their reputations. Even when presented with strong evidence that these heroes have been lying to us, we defend them.
Some might call that honorable, but I call it hypocrisy. And with all due respect to mom, apple pie and the flag, we Americans have perfected the art of being hypocritical. That became obvious with such painful clarity this past month, with three glaring and highly publicized examples.
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The first case of what I call “#MeTwoFaced” is Asia Argento, the Italian actress most recently known as the girlfriend of Anthony Bourdain. Argento, while an accomplished artist in her own right, has always been defined by the men she knew, including her famous father, Dario, who is known as the king of horror. It was revealed recently that Argento paid almost $400,000 in what some have called “hush money” to a young man who claimed she molested him when he was 17.
Argento, after an initial silence, came out and started attacking the victim as a liar, saying that she never had a sexual relationship with him. She even insinuated that the young man had essentially tried to blackmail her dead boyfriend Bourdain because she knew he was “a man of great perceived wealth.”
Imagine if Bill Cosby had made those claims about his accusers. Imagine if Al Franken had said that he’d been asked to grope the woman in the photo . . . by the woman herself. Imagine if Kevin Spacey had said that the male actor he’d allegedly assaulted had “asked for it.” Imagine if Louis CK had said women had begged to get a good look at his penis. Imagine, please, that the accuser was a woman and that she was treated the way that Asia Argento, the strident Joan of Arc of the #MeToo movement, was treating an actor who, at the age of 7, had played her son. We would have hordes of ladies in black dresses and linked arms singing some random song from Lilith Fair.
Now consider the case of Avital Ronell, who was found responsible for sexually harassing a male Ph.D. student by her employer, New York University. The professor of German and Comparative Literature denies the harassment and says that the relations between the two — a lesbian and a gay man — were consensual And instead of supporting the victim, her feminist friends are outraged that a woman is being held accountable for abuse. One supporter suggested that women could never be abusers. According to Dana Bolger, an expert in Title IX policy, “The vast majority of Title IX cases are protecting male victims from male perpetrators, or female victims from male perpetrators.”
Then we have Gretchen Carlson, the former Miss America who wrote a book about female solidarity, and who has now been credibly accused of bullying the current Miss America, Cara Mund, and other women. So Asia Argento, who demanded that we believe victims of abuse, says the man accusing her of rape is a liar. And a female professor says the student she is accused of harassing wanted it. And a woman who says she was bullied is accused of bullying. I think it’s time to do to the #MeToo movement what John Wayne did to Liberty Valance.
Christine M. Flowers is a lawyer and columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News.
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