“Complex” and “opaque” are how the “origins” of Harvey Weinstein’s “behavior” are described in “Young Harvey Weinstein: The Making of a Monster,” a long piece published Wednesday at The Hollywood Reporter.
Assembled through “interviews with dozens of former friends and associates,” the piece traces Weinstein’s background, both his childhood and early career, in an attempt to shed light on why Weinstein became a serial abuser. “It’s tempting to look for smoking gun,” Scott Johnson and Stephen Galloway write. “But the origins of Weinstein’s behavior are as complex and opaque as the man himself.” Despite claims of “complexity” and opacity, the profile offers a stereotypical narrative of wounded masculinity and abuse, treating it as a kind of revelation or pieces of a difficult puzzle that, once assembled, reveal a monster.
THR’s reveals that Weinstein had a poor relationship with his parents, a disinterested father and a “hovering” mother who “endlessly drill[ed] a sense of inadequacy” into both Harvey and Bob Weinstein. A childhood friend describes her as “shrill and bossy.” THR reports that “As a teenager...Harvey sometimes called her ‘Momma Portnoy,’ a reference to the domineering matriarch in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, published in Harvey’s senior year of high school. One of the novel’s memorable scenes depicts the mother hectoring young Portnoy while he masturbates behind a bathroom door.” Weinstein’s mother Miriam, we learn, also called the proverbial shots in her marriage: “As to the power dynamics of her marriage, Miriam held the cards,” Johnson and Galloway note.
But if Weinstein’s mother was overbearing, then Weinstein was also an outcast of sorts. He hung out with “artsy-fartsy kids,” he wasn’t athletic, and perhaps even worse he was unattractive and unsuccessful with women. “Pasty-skinned and overweight, Harvey got nowhere with girls,” THR reports.
THR’s story seeks a meaningful story in mundane details and the result is what Kate Manne has termed “himpathy,” a narrative device that extends empathy to abusers. It’s bound to old notions that men, scorned by women or berated by difficult mothers, will eventually meander down a path of abuse, become the “monster” whose origins story THR is desperate to pin down. It’s a narrative that disperses responsibility from the abuser, directing it instead to the women who refused gendered kindness—mothers or potential romantic partners—suggesting that they are responsible for the making of a monster.
But the reality is far more mundane: Weinstein began abusing women the moment he was in possession of power, even if it was small and practically irrelevant. The attention of young, attractive women—demanded or taken—was simply his rightful reward. After a few hundred words searching for the “complex” origins of Weinstein’s abusive behavior, THR writes, “Power exacerbated the worst of Harvey’s instinct.” His instinct, by early adulthood, was bullying and abusive behavior, born, the story implies, through a combustible mix of nature and nurture. But in truth, power didn’t exacerbate his instinct but rather provided him the opportunities to abuse, unfettered by legal, moral, or even cultural repercussions.
THR’s story reveals that from his earliest days as a producer, Weinstein sexually abused women. Paula Wachowiak recalls that, as an intern on The Burning, a 1981 low-budget slasher film, she found Weinstein—then a young, unknown producer—“naked, except for a small towel draped around his waist,” after being instructed to drop something off at his hotel room. Yet another woman recalls Weinstein trying to “force oral sex on her” in the mid-1980s.
Maybe Weinstein’s mother was mean and maybe women were uninterested in him but, as Manne told me recently about Eliot Rodger, “a lot of us feel like failures all the time, but the difference is that he felt entitled to be given the ingredients of successful masculinity.” The same is true of Weinstein. If he is a “monster,” then he is one of his own creation; no amount of bad mothers or mean girls created him. The answer is neither “complex” nor “opaque,” instead it’s staggeringly and grimly ordinary.