Call me crazy, but Sean Penn might be both the best and the worst spokesman for a backlash to the #MeToo movement. Penn balked at the suggestion that #MeToo informed any part of his new Hulu series The First during a joint interview for NBC’s Today with co-star Natasha McIlhone. Instead, Penn vented about the way the movement has evolved, saying that is powered mainly by being “a receptacle of the salacious.”
“This is a movement that was, you know, largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious,” Sean Penn says to @nmoralesnbc during a discussion about the #MeToo movement pic.twitter.com/O4yGtEZjpk
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 17, 2018
Two-time Oscar winner Sean Penn has opened up about the #MeToo movement, saying it divides men and women and “it’s too black and white.” …
“I’d like to think that none of it was influenced by what they call the movement of #MeToo,” he said. “I think it’s influenced by the things that are developing in terms of the empowerment of women who’ve been acknowledging each other and being acknowledged by men. This is a movement that was largely shouldered by a kind of receptacle of the salacious.”
Natalie asked him what he meant by “receptacle of the salacious.”
“Well, we don’t know what’s a fact in many of the cases,” he said. “Salacious is as soon as you call something a movement that is really a series of many individual accusers, victims, accusations, some of which are unfounded.
“The spirit of much of what has been the #MeToo movement is to divide men and women.”
Penn mistrusts the “rage and stridency” of the discussion around it. When he discusses it with women off-camera and “in all walks of life,” Penn says they exhibit a “common sense” about methods and issues that is entirely lacking in the public demands and debate. “Even when people try to discuss it in a nuanced way,” he observes, “the nuance itself is attacked.”
I suspect Penn will experience that first-hand. He’s not wrong, either; while the initial reporting of serial abusers and harassers was very careful and well sourced, we seem to have crossed a Rubicon last week with the accusations against Brett Kavanaugh, where no independent corroboration exists. The problem for Penn is his own famously mercurial temper and his track record of physical altercations, which makes this perhaps seem a little more potentially self-serving than philosophical. But that’s part of the same problem that Penn highlights, too — that rather than debating nuance, people find ways to impugn those who bring it to the debate. Just because he’s speaking out to argue for due process doesn’t mean he’s afraid he’ll be next, but you can bet your bottom dollar that (a) someone will make that argument, and (b) they’ll start digging into Penn’s history to try to find something disqualifying, or worse.
Perhaps the movement will be too busy picking sides in the burgeoning Rose McGowan-Asia Argento feud to notice. Argento has now threatened to sue her fellow #MeToo compatriot after McGowan had the temerity to criticize her after accusations emerged of Argento having sex with an underage teenager:
Asia Argento is threatening legal action against Rose McGowan. On Twitter, Argento gave McGowan 24 hours to retract claims she made detailing how she discovered that Argento had reportedly paid off actor Jimmy Bennett, who alleges the actress assaulted him when he was 17 years old.
“Dear @RoseMcGowan,” Argento tweeted. “It is with genuine regret that I am giving you 24 hours to retract and apologise for the horrendous lies made against me in your statement of August 27th. If you fail to address this libel I will have no option other than to take immediate legal action.” …
After the story broke, McGowan said that her partner, Rain Dove, told her that Argento said she had slept with Bennett when he was underage and that she had been receiving unsolicited nude photos of Bennett since he was 12 years old.
“Asia you were my friend,” McGowan said in her statement. “I loved you. You’ve spent and risked a lot to stand with the MeToo movement. I really hope you find your way through this process to rehabilitation and betterment. Anyone can be be better- I hope you can be, too. Do the right thing. Be honest. Be fair. Let justice stay its course. Be the person you wish Harvey could have been.”
Good luck with that lawsuit, given that both parties are by legal definition public persons and deliberately raised their own profiles through the #MeToo movement. It’s perhaps an indicator that Penn has a point here, even if he rarely does in other areas of politics and culture. It’s not really that difficult to recognize the signs of a social panic, after all, even if it’s in its early stages.