#MeToo has reached the art world. Don’t think it’s running out of steam
Version 4 of 9.
Is #MeToo entering a late phase? We might be settling into a stage in which quite a lot of men in media and showbusiness – but no other area of life – are being shamed into “stepping away” from their lucrative and prestigious jobs, but without revealing their payoffs or getting their collars felt. And there is danger of a new backlash.
In New York, a controversy is opening up about a 1938 painting the city’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: Thérèse Dreaming – by the artist Balthasar Klossowski, known as Balthus – famously shows a young girl in a suggestive pose.
An online petition with thousands of signatories has demanded its removal: “Given the current climate around sexual assault and allegations that become more public each day, in showcasing this work for the masses, the Met is romanticizing voyeurism and the objectification of children.” The museum is refusing to comply, its spokesman merely citing the controversy as “an opportunity for conversation”.
For what it’s worth, I don’t believe the painting should be removed. But I suspect that an army of supercilious people will now rise, congratulating themselves on their intellectual heroism in standing firm against censorship, and declaring that this is all #MeToo has come to, and that we must now call a halt. The cultural debate may plateau on these terms. But the debate about assault, abuse and harassment in the workplace is still far from settled.
Hobson’s unhappy choice
Christine Keeler is someone whose unhappy fate epitomised the hypocrisy and spite of Britain’s postwar establishment. I can never think of her without remembering another woman who in her own way was trapped: Valerie Hobson.
This British star of stage and screen gave up her brilliant career in 1954 to marry John Profumo, the MP who was to become minister of war and resigned in disgrace over the Keeler affair. Hobson calmly stood by her husband. It was her final performance: a silent movie tragedy that went on for years.
Her greatest performance, however, was as the beautiful and refined Edith D’Ascoyne in the classic Ealing comedy Kind Hearts and Coronets – poignantly unaware that her late husband Henry had effectively “cheated” on her by secretly drinking alcohol against her strict teetotal principles. Her husband’s murderer, Louis Mazzini (Dennis Price) knows of Henry’s vice but remarks silkily that he is sure Henry would never have professed one thing and practised another. Edith replies with desolate, wounded dignity: “I, too, am sure …” Her face is a fascinating mask of painful composure. I wonder if Hobson modelled her behaviour on Edith when the Keeler affair went public.
No place for ‘no place’
Britain First is a divisive, hateful group whose views are not in line with our values. UK has a proud history as an open, tolerant society & hate speech has no place here
Hardly a week goes by without politicians revealing some new weasel-phrase, conceding they “misspoke” or apologising to “anyone who was offended”.
The hot new slippery slogan is “no place here”. Last week, Boris Johnson, the foreign secretary, solemnly tweeted: “Britain First is a divisive, hateful group whose views are not in line with our values. UK has a proud history as an open, tolerant society & hate speech has no place here.” No place here? It has no place anywhere. It is simply, objectively bad. But shifty Johnson put in that sly “no place” qualifier, and didn’t condemn Trump.
Jeremy Corbyn, with his condemnation of antisemitism in April 2016 did a little better: “There is no place for antisemitism or any form of racism in the Labour party, or anywhere in society.”
But why the pompous “no place” phrasing in the first place? Perhaps he is alluding to the maxim of cultural theorist Mary Douglas: “Dirt is matter out of place.” But it’s a mealy-mouthed form of words, disclosing an innate reluctance to commit oneself to a point of principle, or to admit that principle has been neglected. Please: no more “no place”.
The dark side of Paddington
Have you seen Paddington 2 yet? If the answer is no, then you could be in a fast-diminishing minority. As my colleague Charles Gant reports, Paddington 2 is going gangbusters.
People love the gentle marmalade-scoffing bear. Rightly so. But other cinema distributors are talking darkly about the “Paddington effect”: Paddington is the dark star whose terrifying gravitational force is sucking audiences away from other films. The excellent movie The Florida Project is thought to be underperforming, because a certain little bear has brutally beaten it up at the box office.
It’s not just families with young kids. Couples are somewhat sheepishly settling into their cinema seats and hugging themselves with anticipation as the lights go down. The combination of Paddington and Hugh Grant is just irresistible. Other films might just have to wait until the bear has gone away.
• Peter Bradshaw is the Guardian’s film critic
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