Was Seth MacFarlane Profiting From Other People's Pain?
Seth MacFarlane either has the ability to predict the future, or had an insight into Hollywood that allowed him to make a profit.
The recent sexual harassment scandals that have plagued Hollywood have come not so much as a shock, but as a disappointment to many. It all began with the revelations about Harvey Weinstein, as a growing list of women came forward to tell their stories of the abuses they had suffered at his hands. Then came Star Trek: Discovery actor, Anthony Rapp, who revealed that Kevin Spacey had sexually harassed him when he was 14 years-old at a party. Spacey released a bizarre apology that ultimately ended up doing more harm than good to the actor's already shattered reputation, which sought to distract attention away from the story of his victim, and made it about his own sexuality. Now most recently come the stories about Director Brett Ratner, accused by a string of women of varying degrees of sexual harassment. Ratner denies the allegations outright, but all these people have one thing in common: their sexually predatory nature was joked about in different forms many years before the revelations have become public.
The first was a joke made at the 2013 Oscars during which MacFarlane was to present an award for Best Supporting Actress. To the nominees, he joked, "Congratulations to you five ladies who no longer have to pretend to be attracted to Harvey Weinstein." MacFarlane told his side of the story recently, explaining that Jessica Barth had confided in him about her encounter with Weinstein, and had asked him to not say anything publicly. Naturally, many wondered why MacFarlane hadn't come forward publicly sooner, to which Barth jumped to his defence. The second involved a joke during an episode of Family Guy that aired more than ten years ago in which the baby, Stewie, running naked through a shopping mall yells, "Help! I've just escaped from Kevin Spacey's basement." The last also featured in a more recent episode of Family Guy when Stewie is dressed as a young woman and being auctioned off to wealthy businessmen as part of a human trafficking ring. After a bid is placed on Stewie for $75,000, Brian remarks "Thank you, Brett Ratner." Whatever you may think of the quality of the jokes themselves, one thing is pretty clear: they all hint at some predatory behaviour on behalf of the target of the joke, and also hint at some knowledge held by MacFarlane that may not necessarily be public.
So was MacFarlane simply happily profiting from the misery and abuse of victims who may have, at the time, not had the type of power and position to speak up about their abuse? You can really look at this two ways; the first is that MacFarlane was happy to make that money while slyly taking digs at Hollywood's open secrets without any real thought at all about the victims in all this. The second is that MacFarlane quite simply did not feel it to be his place to speak out about these things, perhaps due to lack of proof, or simply by request of people he may have known to be victims themselves, such as Jessica Barth. In every industry and workplace, you have the so-called "open-secrets" or "office rumours" — the types of things that circulate around about this person being a bit creepy, or that person did a certain thing. This is in no way to suggest that any of the allegations have been false, but who's to say MacFarlane simply didn't know all the facts, and was merely making jokes about an "office rumour" in Hollywood? Perhaps MacFarlane had heard a rumour about Spacey, didn't entirely know whether it was true or not, and simply decided to turn that into a joke for the show?
Let's say, though, that he did come out with his knowledge of certain abuses? Let's say he did name victims and offered them his support publicly. Isn't that putting the victim in an impossible position in which they may not want to be? For some victims of abuse, it takes time to come to terms with the abuse you have suffered and to build up the courage to point the finger and face your accuser. For some, that is an impossible hurdle to overcome. For others, it's easier, but what matters here is that the victim makes that choice and does not feel pressured under any circumstances to tell their story publicly. Had MacFarlane come out and told the story of what his friend Jessica Barth had told him, then if he had refused to name her, this would open him up to legal trouble from Weinstein, but not only that, he would face pressure to name her as the victim in order to corroborate the story. Not telling the story yourself when you have knowledge of abuse is not complicity, but can be seen as a mark of respect toward the victim for them to tell their own story when they feel the time is right. If the abuse was ongoing and could have been stopped, i.e. if MacFarlane knew of ongoing abuse toward one person, and could have stopped this by speaking out on their defence, or going to the police, then perhaps something should have been done; but I don't feel that MacFarlane was gladly profiting off the misery of others. I believe he was respecting the victims, while in his own indirect way bringing these things to light.
Did he make a profit? Sure he did, but was this from other people's pain? I don't think so. I think this was more profiting from defending others in his own unique style, and for that, I admire MacFarlane greatly.