Hollywood's sex and drugs shame

It's a power problem, not a secret gay sex ring

Bryan Singer
(Image credit: (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images))

It's hard for something to become the most sensational story in Hollywood, just because there is so much competition. But money usually separates the sordid from the serious. There are allegations of rape against one of Hollywood's most talented directors, Bryan Singer, and they've come out at a moment that could cost the studio that financed his latest film several hundred million dollars.

If the story is true, then the timing matters very little in the moral universe. I have no idea whether Michael Egan's allegations are valid, or whether they approximate a larger truth. The accuser seems well-resourced, and his attorney seems competent, so I hope that the evidence will come out. (Singer has called allegations that he drugged and raped Egan when the accuser was a teenager "outrageous, vicious, and completely false.")

But the epi-scandal is charting into dangerous waters now. It is dipping into an undercurrent of homophobic stereotypes that still pulls some weight in liberal Hollywood. It has happened before.

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Singer happens to be gay. His parties are well-known in the gay community not because they represent the way we tend to party but instead, because they are unusually decadent.

(The last two "gay" parties I went to: We played Cards Against Humanity and a version of Hollywood Game Night. Fully clothed. In apartments.)

Two of my close friends went to Singer's birthday celebration last year, and both of them (a Brazilian in his late 20s and a Korean in his early 30s) described the party-goers largely as younger white guys in their late teens and early 20s. There were drugs available at the party, and if you wanted to stay on the legal side of things, plenty of alcohol too. No one got naked, although there was a separate VIP room for VIP activities. Singer's parties might be bacchanalian and excessive. There's no evidence yet that they were a haven for pedophiles.

Pedophiles are attracted to young boys. Most people are attracted to the younger men and women of their species. If the tabloids are right, Bryan Singer has a fairly well documented aesthetic preference for dudes who are younger than 24 or 25 years old. Not for illegally young guys. But younger guys. As is the right of his id. So long as he follows the law.

And here, Egan says that he was between 15 and 17 when Singer and others assaulted him. His attorney has therefore placed him at the center of a "pedophile" ring, conflating, deliberately, an act of statutory rape, already morally repugnant, with something far worse: the systematic and deliberate sexual abuse of adolescent boys. Adolescents. In several states, men and women can consent to sex if they are 16. In California, they have to be 18. That age distinction is arbitrary, but it useful and reasonably approximates the age at which teenagers are cognitively capable of giving or withholding consent.

Drugging anyone, or creating a party culture that allows them to take substances that are illegal, and then using their intoxication as a defense against rape is, of course, indefensible in any circumstance.

Drugs are, in fact, a real problem in Hollywood. (I exclude pot, but I include alcohol). Hard party drugs are common. Addiction is banal here. If the industry has blinders on, they're blocking out a massive drug problem. Nothing fuels sexual excess more easily than alcohol and drugs. And I don't see many collective efforts to mitigate these impulses. Maybe people are wary of becoming moralists. I'm not sure. Maybe they're worried that the town will lose its creative mojo if recreational hard drug use is frowned upon.

But Egan and his attorney say that a powerful cadre of gay men controlled access to power by sexually exploiting younger gay men. They further allege that this "ring" is an open secret and that others cover for Singer because of their own complicity in the lurid behavior or because Singer has made them a lot of money.

The implicit suggestion here is that powerful gays in Hollywood are protecting Singer because he is one of them and doing bad stuff that they like to do. I don't think this is true. I think that, to believe it is true, you've got to accept as gospel a fairly inaccurate map of this city's sexual ecology.

I have not conducted a systematic survey of young actors and actresses in Hollywood, but I have heard enough to come to believe that in Hollywood, the sexual exploitation of aspiring actors and actresses is common. The casting couch is real. It always has been. It is easier, at the same time, for men and women to sell themselves for profit. The number of writer/masseurs, actress/masseuses here is shocking.

I don't endorse this behavior. I don't find it titillating. But I also don't find that surprising: Sexual corruption is endemic to every profession that wields power over resources and goods. Maybe it's slightly higher in a business where looks matter.

This is not gay behavior. The gay community might have a different attitude about sex; we might accept a larger range of normal. But it's slander to assume that gay folks in this town or industry have a uniquely predatory instinct.

(The owner of the Los Angeles Clippers, an old, straight, white guy, has thrown very decadent pool parties for years. I'm just saying.)

The vast majority of Hollywood power brokers, gay or straight, haven't attended a sex party.

Most Hollywood workplaces — agencies, studios, lots, schools — are professional. Misconduct is scandalous because it is outside the norm.

These lawsuits might make powerful men think twice about exploiting the less powerful for sex, and that would make Hollywood more of a meritocracy.

Here's a challenge: If a story about the scandal uses the word "gay" in any context other than to describe someone's sexual orientation, it buys into premises and biases that obscure, rather than clarify, the real problems.

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