We've learned a lot about racism and sexism in the entertainment biz the last few years, and it isn't just the unfortunate Don Imus who's taught us. Since I started in the business, I have seen the "acceptability" bar raised higher and higher.
Yesterday in The Hollywood Reporter there was this:
The IATSE has accused an executive producer of "Law & Order: SVU" of repeatedly making racist and sexist remarks, claiming studio inaction on the situation is traceable to attitudes displayed in the recent Don Imus fracas.
The union, which through IA Locals 52 and 600 represents various stage and camera crew professionals on the show, said it has complained to NBC Universal Television in three instances involving allegations against exec producer Ted Kotcheff over the past three years. Kotcheff is accused of referring to a black crewmember as Stepin Fetchit.
When I came into the biz in the mid-seventies, boundaries were a lot wider and wilder than they are today. Suggestive cartoons were pinned on walls and doors. Photographs of scantily clad women, prominently displayed, were commonplace. A Playboy Playmate (wthout staples) was visible in the window of a New York skyscraper as Bernard and Bianca flew past.
In the late seventies, Ward Kimball recounted to me the leering antics of Disney animation director Clyde "Gerry" Geronomi:
Gerry was a crude man. I had a woman assistant named (blank) who was very well constructed. She drove Jerry crazy and finally he couldn't stand it. And one day he came up behind her and he went "Rhhhrr!"... I heard this scream and the chair flew back and the desk got knocked over. And I went running in there and said "What the hell?" I knew Gerry had just left my room... Vince said that Gerry had grabbed Mary... I mean, that's terrible. That's not a class act.
Geronomi was ultimately fired from Disney, but it was decades later. And it wasn't for assaulting women. It was because none of the lead animators would work with him.
Would any of that kind of crapola slide by today? Most likely not. In the last decade, companies have become sensitized to sexual harrassment in the workplace. As a business rep, I've been pulled into meetings where charges of sexual harrassment have been filed by one employee against another, and I can tell you that companies take the allegations real seriously. Company lawyers are always present. Notes are taken and consequences meted out.
Drawings that could be construed as sexually harassing aren't tolerated on doors and in hallways anymore, although I still see the occasional Sports Illustrated Swimsuit calendar in discreet locations.
But it wasn't always this way. Ten-plus years ago, I wandered into a work area of one of our larger animation studios to find naughty drawings plastered to various walls, and R-rated mobiles hanging from the ceiling. (An executive called one of the supervising artists who was responsible "a lawsuit waiting to happen." Happily, no lawsuits did.)
I seriously doubt that companies would tolerate those types of visuals today, even for an hour. Because the legal and career risks -- as Mr. Imus recently discovered -- get greater all the time.
Which isn't to say that all employees are dealt with in the same manner or that we've reached some egalitarian, harrassment-free nervana. Star employees and powerful execs can still get away with lots more than ordinary mortals. I found this paragraph of the HR piece telling:
"The latest accusation comes from a member of the show's crew, who has reluctantly refused to file charges against Kotcheff for fear it will be career-ending," the IA said.
All farm animals are equal. But some animals are more equal than others.