The Willful Retardation of Michael Chabon

No words; actions, please.

Fewer things are as repellent — and frequent — as the fulsome, worthless apology. Last year we saw the launch of the white apologies when demands were made to fashion a theatre that better served, employed, and exemplified people of various colors and resentments and urges.

And now Michael Chabon, a gifted novelist, a Pulitzer Prize — winner, and a man who admits that his life as a screenwriter (with the concomitant financial rewards) was birthed by the odious Scott Rudin offers his whinging, disingenuous apology for enabling the abuse of the bilious bear of Broadway and films.

Chabon writes, lips and fingers trembling. no doubt:

In the roughly twenty years that I regularly collaborated with Scott, I worked with and got to know many of his employees — a generation of them — from the VPs, to the researchers, to the assistants who worked the phones. I remember Kevin Graham-Caso — he was a sweetheart — and it was a gut-punch to learn, from his brother David’s recent video, about his suicide, following years of struggle with PTSD.

Twenty years is a long time to collaborate with an abuser. [Yes, it is.] My impulse is to excuse, exonerate or at any rate minimize my complicity [this is what cowards do; it’s a trope] by saying that personally I never saw or heard anything approaching the level of the most egregious incidents reported on vulture.com and elsewhere, that I never heard Scott use vulgar or demeaning epithets, or saw Scott cause physical injury. I heard stories of Scott’s tantrums and vindictiveness, but not of smashed hands and people pushed out of moving cars. [Because even Michael Chabon has standards of decency, along with pretty hefty salary demands. There are limits.]

But I knew enough. I regularly, even routinely, heard him treat his staff, from the new kid doing the coffee run to the guy just under Scott on the SRP organizational chart, with what I would call a careful, even surgical contempt, like a torturer trained to cause injuries that leave no visible marks. [See above: “I never heard Scott use vulgar or demeaning epithets.”] And I saw him throw a pencil, once, at an assistant as the young man fled Scott’s office and Scott’s shouting. The pencil struck the back of the assistant’s head, eraser end first, and fell to the carpet. [We are to assume, I guess, that if the pencil hit the assistant’s head pencil point first that Chabon would have returned his checks and vowed to not work with Rudin ever again.] A minute later, Scott called me into his office, and we started talking, as if nothing untoward had happened, about whatever script we were working on at the time.

As if nothing had happened. In those five words, the recipe for a culture of abuse, in families, in the workplace, and in the world.

I am here to tell you that Michael Chabon either rendered himself retarded or he is blazingly dishonest. Perhaps both.

Just as with the revelations about Harvey Weinstein in 2017, everyone knew about these men, and while the granular details of their abuses, their masturbatory entreaties, their corruption, their gleeful subversion of the work of others might not have been known, I am tired of people claiming utter shock and innocence at what has been discussed for years — in meetings, on sets, in rehearsals, in green rooms. There are even a few inverts in the theatre who, between trolling for Twinks and swinging kettle bells, laugh as they relate Rudin abuses. Such fun! Remember the guy who took the dictionary in the face?!

Michael Chabon has a facility with words and the funds and the contacts to do some actual good with what he knew and witnessed, and for which he was handsomely rewarded. He now sits — with his wife, Ayelet Waldman — in sinecures of television. Will they hire people displaced by the abuses of not just Scott Rudin, but other corrupt people in the theatre. (Full disclosure: I am a source on Rudin stories, as well as others that are forthcoming. The unemployment rate in New York theatre will rise again, even if the theatre itself will not.)

Has a GoFundMe campaign been considered, Michael? You and Ayelet, between microdoses of psychedelics, could mount one, and aid those who have been unemployed or, like me, unpaid, by the likes of Scott Rudin. Phyllis Nagy, who ran for the presidency of the Writers Guild (along with your wife) honorably began, with Andy Bobrow, a GoFundMe for writers who had lost their health insurance when they abandoned their agents in protest when they failed to sign a code of conduct with the WGA. Have you considered something like that? Or did the public-relations genes in your body suggest that it would be better to get ahead of the imminent disclosure of your name among those who had enjoyed long relationships with Scott Rudin?

Your hide has been somewhat slathered with the unguent of piety, and the now worthless word brave has been appended to you.

Chabon mewls:

I knew enough to discern the pall that reliably settled over the offices whenever Scott was around, as he almost always was, and the contrasting sense of lightness if I stopped by to meet with one of the development guys when Scott was in London, say, or out for the day — not to mention the perpetual sunniness (relatively speaking) and ease that reigned in SRP’s Hollywood offices after he took up more or less permanent residence in New York toward the latter part of the 90s. “You seem good,” I remember saying to one of his LA development guys in that era, resuming work with him after an interruption of several months. “That’s because I’m here,” he replied brightly, “and Scott isn’t.” [But, but, nothing to see here, right?]

I was born, as a screenwriter, under that oppressive shadow. [And the baby has Scott Rudin’s eyes and heart.] Scott optioned my first original screenplay, in 1994, and before my first meeting with him I had already begun to hear the war stories and anecdotes from more experienced people who had worked with him.[But the checks cleared.] They seemed to accept, or resign themselves to accepting, Scott’s behavior, or at least to locate it at the extreme of a spectrum, of abusive behavior among powerful men (and a few women) in Hollywood, that they accepted. There are a lot of angry people making movies and television, and the culture of Hollywood, until now, has offered little in the way of discouragement to those who feel their status is a license to shout, curse, rant, and hurl invective or objects.[And your morality, Michael, is always predicated on avenues already opened, actions taken by braver folk. Glad that’s clear.]

So I didn’t just know; I took it for granted, from the first.

This is your confession, Michael. Where are the consequences? There is punishment due on sins, I assume you know. Are you really qualified to be a showrunner if you are so blind to the things you admit you heard, knew, saw, felt? So ineffective in saying or doing anything? Are you so insensitive to others and reliant on money that you just accepted abhorrent behavior as “the extreme of a spectrum”? Is a handjob request another bend in the spectrum? Stolen royalty payments? Thrown objects? Threats of retribution?

These things happen, I can imagine you saying. Yes, they do. People like you happen as well. Silent, complicit, worthless in improving or protecting people and a culture.

I’ve read your apology. I do not accept it. Your apology proves that your strong suit remains fiction.

Do better. Send Ayelet my love. I hope she’s feeling appreciated.

Author of FOLLIES OF GOD: TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND THE WOMEN OF THE FOG (Knopf/Vintage). Keeps meticulous notes; forgets nothing; does not care what you think.

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James Grissom

James Grissom

Author of FOLLIES OF GOD: TENNESSEE WILLIAMS AND THE WOMEN OF THE FOG (Knopf/Vintage). Keeps meticulous notes; forgets nothing; does not care what you think.

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