An other one bites the lust

I grew up as a huge fan of the series ‘Buiten de Zone’, it was a show like a whacky punk song that lasted about half an hour and not the standard two minutes of guitar gallop. Fast, clever, witty, original, absurd, full of cultural references, and often endearing and hysterical at the same time.

The driving force behind shows like this was Bart De Pauw.

I was 11 and I wanted to act like Bart De Pauw. He often played an underdog loser with a romantic heart or an overly vain wannabe. Very funny material.

This week one of the biggest Flemish television network severed ties with him after 30 years of intense work together.

Several women have anonymously accused him of bombarding them with smsses that were ‘racy’, ‘flirtatious’ or even ‘pornographic’, the frequency of which bordered on stalking.

Several newspaper articles state that actresses who did not take the bait, and ignored his sexual invitations, never got an other part through Bart De Pauw. At least one is claimed to have left the entertainment industry entirely after her experiences working for Bart De Pauw. Other female colleagues have voiced their support for their boss.

“He that is without sin among you, let him cast the first stone.”

When it happened to people I’m not really a fan of, artistically, I was already aware of how deep the problem ran in the entertainment industry. I’ve written some plays myself, and I have worked with several -not well known- directors and I’ve seen a thing or two myself, I have been very flirtatious myself on some sets, and though I never stalked anybody, at least one actress once complained to my girlfriend that I talked a bit too much about sex, at which point I stopped bringing up the subject entirely. And I did help the actress to get more parts in other plays. I didn’t take ‘revenge’ for the rebuke. Unfortunately I saw a very drunk director do something inappropriate to the same actress. I saw him shoving money in her bra. She laughed about it, but she was clearly not ok with it. Women have had to be afraid for so long, have had to make themselves seem to be agreeable at all times, that when these things happen they rarely hit back hard the moment it happens. But they never forget. Ultimately it’s a question of power. They suffer in silence and make mental notes. There’s a collective countermove going on right now.

So this whole #metoo development has made me think long and hard about my own behavior. Is a post like this one about the Slovak women I teach already a bridge too far?

I notice that a lot of my male friends are asking themselves the same questions. Can we be added to the #metoo list as well? Can almost all males be added to the #metoo list? Have we ever encountered women who did similar stuff to us, situations in which the roles were reversed? The answer is yes, in my case, some women have come on quite strongly to me in the past. But for some reason I would never accuse them of sexual harassment, even if the experience was somewhat unpleasant. Am I too lenient? Too understanding? These women were not my boss and my career didn’t depend on them. If it had affected my career in any way I would have been furious, for sure. Luckily that wasn’t the case.

I have asked a mental health professional with more than 20 years of experience in working with offenders, people who abuse their children, spouses, etc., what he thinks about this affair.

He says: ‘Bart De Pauw has made a video message on YouTube, proclaiming his innocence. In three minutes he uses every excuse in the book to deny the allegations. I have 20 years of experience working with people like this. I know the way offenders think they can get away with stuff like this. There’s zero real self-reflection. He doesn’t want to hear what those women have to say, he doesn’t even want to consider that perhaps he did go too far and did use his position to try and get gratification. My guess is that he’s a narcissist who couldn’t handle the power he had’.

I think we all underestimate what power does to a person. Few can handle it. Few are mature enough to not use it to their advantage. In that sense the ‘lord of the rings’ trilogy is an excellent parable.

When we are in a power position, we’d better make sure we have people around us who warn us about the dangers. Unfortunately we usually choose to surround ourselves with sycophants who don’t encourage serious self-reflection. I’ve always had the good fortune of having people around me who immediately pointed out my power hungry behavior, in private, without publicly attacking me, but in a way that I had to listen, with a well aimed kick in the ass.

I think today lots of men are afraid of being added to the list of bordercrossing predators. It’s certainly making me more careful about flirtatious stuff I blurt out. I still do, almost daily, but hell, in the back of my head an alarm is ringing. Did I cross a line? Is this woman really smiling or is she thinking which lawyer to contact?

I think Bart De Pauw is quite like me, so I can’t say the news leaves me cold. He’s creative, he makes quick associations when he talks, is goofy, is very attracted to women and doesn’t seem to hide that fact, and he has less of an impulse control than most people, perhaps a condition to be creative. Where is the border between fun and flirtatious and harassment and stalking?

Sending a woman ‘I want to fuck you’ over and over again and never offering her an other job if she doesn’t want to, is way past the line. There’s nothing funny about that.

I think the worst ‘seduction’ tactic I ever tried myself was sending the lady of my fancy two brand new tooth brushes in a big brown enveloppe. One red, one blue. As if to suggest we would wake up one day together, stay over at each other’s place, and be in need of tooth brushes, to brush the romantic breakfast in bed away. Although we went out later she never ever commented on that ‘gesture’. I think if she had wanted to she could easily have acccused me of harassment and I might have pleaded temporary insanity, which was true, because I was in love.

One more thing: those that are now quick to crucify everyone that gets added to the list of the accused, perhaps you could list your own transgressions, before you pass judgement.