By MARK OPPENHEIMER, The New Republic Magazine, March 6, 2018
Last October, the morning that the Harvey Weinstein story broke in The New York Times, I published a short, stupid piece in Tablet titled “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein.” I compared Weinstein to the sexually obsessed Alexander Portnoy, the narrator of Philip Roth’s 1969 novel Portnoy’s Complaint, “a grown man whose emotional and sexual life is still all one big performance piece.” I suggested that having grown up a schlubby Jewish kid in Queens, feeling like an outsider, might have stunted and distorted Weinstein’s sexuality—basically, given him something to prove, particularly in the presence of stereotypically hot Gentile women.
There was a lot wrong with the piece, which I wrote in about twenty minutes in the hour after I read the Weinstein story. It was analytically inadequate, making an analogy between Portnoy, a fictional fetishist and pervert, and Weinstein, a real-life sociopath, a comparison that had the effect of underplaying Weinstein’s crimes and diminishing real women’s suffering. I was wrong on the facts, too, for the rolling revelations of the ensuing days showed that Weinstein was an equal-opportunity predator, happy to degrade and devour Jewish women, Gentile women, African Americans, etc., whoever and whenever.
In the week to come, I received one of those public Twitter and Facebook shamings that writers now expect as an occupational hazard. Hundreds or possibly thousands of people, including close friends and professional colleagues, wrote or shared critiques of my piece; wondered in public what had become of me; lamented my decline (which had the strangely complimentary effect of suggesting that I had some status to lose, which few writers ever really feel they do). “This is a sick, disgusting and rapist viewpoint on Weinstein’s behavior,” said one person on Twitter. “Oppenheimer’s analysis is equally as vile as Weinstein’s behavior,” said another. “Fire him.” I got offline almost immediately, but I gathered from friends that as my old cohorts were upbraiding me, enemies were embracing me. I was praised by white nationalist Richard Spencer and David Duke, whose website ran a piece titled, “Major Jewish Mag Admits Weinstein is a Jewish Racist Who Wants to Defile White People and White Women.”
The day after the piece ran, I published a short apology. “The analysis I offered was hasty and ill-considered,” I wrote. “I take this as a lesson in the importance of knowing as much as one can about a given story, and in taking the time to think and feel things completely through before opining.” I’ve written a lot of pieces that have offended people but that I’ve stood by; but I wished I hadn’t written this one. So in one respect, I was grateful for all the feedback. When I do bad work, I want to be called on it, and to have a chance to own my mistakes. But I did wonder whether there was a better, more constructive way to have the same conversation…
A week after the blowback had driven me offline, I gingerly limped back onto the web. I found that some well-wishers had stepped in to plead for mercy. Lay off him. We all make mistakes. These were the most painful for me to read, because they came from people who had believed in me, and whom I had let down. One old college friend of mine, now an Orthodox rabbi, wrote a Facebook post that began with a line from Psalm 149, recited every day in shacharit, the Jewish morning liturgy:
“The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in kindness.” It reminds me of the importance of patience, of not rushing to judgment, of taking time—both because compassion is better, and often harder, than anger, and because justice and fairness are best-served when achieved deliberately. Mark Oppenheimer has been a friend of mine for twenty years. He rushed and did something stupid and offensive (not criminal, just stupid), a mistake he has admitted. The world, it seems, has rushed to condemn and disown him. Would that we could all slow down a bit. It’s the only way we’re going to survive.
Re-reading that defense of me four months later is, paradoxically, rather cheering; the attacks feel like a lifetime away, while the tribute, the public announcement of affection from a man I like and admire but seldom see, feels very lasting. If I hadn’t written something offensive and stupid, and come in for a communal drubbing, I’d never have known how loyal the rabbi felt toward me. We simply aren’t that closely in touch. If not for this whole episode, the next time he praised me on Facebook might have been on hearing news of my death (hopefully so far in the future that Facebook will be a thing of the distant past). And he wasn’t the only one to emerge from the mists of time and tap me on the shoulder, offering consoling words or a virtual hug. That week, I probably got two dozen text messages or emails asking how I was holding up.
Part of me wanted all the well-wishers to just cut it out, since their messages were what kept me from forgetting about the controversy altogether. Friends of mine who have also been mobbed online have reported the same bittersweet experience: You go offline to preserve some sanity—to continue to function as a spouse, a mom or dad, a competent employee—and just when you have pieced together two or three hours during which you haven’t thought about the shredding of your reputation, your phone buzzes and—before you think better of it—you read the incoming text: “oof—twitter is the worst! u okay?”
I was okay, mostly, but for one very bad night. After my wife and children were all asleep, I found myself under some blankets on the sofa, trembling, worried that the wheels would come off and I’d lose everything. The chain of events didn’t seem so implausible. If one colleague or student at Yale, where I teach, decided that my internet post really was “as vile as Weinstein’s behavior,” and called for my firing, would the responsible department chairs and deans have the fortitude—in the days after those first Weinstein revelations—to point out that I had never actually done anything like what Weinstein had done, not even close? And if I were fired from my teaching post, and then the freelance writing work dried up, what would I do for money? Or health insurance? What of the mortgage, not even remotely paid off? And what would the shame of being unable to provide do to my composure as a husband and father? Unemployment destroys families. For about an hour, it all seemed precarious and fragile…
Read more at … https://newrepublic.com/article/147276/death-civility-digital-age
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