If we stop to think about it, there is something very important buried in the chronicle of stories written by Ronan Farrow in The New Yorker. It’s in the detail deep down in the stories. Ostensibly, what we tend to remember are the Israeli spies, open bathrobes and emanations into potted plants—the dramatic circumstances. People are tuned to enact and respond to that in other people and in the stories they read and watch. Spectacle is what great mythology and morality fables are about, we live for the soap opera.
But as we delve into the accounts of the women, we start to recognise something so familiar in them and it’s not just the sexual assault. We come to a standstill in our reading, stumped by the sheer commonplace internality of it all, which is the very opposite of twitter or social media where we have become inured to wading through the posed external stuff that people like to leave behind for others to see.
In those New Yorker stories lie a subliminal behavioural pattern that is very simply humdrum; we have seen it so many times that it seems to hide in plain sight in the people around us, perhaps even in us. It’s so simple and so easy that upon reading these stories we now realise that these powerful men have probably been cultivating it for a very long time, maybe from the time they were pre-adolescent, and no one saw it, and even if people saw it, they chose to ignore it. It cannot have just happened one day. Such behaviours need time to develop. It needs time, practice and wilful blind allowance from the closest people around, for perpetrators just starting out to think they can do something to someone, and then get away with it, without ever acknowledging that they did something.
Even an immature impulse control issue can be practised and allowed to journey into the adult world. When caught out they insist they didn’t do it, and we often remark that they are self deluded, but even self delusion becomes perfected from practising constantly. Perhaps it is us that wants to believe that they are self deluded. If the people so close to us are indeed aware of what they do to us, how can they live with themselves, we wonder. Sometimes, the problem lies within us, not the con artist who manipulated us. The con artist will continue to con, most will never acknowledge it, but those of us around that person can choose not to be blind anymore.
The women in Farrow’s stories recount how after the incident, forget an apology, the perpetrator, the powerful man, acts as if nothing happened, and amazingly, tries to flip the script on the victim, even deluding himself into believing that instead he is the victim. How many times have we seen this in our own lives, when instead of an apology we get blamed? The flipping is itself a kind of dramatic subterfuge to confuse the victim, and undecided bystanders, smoke blown in our faces to cover up the actual deed. In The New Yorker story, the powerful person has taken the flipping to the next level by even sitting on a committee that seeks to prevent such acts against women and men in the future. Surprisingly, this is more predictable than we think.
While we focus on the drama and feed off sentiment, there are subliminal things going on around us in the people that we know that we are unable to perceive. If we pay more attention, pay less heed to their and our own penchant for the dramatic, then maybe we can stop a harmful behaviour before it becomes practised and journeys off into the distant future to turn into predaciousness of one kind or another. And, maybe this is just make believe, precrime blather, hoping that we can stop something from happening before it actually happens, especially when we think it could be a loved one who could do something awful to somebody some day. Life may not be a short story by Philip K. Dick. But it helps to be able to read the people around us, be aware of what they mean, and not what they say.