By Anne T. Donahue

Yesterday, Rolling Stone published a deep dive into the goings-on of The Idol, the HBO (now) Sam Levinson-directed, Abel Tesfaye and Lily Rose Depp vehicle that’s promised to be “the sleaziest love story in all of Hollywood.” (Which, like, wow – let’s just absorb that claim for a minute.)

In it, Rolling Stone included the claims of 13 sources who shared that after Levinson took over directing duties from Amy Seimetz, the network allowed him to shift from a female-centric perspective of the music industry to, ultimately, the roaring adventures of a misogynist producer-slash-cult leader (played by The Weeknd). What was supposed to be a dark, complex tale of a young woman falling victim to an industry predator is now allegedly a series that glamourizes abuse and sexual assault, and – according to a production member – is “a rape fantasy that any toxic man would have in the show” (particularly because this abusive dynamic makes Depp’s character’s music “better”).

So many aspects of this situation fucking suck. To start, it sucks that Seimetz’s vision disappeared after her exit from the series, and it sucks that what could be a cautionary narrative has devolved into an experiment of what happens when misogyny, millions of dollars, and (alleged – I get it) abuse of power collide. It sucks that HBO hasn’t said or done anything outside of throwing money at a director whose track record just keeps getting worse. It sucks that The Weeknd’s response to this investigation was to tweet “@RollingStone did we upset you?” as if it’s wringing its hands because the series isn’t soft enough (instead of, well, a self-described “shitshow”). It sucks that the cast and crew experienced what seems like one of the worst shoots of anything to exist in years. And it sucks because obviously Me Too, the downfall of Weinstein, the push for accountability, and every other brick on the pathway to “maybe we can finally put an end to rape culture” seems not to have done shit.

Which, I think, all of us knew. Since the New York Times published its Weinstein exposé in 2017, we’ve seen a few changes come about (he was arrested and convicted of rape), but outside of these obvious call-outs, we’re all still sifting through the same fucking bullshit. Assault and abuse survivors (of all genders) speak up, and then they’re greeted with flimsy defenses, slaps on the wrist for the accused, and a system that opts forgive and forget. Those who’ve experienced sexual harassment, abuse, and assault shouldn’t have to showcase their traumas to the public as proof that rape culture transcends a singular person or place. The #MeToo movement of the late 2010s was a reckoning, but it also wasn’t revealing anything new. Let’s face it: anyone who shared their stories – and those who didn’t – have been well aware that people in power often don’t give a damn if those stories aren’t convenient. We have eons and eons of work to do.

ABOVE: Lily-Rose Depp and The Weeknd star in HBO’s upcoming music industry drama The Idol, which is facing controversy due to new claims against Euphoria director Sam Levinson

But the thing about The Idol is that there have been about a million ways to curtail the shitshow before it became one. It’s terrific that Sam Levinson is bringing in money via Euphoria, but that shouldn’t deter HBO from asserting their power to clean up The Idol. No amount of power should remain unchecked. No star should LOL at allegations of terrible working conditions and the mental toll taken by simply enduring a television production. Let’s not forget: we are talking about a fucking TV show. Yes, it’s absolutely a form of art, but no art is sacred enough to justify making anybody feel like shit. What are we doing here, exactly? Why have we even subscribed to a climate in which people working in a toxic environment can’t voice their concern because they’re scared of being fired because they need to earn money to live? What the fuck, us?

Because here’s another point to ponder: it’s not like Sam Levinson is the only person (allegedly) abusing their power. It’s everywhere, all the time, and far lesser-known names are riding the high of asserting their vision to the detriment of a second party’s well-being. I wanted so much for the 2017 #MeToo resurgence to mean something; for Time’s Up to begin working through the big conversations we were starting to have, seemingly regularly. But look at us, pals: we’re here at The Idol, and it’s but a drop in the slurry of reality. Not only is everybody at risk, but we’re all clinging to paid jobs with all of our might because we need to pay bills and eat. We’re living precariously and that makes it easier for anyone riding their entitlement high to act out because they know it’s not feasible to leave one’s job. Everything feels terrible because a lot of things actually are. And the last thing anyone needs is a TV show adding to the mix and obviously not doing any of the work. (To say the least.)

It’s hard to be hopeful. Writing this, I’m angry and tired and I would like to dismantle my laptop and toss it out into the sea. But then where would that leave us? (Well, you’d be free of me talking all the time, so that might be nice for you – but that’s neither here nor there.) If we all say “Well, this is the way things are!” then we’re accepting not only that, but that it will all inevitably get worse, and that’s a shit message to send to anybody or ethos to live by. So here we are again.

But talking can help. Calling abusive systems out can achieve results (sometimes). Good things do happen, systems can be overhauled, changes can be made. Ultimately, the problem isn’t The Idol (although that is absolutely a problem), it’s the fact that this shit just keeps happening, everywhere, all the time. The Idol is but a symptom of a system that’s broken beyond repair, and we all know this, and we all mention it, and we try to rail against it, but then . . . well, you know. I want so much to write about what we can do, how we can demand action, how we can learn and then apply those lessons to overhaul the world we live in. All of which we can, but it’s hard to be optimistic when you’re also very tired and very disappointed.

So I’ll say this: fuck The Idol. And fuck the people who work in the same spirit as so-called professionals who use cultural, financial, and social clout as a justification for abuse. Anger, while the name of the game for a long while now, is essential and useful and can be the spark needed to ignite a movement. We saw that movement crystallize before, and we also saw what happened when the novelty of a movement wears off in certain circles and predators who ran underground start to feel confident again. Maybe that won’t happen with the next movement, the next spark, the next rage blackout. Maybe we learn that we can’t let flames turn to embers because it suggests that the climate’s ripe for a resurgence of same old. There’s so much to be angry about, and as much as I love a fun, positive, time, maybe we hold on to some of our ire because it’s what can keep us going when we’re feeling defeated and disillusioned. Maybe that’s where I can be helpful: reminding you (and me) that it’s okay to be angry because there’s a lot to be angry about. Anger, as long as it doesn’t hurt another person, is a valuable tool, and one I’ve used to keep me going for a very long time.

At least that’s how I’m justifying the way I’m feeling right now. That, and how dare all this controversy exist within a TV show that doesn’t even really look that good. I mean, hello: A predator? In Hollywood? Ground-breaking. If you’re going to strive for provocation, maybe don’t re-tell the oldest tale in the book.

Need a little more Anne? Read more from Anne T. Donahue right here!

Tags: Anne T. Donahue, Euphoria, Lily-Rose Depp, Rolling Stone, Sam Levinson, The Idol, the weeknd, top story, topstory

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