Terry Gilliam has a new movie coming out. But he doesn’t want to talk about art in his latest interview with Alexandra Pollard in The Independent, he wants to talk about how crazy culture has become. The fact that Gilliam’s film is about Cervantes’ Don Quixote, a man who believes in his own rightness, despite the entirety of society telling him he is wrong, is pretty timely. In his later career, with heaps of successes and failures at his feet, Gilliam has a breadth of understanding about how a culture that used to skewer itself for laughs has landed in a place where nothing is funny, and ambition is mocked.
“I understand that men have had more power longer, but I’m tired, as a white male, of being blamed for everything that is wrong with the world,” Gilliam told Pollard. “I didn’t do it!” Pollard tried to school him on the idea of white privilege, that while he might not be to blame personally, the historically racist underpinnings of society mean that he should bear an awareness and responsibility for the unfairness of his success.
Of course, Gilliam has failed, countless times. The Man Who Killed Don Quixote has been in the works since 2000. It has hit snag after snag. That it was made at all speaks to Gilliam’s refusal to let the project die. And not all of his films have been big hits. A few have even flopped. But he keeps picking himself up and giving it another go.
If Gilliam were asked to take a step back, to curb his ambition and artistic drive simply so someone else could have a chance in his stead, he would guffaw. For Gilliam, that’s just not how things work, and it shouldn’t be.
Gilliam tells Pollard “We’re living in a time where there’s always somebody responsible for your failures, and I don’t like this. I want people to take responsibility and not just constantly point a finger at somebody else, saying, ‘You’ve ruined my life.’” On Weinstein, he says that “when you have power, you don’t take responsibility for abusing others. You enjoy the power. That’s the way it works in reality.” Weinstein wasn’t a monster on his own, he was able to use his power to get what he wanted because people wanted access to that power.
There were plenty of others who got caught up in the mob’s wrath and need for vengeance. “Yeah, I said #MeToo is a witch hunt,” Gilliam replied when Pollard brought it up. “I really feel there were a lot of people, decent people, or mildly irritating people, who were getting hammered. That’s wrong. I don’t like mob mentality. These were ambitious adults.”
As a culture, we might want the objective best to win out, or for each sex, every race, ethnicity, creed, gender identity, and sexual orientation to be represented equally in every field at all times, but Gilliam posits that ambition doesn’t work that way and that it shouldn’t. In the push for inclusivity, we have dispensed with the idea of “objective good,” in favour of something more about moral rightness based upon inclusion of identity factors.
Attitudes like those from U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team captain Megan Rapinoe are what Gilliam is speaking against. As she prepared to be honoured as the Sports Illustrated person of the year, she was asked about the 2018 stats that showed 21% of men are afraid to hire women in the current climate, she called bullsh*t.
“Well, women are afraid to be raped, sexually assaulted, sexually harassed, kept out of jobs, fired from jobs, moved laterally their entire career,” she said. “If you have some sort of platform you can support that way… You don’t have to get involved in a million charities. You can literally just re-tweet stuff. You can speak up and show support that way.”
Of course, we know that social media activism is hollow, as President Obama told us, something of a meaningless gesture that reflects more on the intent to show virtue than on securing meaningful change. While #MeToo has raised some awareness about workplace harassment, it has also destroyed men’s careers. #MeToo is not strictly an altruistic movement– and why would it be? Hardly anything is. It has been used to restructure power hierarchies. Only instead of the traditionally capitalistic power tools like money and profit, it uses emotional manipulation and the valour of victimhood to achieve its aims.
A man whose career was founded on pushing the envelope as part of Monty Python, the 79-year-old filmmaker cannot abide our incessant outrage culture and the demise of personal responsibility. He blames only himself for his failures, and while Pollard seemed consistently appalled by his remarks, Gilliam is not wrong.