Ethan Hawke Says Talking About Male Sexuality is ‘Petrifying’

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Cancel culture is a relatively new term for something that has been going on my whole life, and it’s been both interesting and dismaying to watch the groups targeted by the cancelers, so to speak, turn around and do the same thing when they’re the ones with cultural cache.

The earliest targets I remember were The Simpsons and Married… With Children. Nowadays when someone calls for The Simpsons to be canceled, it’s mostly because it hasn’t produced a memorable joke in 10 years. But there was a time when the President of the United States complained about the program to a national audience because Bart was disrespectful to his father. I watched the show since it was just shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show when I was maybe 6 or 7, but my cousin who is 3 years younger than me was forbidden from watching the show when it was a cultural phenomenon at its peak in the 90s and my uncle told my parents they were bad parents for letting me watch The Simpsons. Watch any episode of that show from the first five seasons and tell me if you find anything you think is inappropriate for children.

Of course, that turned to the politically correct 90s which in turn became the borderline nationalist 2000s that saw The Dixie Chicks getting canceled. And now it’s swung the other way but in a weird way.

There’s been a very strange left-wing Puritanism about sex and sexuality that has put it under a microscope and is just looking for anything that could be perceived as a “power imbalance” so someone can be labeled a bad guy.

Ethan Hawke recently wrote a novel where the protagonist has a sexual relationship with a younger woman, one of the real bugaboos of the Tumblr refugees who have invaded Twitter, and he told The Guardian he realized how fraught with peril this decision was.

Our sexual identity and the relationship we have through it, to ourselves and to others, is defining in our lives. And in the light of cancel culture and shaming – while a lot of this moment is very helpful – it’s a difficult time to say: “I want to be open about the idiosyncrasies of human sexuality.” What’s that great Mark Twain line? “The aim of art is to alleviate shame.” We’re in this period now when you can’t even write about bad behaviour because it might seem like you’re condoning it. You have to be able to create a character who does things they wish they didn’t do. I went back and forth on it, because it’s just a petrifying time to speak about male sexuality. If you can’t shine a light into dark corners, the demons that live there will never go away.

I think every word of what Hawke says here is right on the money. You look at a guy like Harvey Weinstein, he went away for actual rape, but a lot of the complaints about him were women who did consent to have sex with him but maybe felt like they had to because he was so powerful a person in the industry. At the same time, while we know Harv did exploit his power in a way that was wrong, powerful people do also have a right to love and to be sexual beings just like everyone else.

There’s nothing wrong with two consenting adults having a relationship, and one of them, regretting it afterward doesn’t make it wrong in retrospect. We all have relationships we regret and we all dated someone we wish we hadn’t and sometimes those relationships leave us with emotional scars. That doesn’t mean every superficial similarity to those relationships is cause for alarm. You never learn anything if you don’t make mistakes, and that’s doubly true for love.

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3 years ago

Pretty brave to post this. I’m impressed.