To borrow a Bluth family catchphrase, Jason Bateman and the men of Arrested Development have made a huge mistake.
How do I start to recognize the moments as they happen and gain the courage to go against the tide, to lend my voice and my support to those who suffer before deferring to those who dished out the suffering?In a recent New York Times interview, Bateman and his male co-stars (Tony Hale, David Cross, and Will Arnett) repeatedly interrupted Jessica Walter’s tearful pleas regarding the abusive treatment she suffered from Jeffrey Tambor who plays the Bluth family patriarch, George (and his twin brother, Oscar). Time and again over the course of the interview, Bateman, et al., minimized Walter’s experiences and dismissed her grievances as par for the Hollywood course. Even after Walter’s impassioned cry that no one, in her nearly 60-year-long acting career, had demeaned her on a set the way Tambor had done, the men doubled down, with Hale and Cross coming to Bateman’s (and Tambor’s) defense, seemingly oblivious to Walter’s distress.
Critics have rightly pointed out that these men’s actions paint a sad but near-perfect picture of the myriad ways women struggle to have their voices heard.
To be clear, Tambor’s treatment of Walter is neither alleged nor debatable. Tambor himself confessed to a previously undisclosed workplace blowup directed at Walter and has alluded to being a difficult and belligerent coworker. This was in the context of Tambor fending off sexual abuse allegations after Amazon ousted him from his starring role in Transparent.
As the #MeToo cloud loomed over the release of Arrested Development’s newest season (its first after a five-year hiatus), I can only imagine how the cast mentally prepared for precisely the line of questioning they received in this interview. It seems clear now that extensive effort was made to present a uniform front and unconditional support of Jeffrey Tambor, as they called for “context” that would presumably justify his actions and equate his behavior with little more than family squabbles. Their pre-interview prep was clearly centered on Tambor, and yet in all their preparation to be a friend to him, it’s also apparent these men failed to be a friend to Walter.
In a way, I’m reminded of Senator Ben Sasse’s notorious interview with Bill Maher wherein Sasse facetiously invited Maher to Nebraska to “work in the fields with us.” Maher responded with an obscene joke that invoked slavery and used the N-word. With cameras recording his every move, Sasse, a conservative and devout evangelical, forced a smile and silently nodded while the audience laughed and Maher smirked, amused with himself. Social media rightly took Sasse to task for failing to say or do anything more than give a goofy, awkward grin.
I’ve thought a lot about that exchange in the year since it aired. I was as horrified as anyone at Maher’s “joke.” Yet I have to admit, shamefully, that I saw something of myself in the Senator’s latent, tepid response. I share many core values with Sasse. Do I also share his inability to speak up for justice when the immediate moment calls for it, too?
I thought of the great effort I expend being charming and charitable in public and social gatherings. I considered the times I’ve opted to keep the peace rather than say the hard thing when the time called for it, and how my silence excused and pacified offenses that left hurt people without a friend in me.
And now, with this Arrested Development interview, I reflect upon the many times I’ve failed what would seem the lowest possible test: to recognize in real-time that something wrong is even happening. Not only did these men fail to do the right thing in the moment; they failed to recognize the part they played in perpetuating their female colleague’s pain.
How deeply entrenched is a desire to defend and rally around “one of our own” that it would cause men to ignore all evidence to the contrary, even when that evidence is a trusted woman sitting in literally the same room as you, her voice quivering, tears in her eyes, speaking plainly and forcefully about her experiences?
What causes that? Is it a desire for harmony, an attempt to smooth over rough edges? Is it a desire to be charming and funny and avoid unpleasantness?
Maybe it’s to avoid a scene in front of a newspaper reporter.
Or maybe, just maybe, this is yet another insidious way that misogyny presents itself: one man elevating the respect and relationship he has with another man as more important than that of a woman.
Whatever the answer is, I think each possibility is worth deep self-reflection and, if needed, repentance.
For me, just as I saw myself in Sasse, today I see myself in Tony Hale, too.
Hale, a professing Christian whose “faith is everything” to him, has since tweeted an apology to Jessica Walter. As a fellow believer, I like to think that Hale looks back on this interview the same way I hope I would, by internalizing the Lord’s words for such moments as this: “I say to you, as you did it to [a female colleague and friend], you did it to me.”
As Christians, we know God doesn’t expect our perfection. We know there’s abundant grace that meets us when we screw up, even when our failure is played out in the most public of venues.
God doesn’t call us to mentally re-litigate our worst moments ad nauseam. But he does call us to be quick and complete with our repentance and to proceed from our shortcomings by bearing witness to Christ’s unflinching devotion to the marginalized as his hands and feet on the earth.
How do I do this? How do I start to recognize the moments as they happen and gain the courage to go against the tide, to lend my voice and my support to those who suffer before deferring to those who dished out the suffering?
I can start by listening.
As a white man in America, I operate within a society that was built with me in mind. The deference I’m afforded because of my gender and skin color is so ubiquitous that it’s often rendered invisible to me.
This means if I’m going to learn anything about the lived experiences of those who don’t carry those same unearned benefits, I’ll need to stop, listen, and not say anything for a while. It will require ceding the floor to any “Jessica Walters” in my life, gladly accepting their experiential authority and honoring that authority while fighting any misguided urge within me to overwrite it.
Meanwhile, the task before me is to be ready. Ready to drop my prepared platitudes in favor of being an ally. Ready when someone invokes a hurtful, racial slur or disparages an abused sister. Ready to know how I’ll react and what I’ll say when the time comes. Ready to recognize the time when it happens.
As I reflect on who the Walters in my own life are, I can humbly move toward them with good, earnest questions and a posture to learn with the goal of becoming a vocal friend when the moment calls for it.
Watching Walter fight to be heard, hearing the pain and frustration in her voice and seeing the damage done in the name of peacekeeping has reminded me that that’s what an ally does.
It’s what friends do.