Monday, July 30, 2018

Did Chris Hardwick Get Away With It? More Thoughts

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An internal investigation by AMC (formerly American Movie Classics) has concluded to reinstate Talking Dead host Chris Hardwick after allegations of abuse and using his influence to blackball his ex-girlfriend/accuser surfaced against him. Chloe Dykstra, whose essay brought about Hardwick's now-temporary removal from AMC and the San Diego Comic-Con panels, chose not to participate in the investigation.

Hardwick is, to my knowledge, the first man accused of abuse in the #MeToo era to survive the accusations and return to his career.  He was vociferously defended online, with petitions demanding his return to AMC's programming.  I at first did not understand why of all people Hardwick, someone who does not have the same name recognition or peer respect as a Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Garrison Keillor or Charlie Rose among so many men charged of inappropriate behavior towards women, inspired such intense defense and loyalty, then I had some revelations.

This is just my own personal theory, but I think it was not so much Hardwick himself that was defended by so many, but fandom itself.  All those who defended Hardwick see him in a particular light: essentially as an extension of themselves.  They see him as they see themselves: 'a fan' of the shows which they themselves are fans of, particularly The Walking Dead.

They see him as 'one of "us"', the Nerd Who Made Good, the cheerful, upbeat, cheery host delving into the nuances of certain shows: Walking Dead and its prequel Fear the Walking Dead, Better Call Saul, Preacher, a whole cavalcade of AMC programming and other shows like Doctor Who.  The attack on Hardwick was by extension an attack on them.  These fans needed Hardwick with whom they could metaphorically share in Rick Grimes' newest battle with zombies and Saul Goodman's moral quandaries.

To them, he is an embodiment of Nerd Culture Itself, a metaphorical prophet and spokesman for their own cosplaying and fan-fiction.  As such, like any cult, when The Leader is attacked by outside forces, the followers must defend him at all costs.

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How else to describe this passage from the petition calling for his reinstatement (emphasis mine): "I need my weekly therapist to reassure me that even when a character dies on one of my favorite shows that we are not alone. Let's be there for Chris,  like he has been there for us."

How Hardwick has actually 'been there' for Carrie Lynne, the woman who started the petition, apart from being a cheerleader on television for a particular show she happens to be passionately devoted to, she does not answer.  Was Chris there for her when someone she knew personally, a friend of family member, actually died?  Did Hardwick attend any funerals she went to and comfort her? How about any birthdays, weddings, quinceaneras, bar/bat mitzvahs?  Did Chris provide personal therapy if and when she went through a bad breakup?  Has Hardwick ever had Carrie or any other Walking/Talking Dead fan over for coffee, for dinner at his home?

I'm going to say 'no', but this sense of personal connection between the fans and someone they more than likely have never actually met outside a brief meet-and-greet, panel discussion or autograph signing/picture is what caused in my view Hardwick be one of the most and loudly defended men accused of improper behavior towards a woman. 

I don't think Garrison Keillor inspired such devotion. 

Chris Hardwick may now be grateful to Carrie Lynne for spearheading the petition, but I doubt he knew who she even was prior to it, let alone care.  For Carrie Lynne and all 44,617 signers however, Chris is more than a mere host.  He is Their Friend.  He Is Them.

They did not see him as I see him: a shill, a lackey, a charlatan, a fraud, a shyster, a tool.  I have a darker vision of Hardwick, as someone who is essentially a de facto if not an actual de jure employee of whatever television or film studio offers up money and promotional consideration to him.  He curries favor with production companies, continuously kissing up to them and peddling to his devotees whatever the networks/studios offer, no matter how awful. 

It won't matter that Justice League is terrible or that Doctor Who has been on a downward slide for a few years; there will be Chris Hardwick, saying, at least initially, how fantastic it all is. As a face of AMC, he was there not so much to 'talk' about the shows as an ardent, independent viewer but as a paid spokesman.

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I'm at a slight disadvantage in that I have never seen either The Walking Dead or Talking Dead, so I leave it to readers to guide me on this point: has Chris Hardwick ever said anything negative or critical of any AMC show? 

Perhaps not on Talking Dead, as the show is probably nothing more than an infomercial for Fear/The Walking Dead.  However, what about on his podcasts or at The Nerdist?  Perhaps someone at his old site might write an occasional negative review of something, but by and large Hardwick has been at the heart of being an advance man for all these shows and films without actually saying it out loud for full disclosure as they say. 

I have been open about my disdain for Hardwick and his 'many-headed beast', The Nerdist.  My disdain for both began when Hardwick hosted the After Deep Breath special on BBC America.  This 'special', billed on my DISH Network guide as being hosted by 'super-fan' Hardwick, was ostensibly done to talk about the Doctor Who Series/Season Eight premiere episode Deep Breath.  One of the 'guests' on the After Deep Breath special was Doctor Who writer/actor Mark Gatiss, someone who is also heavily involved behind the scenes of this science-fiction show.

As a side note, I can imagine that the After Deep Breath special is how Talking Dead and/or Talking With Chris Hardwick is, which is where I get my impressions of a chat show I have never seen myself.

That Gatiss was a guest on the After Deep Breath special in and of itself is neither surprising nor wrong.  It was at the end of the special when my views of Hardwick turned from mere puzzlement at his popularity to downright hostility.  As our cheerful little host was waving to the camera and all but sing-song saying "Bye-bye", I caught something in a 'blink-and-you-miss-it' closing credit that troubled me immensely.

One of the executive producers of the After Deep Breath special was none other than Mark Gatiss.

Why did this cause such ire and trouble for me?  It is because I found the whole thing went from a celebration of Doctor Who to a more insidious, almost incestuous union of the production and the 'independent' viewer. 

I compared this in my mind to whenever CBS Sunday Morning profiles a certain author or ABC has a report on a Disney-related story.  They make note that the author's book is published by 'a division of CBS' or that Disney is the 'parent company of ABC'.  That is a message to viewers that they are, in theory, upfront about any potential 'conflict of interest', that said report is not intended to be an infomercial.

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Hardwick and BBC America in this case made no such distinction.  A simple statement from Hardwick stating, "Mark Gatiss is not just a guest but an executive producer of the After Deep Breath special" would have been enough, but as far as I remember Hardwick made no such mention.  In short, he let the audience believe that Gatiss was there merely to discuss how wonderful Deep Breath was, not that Gatiss was essentially in charge and that Hardwick was at least on this occasion his employee.  If Deep Breath was awful, Hardwick was never going to say it out loud to Gatiss' face. 

It just seemed somehow dishonest, wrong, insincere, even deceptive.

I found Deep Breath awful, and maybe Hardwick and my Nerdist bete noir Kyle Anderson genuinely found it all wonderful and brilliant.  However, if in this case Hardwick had actually thought Deep Breath was crap, would he have said so on the After Deep Breath special?  How could he when his boss was involved in the show he was essentially reviewing/discussing?

I figure that if Hardwick had been around during Classic Doctor Who and he had an After The Twin Dilemma special, Hardwick would have raved about how wonderful the Sixth Doctor's debut story was.  He wouldn't have told then-script editor Eric Saward or then-producer John Nathan-Turner that it was one of if not the worst Doctor Who stories of all time.  If Saward or JNT had been the executive producers of a hypothetical After The Twin Dilemma special, would they have been accused of being in cahoots with a willing Hardwick?

To my mind, this all smacked of collusion, of something close but not similar to the quiz show scandals of the 1950s, when 'contestants' on various game shows knew the answers before the questions were asked.  The shows pretended that the 'contestants' were on the level when the fix was already in, deliberately misleading the audience into thinking they were watching something 'unscripted' when it was all a front. 

I think a similar argument could be made against so-called 'reality shows', but that is another subject.

By failing to disclose that his 'guest' Mark Gatiss was also his boss, to my mind Chris Hardwick was misleading his audience at the very least, downright lying to them at the very worst.

Ever since then, I have found Chris Hardwick to be a front, a deceitful figure behind the grinning persona.

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However, none of that actually answers my original question: did Chris Hardwick get away with it? Let's look at a few details.

The AMC statement is specifically worded (emphasis mine). 

"Following a comprehensive assessment by AMC, working with Ivy Kagan Bierman of the firm Loeb & Loeb, who has considerable experience in this area, Chris Hardwick will return to AMC as the host of Talking Dead and Talking with Chris Hardwick. We take these matters very seriously and given the information available to us after a very careful review, including interviews with numerous individuals, we believe returning Chris to work is the appropriate step."

Contrary to what the #IStandWithChrisHardwick crowd has been shouting, it does nowhere near state that he is 'innocent' of anything Dykstra said.  It merely states that their assessment of the case led them to restore Hardwick to his position with the network.  Since Dykstra chose not to be part of the 'interviews with numerous individuals', just whom did AMC actually interview on the matter?  Who else would have had knowledge of the specifics of the case?

They could have interviewed people who worked on Talking Dead I imagine, but one wonders what kind of information they could have provided as to whether or not Hardwick ordered Dykstra to cut off her male friends or whether he used his influence to keep her from getting employment.

How did Loeb & Loeb discover which companies Hardwick may have contacted to allegedly tell them not to hire Dykstra?  Did they find the doctor who treated Dykstra for an ectopic pregnancy to verify if Hardwick really was asked by Hardwick when she would be ready to have sex? Did they track down any former friends of Dykstra who could tell them she broke off their friendship on Hardwick's orders?  What was 'the information available to (them)'?  Will we the general public be able to see the report and its conclusions for itself?

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Mudding the waters is that Loeb & Loeb, the law firm which handled the Hardwick investigation, appears to also represent the Hearst family. Hardwick is married to Lynda Hearst, an heiress to the still-wealthy family.  If that is the case, then the people investigating Hardwick also in a sense work for Hardwick.  

This again suggests collusion, a circling of the wagons to protect Hardwick.  The network whom Hardwick's most associated with did not actually clear him of any wrongdoing.  The firm investigating Hardwick may have had a conflict of interest.

Could it be that again, the fix was in, that the investigation's conclusions was a foregone conclusion? Was AMC more concerned about a loss to their brand than on whether or not their smiling face blacklisted someone weaker to get back at them?

The Hardwick saga has been fascinating on so many levels.  Some will see this as a case of a man who managed to have his career restored after ugly stories emerged.  Others will see this as a story of someone richer and more influential managing to use said wealth and influence to survive what has sunk or at least heavily damaged others.

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For me, one of the takeaways of all this is the rank hypocrisy of Chris Hardwick and his fans.  For so long, Hardwick loved to lecture us about #MeToo, how 'all women/accusers should be believed'.  I do not remember Hardwick calling for 'due process' when Louis C.K. was accused, or when Joss Whedon was accused, or when Aziz Ansari was accused, or when Jeffrey Tambor was accused.  I do not remember Hardwick's fans rushing to their defense either, insisting that everyone is 'presumed innocent until guilty'.

Rather, Hardwick was among the first to say we needed to believe the accusers, that we needed to expunge ourselves of all those in positions of power who did terrible things to women. They were 'victims' or 'survivors', to be believed in all cases and to have those accused shunned and run out of the business.  Hardwick's fans agreed with him.

Once Hardwick himself was accused, then the story changed. The same people who not just cheered on the First Female Doctor on Doctor Who but called those of us who objected as to the reason behind this change everything from 'a**holes' to 'not real fans', who prided themselves on their feminist credentials, now turned around and called Dykstra every name in the book.

These same 'woke male feminists', along with some women, the same ones who pushed for swift retribution against others accused of sexual misconduct now turned around and referred to Dykstra as the following:

'disgruntled', 'vindictive', 'bitter and jealous of (Hardwick's) happiness and success', 'jilted ex seeking public attention for herself', 'angry pissed off ex girlfriend', 'an ex with problems of her own', 'a jealous demented woman', 'a petty vendetta by a jealous ex' , 'vengeful ex girlfriend...who has an agenda to destroy him', and 'this no name ex girlfriend'.

Dykstra's status as an "ex girlfriend" certainly pops up a lot with those defending their beloved host, doesn't it?

All those are from those who signed the petition. One can imagine how Twitter users behaved.

One of the more curious defenses is that it was "only one woman" who accused Hardwick of anything.  I suppose by that logic, if someone murdered "only one person" that makes it better than if he/she had murdered more than one.

It all seems so strange: that Hardwick and his 'army', the ones who virtue-signaled about 'gender equality' and 'representation' and 'supporting victims/survivors' quickly turned around and dismissed Dykstra's words as the ramblings of some two-bit angry psycho b***h. 

Chris Hardwick and Hardwick's Army are woke...unless the wokeness turns on them, then they can resort to 'bunny boiler' cracks.

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In all this I have never stated what I think of whether or not I believe Chris Hardwick is innocent or guilty.  I have been open of my disdain for Hardwick, but disdain does not equal belief of guilt.

I simply do not know if Chris Hardwick did anything Chloe Dykstra said he did.  I was not there.  Only two people know for certain.  Lynda Hearst does not know, nor does her mother, Patty 'Tania' Hearst, or Carrie Lynne or any of Hardwick's Army or Hardwick's BFF/fellow woke male feminist Wil Wheaton.

Neither, however, do any of Hardwick's detractors who insist he is guilty know for certain whether he is guilty.

My views have not changed.  I am a firm believer that all accused have the right to defend themselves and are innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.  

With that, I think Chris Hardwick has to be given the benefit of the doubt.

I can also believe that the stories Dykstra and other women and men such as Anthony Rapp when he accused Kevin Spacey are true.  I can believe that someone was victimized and also believe that the person accused, unless he/she admits it publicly, is innocent until proven guilty.  I do not see it as an either/or situation.  

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Here's the thing: Chris Hardwick himself has insisted that 'all women must be believed'.  He has, to my knowledge, never said that the accused should be 'given the benefit of the doubt'.  Instead, he has been among those pushing to drop those accused. 

If we go by his own standards, he himself is guilty just by her own words and he should not work again.

We are not going by my standards.  We are going by his standards.  As such, Hardwick is going to have to make a very good case as for why other men accused should have been drummed out of the business but he himself, once accused, should be the exception.

As I have said, he and his followers cannot have it both ways: saying it is morally right to dump people like Rose or Keillor but not morally right when it comes to himself.

As to his firing/rehiring, that is at the discretion of his employers.  Whatever Hardwick's Army may believe, Chris Hardwick is not entitled to be the host of anything merely because they like him. AMC now has this investigation to cover themselves with legally and morally, so they are now free to get anyone they like.  This investigation did not prove/disprove whether he blacklisted an ex girlfriend, which is a criminal act.  If it did, please let me know by pointing where I can read the full report.

Here now are my conclusions.

I believe the AMC investigation is weak and possibly tainted if the investigators are in the pay of Hardwick's family.  The investigation did not exonerate Hardwick of anything.  I would like an actual independent investigation, one where Dykstra actually is involved and where Hardwick can confront his accuser.

I believe Chris Hardwick should call on his 'Army' to apologize to Dykstra.  His acolytes have demanded Dykstra apologize to Hardwick for 'smearing' him.  However, they in their fevered defense called her all sorts of awful names, something no woman should be subjected to.  Hardwick has an opportunity to at least rise to the occasion and say that calling a woman a 'psycho' or a 'b***h' or anything like that is unacceptable.

I believe Chris Hardwick is not the victim.

I do not believe Chloe Dykstra wrote her article for 'fame', to 'further her career' or to get back at her ex.  If she did, she went about it all wrong. I know of no woman who has a flowering career after making these allegations.  Even large names that have called out abusers, such as Ashley Judd and Mira Sorvino, are not having a flurry of scripts suddenly sent their way.

So, ultimately, did Chris Hardwick get away with it?  Legally, there was nothing to get away from: he was never criminally charged with anything. Career-wise?  Well, he's now going to be back on the air, while Chloe Dykstra, who never actually used Chris Hardwick's name, isn't.

I leave to you whether or not in the end, Chris Hardwick Got Away With It. 

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