There have been rumors of an entity in Hollywood called "The Casting Couch". The Casting Couch is "the supposed practice whereby actors or actresses are awarded parts in movies, plays, or other productions in return for granting sexual favors to the casting director". Depending on the individual, the Casting Couch can be a fitting symbol of the real Hollywood or a Hollywood urban legend in the same category as "THE ILLUMINATI" and Big Foot. However, recent incidents in the news* cause us to wonder whether the Casting Couch is more standard operating procedure than blind gossip.
No matter the frequency of "Casting Couch" occurrences, the deplorable nature of this practice is inarguable. It is a predatory act that violates the personhood of the women and men who are forced to leverage their sexuality in exchange for mere possibilities of stardom.
Rape as Capital
The Casting Couch has its roots in sexism and classism, as the conjunction of the patriarchy and unchecked Capitalism has facilitated an environment where the
probable alleged recruitment practices of people like Singer and Richardson can thrive. There is a type of coerced subordination innate within the Casting Couch model seen in patriarchal institutions throughout our world's history. From the use of rape as a means to devalue someone else's property or the employment of sex as a means to survive, nonconsensual sex has been utilized as a commodity in patriarchal society as either an intimidation tactic or a survival tool to secure basic necessities.
It is important to note that the actual act of sex isn't wrong (unless it's with an underage individual, where in that case UH YEA ITS WRONG AS FUCK). Actors, actresses, musicians, models, and others are free to embrace sex and sexuality as part of their personhood and skillset. However, when sex is imposed by a figure in power – and in the entertainment industry, odds are the figure in power is cis male – as the only means for access to acting roles or modeling projects, the Casting Couch model becomes predatory. Even if all parties acquiesce on a micro level to sex, the consent is all an illusion because sex was the only option available for advancement in the first place. Because of this, there will always be a perverse, nonconsensual tone of any sexual act stemming from the Casting Couch.
Along with patriarchal privilege, the immense differentials of wealth, security, and influence between executives and subordinates create an environment where executives can do whatever the hell they want and set whatever standards they want in terms of who gets to access the entertainment industry. And since there is a historical precedent in commodity exchanges to take ownership of someone else's sexual agency, the Casting Couch practice can commence. Executives and other higher ups are allowed to establish an exchange market where sex is the only currency available for actresses and actors already struggling in wealth and prestige. Rape has basically become capital.
- Why hasn't the Casting Couch gone away?
- Why haven't some of the most successful celebrities, who are seemingly beyond needing to use the Casting Couch, speaking out against this practice? (2b: Surely if this horrible practice was going on often, more people would protest against the Casting Couch, right?)
- As consumers, what can we do about ending Casting Couch like practices?
The continuance of the Casting Couch model could be attributed to the same types of people in power within the entertainment industry: cis male, economically privileged individuals who have been socialized to believe that sex is their unalienable right, and that potential employees better consent to all their personal and sexual needs in order to get the part, role, or contract that they want. Furthermore, it may not be in the best personal and professional interest for those subject to such violating requests to go to authorities. Fear and intimidation exists in many forms. Even the most successful celebrities can be blackballed or worse, which could explain why there hasn't been an industry wide movement against the casting couch. This is not to ignore the numerous public figures who have recounted experiences with or spoken out against the Casting Couch. While assuming the Casting Couch is the universal model can be unfair to the thousands of honest, hard working individuals in entertainment, treating these practices as anomalies would be a disservice to the many victims of sexual exploitation in Hollywood. As consumers, we can stop financially supporting entities who use rape as capital for access to stardom. We can let our voices be heard in various mediums. But will it make a difference?
There are no concrete answers to any of these questions. Feel free to answer them yourselves in the comments, as well as provide any additional thoughts.
*The latest allegations toward Richardson have been proved to be false. However, there are previous allegations made against Richardson that have not been disproven.