When he first heard that the comedian Louis C.K. had masturbated in front of women, John Highstreet went through something like the five stages of grief.

First came denial. There was no way someone whose sense of humor he identified with so strongly could have done that. Then he was angry at how the comedian behaved, how he degraded women. And finally came acceptance, both of what C.K. admitted to doing and of what Highstreet knew in his heart he had to do: Never watch, buy or support the comic’s work in any way ever again.

“He admitted what he did but that doesn’t matter to me, I’m done with him,” said Highstreet, 51, a carpenter from Kennebunk. “I made a mistake in judging him in a positive way. I don’t have to rationalize it or feel bad, I just have to accept it and move on.”

In the past month, more than a dozen prominent Hollywood performers or executives have been accused of sexual abuse or harassment, presenting us consumers of mainstream entertainment with both a dilemma and an opportunity. What should we do? Do we watch movies Harvey Weinstein produced, likely enriching him financially, even after allegations that he raped three women and that he tried to sexually intimidate or force himself on dozens more? Do we watch Oscar-winning actor Kevin Spacey as a brilliantly sinister politician in “House of Cards,” after more than a dozen allegations of sexual assault or harassment by men, including several minors? Will it matter to Hollywood, or to Spacey and his bank account, if people stop buying DVDs of his film “American Beauty”? And if we don’t watch the work of the accused, do we somehow penalize the hundreds of other people who worked on those shows and films?

The opportunity being taken by most of the 10 Mainers interviewed for this piece is to make a statement. Some are making a personal statement: They can’t stomach watching somebody on screen who’s alleged to have done something so damaging to another human being. Some feel they’re making a statement to society at large and to Hollywood in particular, that this behavior must stop. Some feel that talking about the ongoing Hollywood sexual abuse scandals, and what choices they’re making to deal with them, will help foster a more open dialogue about the prevalence of abuse today.

“All this news right now makes me realize it’s much more pervasive than I thought. It makes me wonder if I did enough to warn my (adult) daughters about teachers or employers,” said Jenny Yasi, 58, a dog trainer from Freeport.

Weinstein has been accused of various types of sexual misconduct by more than 80 women. The specific allegations against C.K. came from five women who said he either asked to expose himself, masturbated in front of them, or did so over the phone. Several other actors, producers or directors have been accused of harassment or sexual assault since the first stories about Weinstein broke in October, including actor Ben Affleck, Amazon Studios head Roy Price, director James Toback, director Brett Ratner and actor Jeremy Piven.

Accusations of sexual abuse and even rape by Hollywood stars are not new. After a career built on being America’s favorite comic dad, Bill Cosby’s career was essentially ended after dozens of women accused him of sexual misconduct, drugging them and molesting them. His “Cosby Show” became a giant hit in the 1980s and later was a staple of cable re-run networks. Now it’s seldom seen.

But it’s hard to think of a time when so many Hollywood stars were accused of sexual abuse. The sheer number forces the issue more than ever. It forces people to think more about the overall societal problem, and their personal response to what’s going on right now.

Choosing whether to watch a favorite performer accused of sex crimes is no small dilemma, considering how tightly woven into the fabric of our lives pop culture and entertainment are. Some people, like Highstreet, listened to audio of C.K. to get needed comic relief in the face of their daily struggles. Others, like Kate Tracy of Saco, followed evil power couple Frank and Claire Underwood (Spacey and Robin Wright) on “House of Cards” faithfully, looking forward to each new episode to provide some needed escapism.

For viewers, balancing what they feel for the alleged victims with their love of certain shows is a very tricky, personal thing. Tracy, 30, who sells real estate, says she might watch “House of Cards” if it continues without Spacey, who has been fired from the show. She might watch if they focus on Wright’s character, equally compelling and evil, after maybe killing off Spacey’s character or locking him away somewhere. She says that’s at least partly because she’s watched “House of Cards” for six years. If Spacey comes out with a new show or a new film, Tracy will not watch it.

For some people, C.K. presents a special dilemma because his act is him. Rowan Bishop, 50 and owner of a recording studio in Westbrook, thinks he would have a hard time divorcing the accusations from the performer in the case of C.K. His stand-up routines are delivered very personally. He’s not playing a role, not in the way an actor does, and he’s talking about things from his own point of view.

Many people have been disturbed to find out that C.K.’s latest film “I Love You, Daddy” is about a TV writer (played by C.K.) whose 17-year-old daughter is having a relationship with a much-old director who is rumored to be a pedophile. The film’s scheduled Nov. 17 opening has been canceled and there are no plans to distribute it.

Boycotting Weinstein’s work requires more work, since he’s not in the movies. And he’s not seen as the creative force behind it. Jenna Little Armstrong, 50, of Portland, said she doesn’t want to watch C.K. and Spacey anymore. But she says she hasn’t really paid much attention over the years to which films Weinstein or his company (from which he’s been fired) have made. So she probably won’t go out of her way now to look for Weinstein’s name in the credits. Plus Armstrong feels that she would be supporting the women in Weinstein’s films, who endured harassment or worse, by watching those films.

The economic impact of not watching something could affect a lot more people than the stars, says Juston McKinney, a former York County deputy sheriff who has been working as a comedian for 20 years. On the day he was being interviewed for this, McKinney got an $18 check in the mail for a small role he had on an episode of Kevin James’ sitcom “The King of Queens” about 12 years ago. If people don’t watch that show and the re-runs cease, McKinney wouldn’t get the steady stream of checks, no matter how small.

“I don’t know if I’d look for Weinstein’s name on a film and (then) not watch. But I do know that he’s not the only one responsible for those movies, a lot of people worked on them,” said McKinney, 47.

Dixie Townsend, who was a big Spacey fan, feels like her only option right now is to not watch anything he’s done or will do. She thinks that as a consumer of entertainment, that’s the best way she can show solidarity with the victims.

“The people who have come forward (with accusations of abuse) want to believed,” said Townsend, 54, a credit manager from Scarborough. “I feel this is the one thing I can do to support them.”

 

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