By David Futrelle
Twenty women have accused opera singer Placido Domingo of sexual harassment and, in at least one case, of outright sexual assault. In Quillette, reactionary propagandist Heather MacDonald argues that, regardless of the truth or falsity of their accusations, these women are simply too unimportant to be allowed to derail the career of “an artist of Domingo’s stature.”
MacDonald, a Manhattan Institute fellow whose politics lie in the general vicinity of the so-called “Intellectual Dark Web,” devotes a good deal of her essay to glorifying the talents of the “Three Tenors” alum — praising his “warm, soaring voice” and his “remarkable pitch control” and declaring him “one of classical music’s greatest ambassadors and impresarios.”
Never mind that, according to an Associated Press investigation, Domingo’s reputation as a predator was such an open secret in the profession that staffers went through elaborate machinations to try to ensure he he was never alone with a woman. MacDonald treats Domingo’s mostly anonymous accusers with a deep disdain, dismissing these “females” as “small-time soloists” and “disgruntled bit players.”
MacDonald seems to have no trouble imagining that at least some of the accusations are true; she just can’t bring herself to care. The alleged incidents took place long ago, she repeatedly notes, and besides, it’s not like the now-elderly singer is going to keep harassing and groping women in his vicinity.
At one point, astoundingly, she posits that he might well have felt a professional obligation to act out the part of a sex-obsessed lothario.
“As the object of so much sexual attention” from fans, she writes,
Domingo could have been forgiven for thinking that his own advances were part of the mix. He clearly belongs to the “Latin Lover” prototype, a good-natured, charming seducer from the old Hollywood era. Learning to deal with such types used to be part of a woman’s skill set.
But MacDonald’s most outrageous argument, one that makes clear her profound elitism and lack of empathy for whole classes of human beings she clearly considers disposable, is that Domingo is too important to accuse.
It is a grotesque inversion of the proper hierarchy between public accomplishment and private sexual behavior to sacrifice an artist of Domingo’s stature for the sake of 20 disgruntled bit players, laboriously harvested from thousands of professional interactions characterized by graciousness and consideration.
How dare these unimportant women sully the reputation of such a star — especially because he only (allegedly) harassed a small percentage of those he interacted with. Which is a bit like saying we should ignore a serial killer’s crimes because most days he wasn’t killing anyone at all.
Put simply, the discomfort of these belated accusers decades ago is not worth Domingo’s head.
Harassing and groping is evidently a-OK if you have perfect pitch control.
Civilization rests on the realm of public achievement in ideas, politics, and art. The private realm of Eros should be subordinate to the public realm; how someone behaves in or getting to the bedroom is irrelevant to his achievements in the public square, absent criminality.
Do I need to point out that sexual assault is a criminal offense?
If we discovered that James Madison, say, was a skirt-chaser, that fact should have no bearing on his achievements as a political theorist and statesman.
The flaws of even the most eminent of thinkers are highly relevant to our assessment of their legacies. Historians have long wrestled with the fact that many of America’s “founding fathers” were both champions of freedom (for white people) while at the same time owning and, in the case of Thomas Jefferson, raping slaves.
Yes, as MacDonald argues, “Domingo brought beauty into the world.” He also seems to have brought great ugliness into the lives of many women around him. No amount of talent can absolve a sexual predator.
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