The Misguided Race To Condemn Jason Bateman

On May 23rd the New York Times (very much not failing, crooked or fake, for what it’s worth) ran an interview which featured many of the actors from the show Arrested Development. The interview got – to borrow the Times’ phraseology – raw when the interviewees were asked about an incident where Jeffrey Tambor verbally abused co-star Jessica Walter.

Walter, through tears, remembered the incident, “I have to let go of being angry at him. He never crossed the line on our show, with any, you know, sexual whatever. Verbally, yes, he harassed me, but he did apologize. I have to let it go. [Turns to Tambor.] And I have to give you a chance to, you know, for us to be friends again.” (via the New York Times)

While this might have been a moment just between Tambor and Walter, Bateman spoke up to offer his thoughts about the incident and defend Tambor. He said, “But this is a family and families, you know, have love, laughter, arguments — again, not to belittle it, but a lot of stuff happens in 15 years […] I can say that no matter what anybody in this room has ever done — and we’ve all done a lot, with each other, for each other, against each other — I wouldn’t trade it for the world and I have zero complaints.”

In another part of the interview, Bateman expresses his admiration for Tambor as an actor and says that he would not return to Arrested Development if Tambor was not involved. This all connects to allegations of sexual misconduct levied against Tambor on the set of the show Transparent where two women have come forward to say that he made unwanted advances towards them. For his part, Tambor has denied the allegations and the creators of Arrested Development have chosen to stand by him until anything can be proven.

The fog of misogyny now surrounds Tambor, and it led to an unbelievably swift condemnation of Bateman across the whole internet on May 24th. The Atlantic ran a piece called, “Jason Bateman’s Tired Defense of Jeffrey Tambor” which took aim at the culture of toxic masculinity in Hollywood. The Washington Post ran a piece about the co-stars of #MeToo accused actors coming to their defense. One tweet I read called the behavior “gaslighting.”

And it’s easy to feel Walter’s pain, as she explains in the same interview: “But it’s hard because honestly — Jason says this happens all the time. In like almost 60 years of working, I’ve never had anybody yell at me like that on a set. And it’s hard to deal with, but I’m over it now.”

I can understand why people are outraged about Bateman’s defense. This woman has suffered and hearing her and letting her statements speak for themselves would have been the best course of action. Bateman says as much in the lengthy Twitter apology he issued after the backlash.  

However, I think the purity precedent being set here is less than desirable. While it is more than appropriate to condemn Tambor’s bullying, aggression, and potential misogyny, I think we should take more time in condemning Bateman. It’s not because I believe that Bateman’s defense of Tambor is legitimate, it’s because I feel that he is reckoning with complex feelings that are going to become a growing part of the discussion being had around misconduct and bad behavior in Hollywood. As a society, we need to leave room for these feelings to be discussed without fear of condemnation.

Singling out Bateman also ignores that pretty much every other cast member said something to the same effect about Tambor.

David Cross said, “You know, one thing that Jeffrey has said a number of times that I think is important, that you don’t often hear from somebody in his position, is that he learned from the experience and he’s listening and learning and growing. That’s important to remember.”

While Tony Hale chimed in saying, “But I will say, to Jason’s point, we can be honest about the fact that — and not to build a thing — we’ve all had moments.”

Should anybody be having temper tantrums at work? Of course not.

However, painting all the male cast members of Arrested Development with the same brush seems to me to be the kind of thing the #MeToo movement is trying to avoid. While we don’t have to like Tambor’s behavior, or Tambor himself, we must acknowledge that when much of a group feels a certain way about an incident that they were present for (which I will dutifully remind the Twitterati that they were not) then we must take their account seriously.

Jessica Walter said she forgave Tambor; that they have worked through it and she is giving him the chance to be friends again. Doesn’t that count for something? Can’t the other cast members also try to forgive Tambor in their own way?

I guess what really gets my back up about the whole thing is that Bateman et al.’s good intentions kick up a media furor in a country that is closing abortion clinics and allowing an alleged sexual predator to occupy the highest office in the land. Hollywood’s moral turpitudes are easy targets because of their tendency to virtue signal as soon as any criticism is levied. Just like Bateman did. It feels like results.

But changing the way Jason Bateman thinks and talks about the verbal abuse of his co-worker is hardly the big picture. He’s just a whipping boy with the smallest quotient of guilt. Indeed, many of the publications that were so quick to criticize Bateman lauded Arrested Development’s decision to keep Tambor onboard.

I think we could all use a little perspective before we jump on the high horse.

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