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Jeffrey Tambor and the Unthinkable Possibility of the Post-#MeToo Comeback​

How should we feel about the actor’s ostensible “return”?



fter getting fired from the much-acclaimed Amazon show Transparent on the grounds of sexual harassment last November, actor Jeffrey Tambor seemed to be just another one of the many prurient Hollywood men banished from the industry as a result of their sexual improprieties.


But last Friday, it was reported that Tambor would nonetheless be reprising his role as George Bluth on the cult sitcom Arrested

Development, which is set to return for a fifth season on Netflix later this month. The following Monday, the Hollywood Reporter published a profile in which the 73-year-old actor told “his side of the story” in regards to the already-investigated harassment allegations. He asserted that while he could often be demanding on set, he was never sexually predatorial. 


While reading the profile, which includes a mélange of mournful-looking portraits apparently meant to heighten Tambor’s “vulnerability,” I was reminded of a recent op-ed written by the critic Lindsay Zoladz. Published by The Ringer in April, the article, “The #MeToo Mudslide,” acknowledges that while not all sexual misconduct cases are equally heinous, it is nonetheless harmful to even suggest resurgences for the men outed for exhibiting contemptible behavior in the aftermath of the #MeToo movement.


But in the last few months, as noted by Zoladz, myriad outlets have posted lengthy, dumbfoundingly sympathetic articles that have either allowed the accused to “tell their side of the story” or assert that their comeback is imminent. The Hollywood Reporter has greenlighted overlong pieces essentially painting Charlie Rose and Louis C.K. as tragic figures who had been beaten down but would be picking themselves up soon. The New York Times recently insinuated that Mario Batali is looking to return to the public eye, and then Vanity Fair casually reported that Matt Lauer is eyeing a comeback.


Articles like these, no matter if taking a “his side of the story” stance or simply aggregating claims from other publications, are dangerous. By even placing words like “comeback” or “return” next to the names of these men, the media is fostering the idea that a comeback is possible.


The poorly written Tambor article in many ways feels like a tool for Tambor apologists to use for their liking. It epitomizes the grossness of the suddenly recurring comeback piece. To paraphrase the writer Roxane Gay, who expressed her frustration with the article on Twitter shortly after it was published, it’s an example of how not to write about a person who has been accused of sexual misconduct. 


There could be basis to the suggestion that lines did get blurred on the set of Transparent, as the article’s title claims. But the profile’s writer, Seth Abramovitch, makes no effort to press the actor about his behavior, characterizing him, through frequently passive language, as submissive and barely present throughout the entire scandal. Tambor, apparently, was just misunderstood and unfairly punished in a tense period. 


The way Abramovitch writes about Tambor (“trembling,” “neatly dressed,” “wounded”) starkly contrasts with the way he writes about the accusers. While he makes Tambor seem feeble — like a fugitive desperate for a break — Abramovitch describes Tambor’s purported victims’ physical appearance with fashion-magazine flourish and goes to great lengths to delve into their somewhat troubled pasts, nearly reducing them to one-dimensional characters and creating a space for distrust.


Worst of all, Abramovitch hints that Tambor’s outing might have had something to do with the fact that he, a cisgender man, was controversially playing a transgender woman. Abramovitch vaguely suggests that the unmasking of his behavior had more to do with quasi-vengeance and cisphobia on the part of his accusers (two of the three are transgender women

and are pretty new to the industry) than actual bad behavior.


Because this profile is just another piece of kindling fueling the previously mentioned “redemption arc” bonfire, it’s clear to me that this Tambor piece won’t be the last attempt by the media to rake in the benefits of unnecessary (and potentially harmful) “exclusives” like this one. 


And because Arrested Development is beloved by so many, it’s inevitable that people will choose to temporarily stop thinking about Tambor’s behavior so they can enjoy the show. This article, thanks to its misguided sympathy, might make many people feel better about this choice.


These things indicate that the possibility of wrongdoings being swept under the rug for the sake of people enjoying themselves might continue as they consistently have in the past. But since R. Kelly has recently been muted, Woody Allen has essentially been canceled, and Roman Polanski and Bill Cosby have been expelled from the Academy, what made the Hollywood Reporter think anyone might be interested in an unnecessary article like this one? Why can’t Arrested Development do without George Bluth, or realize that its 2003 to 2006 run was perfectly fine the way it was?


I’m not saying that what Tambor has done is as severe as what those aforementioned men did. But the industry cannot start picking and choosing which kinds of sexual misconduct are going to have repercussions and which kinds won’t.


- MAY 11, 2018


This piece also appeared in The Daily.

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