Harvey Weinstein: Hollywood’s One-Man Battering Ram

Long before the #MeToo movement justifiably roared into existence, these lyrics caught the essence of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. Sung on the 1987 Trio album by Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, they portray a man (any man potentially) who doesn’t hear “no” from his victim. Only his own “yes” matters to him.

It’s hard not to believe that such a man is the media mogul who co-founded Miramax and became a force to be reckoned with in Hollywood over the past 30 years.

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of rape, sexual assault and sexual abuse. Yet it wasn’t until The New York Times and The New Yorker broke the story in October 2017, leading to first the creation of #MeToo movement and ultimately to Weinstein’s arrest and pending trial in September in New York City, that the mogul’s power in Hollywood finally dissipated.

What kind of man engages in repeated alleged rapes, at least three of them involving bullying or barging into an actress’s hotel room or apartment? You might be tempted to conclude that excessive anger accounts for Weinstein’s alleged behavior. But I’m a professional facial coder, somebody whose expertise is studying facial muscle activity for the emotions it reveals, and that’s not what I see in Weinstein’s case.

For my latest book, “Famous Faces Decoded,” I analyzed the expressive patterns of 173 celebrities (powerful, highly successful people just like Weinstein), 70 percent of them guys. The amount of anger Weinstein shows is greater than what female celebrities show on average, but not higher than what the typical male celebrity reveals. The same is true of contempt, an emotion typically defined as a combination of anger and disgust, which reveals a lack of trust and respect for others.

So what does Weinstein’s face distinctly show compared to those male celebrities I studied? Far more joy, alongside far less sadness and surprise.

Of course, there is no emotional template that reveals who among us might be prone to sexual misconduct. It’s not that easy to predict behavior. That said, what might be emotionally notable about Weinstein?

First, compared to other famous men Weinstein feels only half as much sadness. While sadness is usually thought of as a “negative” emotion, sadness can also play a constructive, positive role in terms of inspiring empathy for others. Furthermore, sadness tends to slow us down and make us reflect on what’s gone wrong (so we don’t repeat past mistakes). In Weinstein’s case, it would seem the mogul doesn’t naturally slow down – nor does he learn from past mistakes. He repeats them, which would help to explain how over 80 women have accused the guy of sexual misconduct.

On a second, related note, Weinstein shows far more joy than his fellow male celebrities. What’s wrong with exhibiting intense happiness? Nothing, except that elation can make you oblivious to details, not all of them minor matters, like the suffering you might be imposing on others.

Finally, there’s another crucial emotional clue that could be derived from Weinstein’s signature facial expressions: his lack of surprise. As an emotion, surprise means you’re looking around (eyes wide open, for instance), noticing the feelings of others you’re with. Compared to other famous men I’ve studied, Weinstein shows almost no surprise at all. Instead of Weinstein’s eyes being wide open, taking in information, his right eye often remains tight and narrow, a sign of somebody suffering from “tunnel vision.”

A lawyer named Lisa Bloom who has consulted for Weinstein describes him as “an old dinosaur learning new ways.” But given the hotel and apartment doors Weinstein has forced his way through over the years, I might favor a different comparison.

How about a battering ram: the heavy beam used to breach fortifications in ancient times? To me, that better describes Weinstein, a man who didn’t create the “casting couch” but who might have been only too happy to enact a more violent version of it while maintaining to this day that he hasn’t ever engaged in any “non-consensual sex.”