One of the inherent difficulties the #MeToo movement faces is the strong incentives the media has to ruin the whole thing. The initial incidents–the abuses of power by people like Trump, Weinstein, and C.K.–are useful insofar as they start a conversation about policy and principles. But the risk is that #MeToo will be reduced to the little more than the quest for more high-profile allegations, because nothing sells ads like celebrity gossip. And in that quest for more exciting allegations principles are lost in a sea of particularities–we forget about the forest and gaze longingly into the trees. And so we’ve come to the Aziz Ansari moment, a moment which was inevitable–some media outlet publishes some allegations which seem to some people to be much less serious than the allegations that have gone before, and yet seem to another group of people to warrant the same response those previously accused received. We’re reduced to a debate over whether our response to the specific Ansari allegation is reasonable, and then that debate is projected onto everything else. If Ansari is the victim of a witch hunt, is the whole thing a witch hunt? The appropriate response is to refuse to play this game in the first place–#MeToo isn’t really about exposing guilty people and publicly shaming them. It has, to this point, often been conducted in that way. But it’s really about getting people to treat each other better. To do that, we have to know what “better” involves. We have to talk about principles, not people.
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