Here at Paste Comedy, we like to have an appropriate time. Laugh out loud, laugh out proud. That’s what it’ll say on our tombstone—I mean the communal grave we’ll all be buried in together.
We usually take a light-hearted approach to the day’s news. We’re famous for mocking everything, including ourselves, much to the disappointment of the mental health community. (Side note: They do not approve of our signs indicating that “Mad Money” can be made in the field of gaming journalism.) That doesn’t mean we’re asleep at the issue-wheel though. Today, you see a much more serious side of Paste Comedy—our own turn for the sober has shocked us. We’re using our platform to speak about one of the great un-discussed plagues of the 20th century. I’m not surprised you haven’t heard of it: history books don’t talk about it. It’s a mysterious and tragic incident, which casts a blot on the storied history of Hollywood. I’m speaking about the Silence Sickness which covered Los Angeles for three decades.
Look, I know Harvey Weinstein’s repulsive crimes are the talk of the entertainment industry right now. We all want him to face justice. But long after Harvey is imprisoned in an iron scorpion-box in the Sonoran Desert, the question will remain: what caused the medical mystery of the Los Angeles Silence Sickness, which lasted for thirty years, but also for as long as Hollywood has existed? Scholars have no answer. Indeed, what combination of biological, environmental and radioactive factors could have caused vast numbers of otherwise healthy people to suddenly be rendered unable to make words? If I recall correctly, this muteness was endemic to the entertainment industry.
For some odd reason, it mostly struck at rich and famous men. The very people who could be expected to speak, whose bread and butter were speaking. Most of these people were actors, directors and producers who were paid to talk. Their careers meant they had power and independence that few other Americans could dream of. The Silence Sickness affected our best and brightest celebs: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck and countless other A-listers fell beneath the blade of this mysterious pox.
By complete coincidence, the Silence Sickness happens to parallel the rise of the Weinstein Family in the entertainment industry. Right before the Silence Sickness hit California, the Weinsteins were producing small pictures, like Errol Morris’s The Thin Blue Line.
In 1989, after the success of Steven Soderbergh’s Sex, Lies, and Videotape, Miramax became one of the—if not the—most powerful indie studio in the whole United States. Coincidentally, as scientists point out, that was the year that a significant swath of Los Angeles County began to be made mute.
Not everyone, not at first. The Silence Sickness really hit its stride in the ‘90s. By random chance, this was just as the Weinsteins’ power spread over the West Coast, with films like The Crying Game, Clerks, and Pulp Fiction.
Surely, the wrath of an angry God was at work, for there could be no other explanation for the Silence Sickness. What other force could cause so many eloquent tongues to be stilled? As hard as it might be to believe, during these years almost none of the men in Hollywood could open their mouths, except to breathe airs and eat foods.
In 1998, Harvey Weinstein nabbed an Oscar for masterminding Shakespeare in Love. As Miramax and then the Weinstein Company grew, he became richer and more powerful day by day. In those years, as strange happenstance would have it, the Silence Sickness was everywhere. Perhaps you’ve seen the television shows and movies made between the years of 1989 and 2017. Perhaps you were naive enough to believe that the male actors on screen were actually speaking their lines. Well, it isn’t so. During the years of the Silence Sickness, all those speaking parts were recited by people who lived outside of California. Every word was dubbed in later.
Truly, the Silence Sickness of 1989-2017 remains a baffling, inexplicable ailment. 30 years, where there was nobody speaking inside the entire entertainment industry, especially men. Silence.
Can you imagine how terrible that would feel? Why, imagine if you’d seen a powerful man commit crimes against women you knew. Wouldn’t you feel dreadful, not being able to say a word? Wouldn’t it weigh on your soul, not being able to tell anyone else that there was a predator in your midst? Wouldn’t you feel like a coward and a fraud for the rest of your life? Wouldn’t you feel like an accomplice to a crime? Wouldn’t you feel like an enabler to a monster?
Some people have claimed that the Silence Sickness was not real.
Well, I ask you, what is more likely: that men in Hollywood had the ability to speak and chose not to, or that they were all rendered totally mute?
Can you imagine suffering from such a sickness? I mean, who would choose not to speak?
Jason Rhode is a staff writer for Paste who specializes in politics and Smoothies. He’s on Twitter @iamthemaster.