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November 2020
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Toxic Sub-cultures Lurking Behind Glossy Values

Toxic Sub-cultures Lurking Behind Glossy Values

Behind the polished, pulsing incandescent bulbs and the humming neon signs of Hollywood, lies a dark underbelly. Beyond stars in the sidewalk and moulded hand prints in clean concrete lie seedy dive bars, hotels with black histories and predators behind powerful doors.

The dark side of the performing arts industry has reared its ugly head lately with many victims of abuse telling disturbing stories of men in powerful positions attempting to manipulate others for their own gain and sexual gratification.

Iconic names like Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and more locally, Don Burke, have been exposed, as Paul Hogan put it, as ‘grubs’ indulging in sexual promiscuity and inappropriate behaviour.

Bad behaviour in the performing arts isn’t new, but what we’re seeing now is different

Sure, we’ve known for some time that the entertainment industry can be a debaucherous landscape and we often look on with a sick fascination as celebrities trip up and act like clowns. While we’re usually entertained by late night, paparazzi snapped images in the cheap glossy magazines we pick up in supermarket aisles… what’s coming out now is very different.

Lately, we’ve seen many examples of distrust and abuse. With so many people coming forward from the entertainment industry disclosing stories of sexual abuse, harassment, womanising, bullying and inappropriate behaviour, we’re starting to get a clear picture of a toxic sub-culture that exists within the industry and it’s a worrying sign. When negative sub-cultures are created within powerful industries and organisations, it has a flow on effect as un-checked values and beliefs seep throughout the culture, normalising what would otherwise be completely unacceptable behaviour outside the walls of production sets and executive offices.

Where are the values that this industry, with its focus on creating inspirational and human stories, seems to preach? Are these values just a part of a generated philosophy that is actually at odds with the general behaviour of the industry?

This toxic sub-culture isn’t just confined to the entertainment industry

it’s not only the entertainment industry that can operate on values incongruent with a character of alleged values. The wider corporate world can also abuse power and operate on behaviour that is contrary to company philosophies.

Corporate values and mission statements scream from cheap posters framed on meeting room walls. Their hollow statements speak shallow messages in diffused fluorescent light, obscured by office cubicles and cheap plastic plants. ‘Core’ values are hung above gulping water coolers, only reflected on subconsciously as workers refill water bottles while screensavers flicker on deserted monitors.

A team rows a slender rowboat in unison, creating symmetrical ripples on a calm river, while mountain climbers give each other a helping hand to get over the final rocky shelf to the peak of the mountain together. Images like these hang above glossy boardroom tables with words like ‘Teamwork’ or ‘Motivation’ embossed under the clichéd scenes in frames.

Do any of these industries or organisations practice what they preach?

However, how many of these organisations and industries actually live and breathe these buzzword values of ‘respect’ and ‘teamwork’? How many companies actually conduct their relationships with their staff and talent in a way that’s genuinely in-line with the posters that adorn the office and production room walls?

Now, obviously, there’s a huge scale on which this manipulation occurs, ranging from abuse to bullying and harassment to just generally bad behaviour. However, one common theme seems to be that, as industries and organisations grow, so does their collective consciousness and culture.

If the figureheads in these arenas behave badly, it seems to spread like a toxin throughout organisations and industries, creating a culture of abuse, manipulation, bullying and generally poor behaviour that’s in direct opposition to the values they preach and opposite to the glossy, feel-good photos they hang in their office buildings.

Speaking out against toxic cultures

The good news is that at least people are speaking out against this. There have been many recent examples of people telling their stories of toxic bullying and harassment in some of the world’s biggest and most successful companies. The culture of one of the biggest tech companies in the world, for example, has been described as a toxic boys’ club with no substance or respect for internal cultural values. A place where un-checked managers wield giant egos creating hell for their workers. An organisation that has no respect for the broader community of vendors and suppliers who rely on them.

Essentially, what we’ve seen recently, is that people will simply do anything if they think that they’re going to get away with it (and it benefits them), regardless of whether or not it’s in check with organisational or societal values and beliefs. In a hedonistic rampage, we’re seeing individuals seek pleasure, power and money in many forms in complete detriment to those around them and in contradiction to the values they claim their organisation or industry sings from.

It doesn’t matter if you’re a Hollywood producer, popular TV host, or iPhone inventor and brilliant tech innovator… before in all of this, we’re human and, if we forget that, then we’re sliding backwards down a slippery cast-system-esque model where people in power get away with things that other people don’t. A landscape where big names dictate a toxic sub-culture of corporate-governance. A world where powerful figures operate on seedy agendas in the shadows behind the incongruent values they sell.

If you’re not living your values then don’t pretend

Don’t bother hanging buzzwords and harmonious images in your corporate offices if they mean nothing. Don’t bother creating values and mission statements if you’re just going to tread on people to advance yourself. People are starting to see through the polished, plastic exteriors of toxic cultures and are holding people accountable.

We need to stop normalising bad behaviour as acceptable in particular industries, jobs or organisations, and make an effort to ensure that we’re actually calibrated on shared values and beliefs and that everyone, no matter how powerful, is kept in check with these core values of respect and dignity.

If you find yourself inside such an organisation or industry… one where clichéd positivity is peddled on intranet pages and hallway posters no one ever reads… a place that’s deliberately making an effort to market to their own people a polished feel-good value-based rhetoric, yet are behaving completely differently… then it’s time to get out and speak up. It’s time to stop normalising sub-cultures that form in industries and companies and move towards a genuine model of human (not corporate) values for the benefit of everyone.

Written by Ben Farrell

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