Read the room!
Kevin Spacey is trash. As is probably well-known, Spacey – famous for his roles in “House of Cards,” as well as a broad range of theatre and TV – was accused by actor Anthony Rapp of attempted sexual assault. Spacey, responding on Twitter, did not deny the allegations, but instead claimed drunkenness and stated that he did not remember having done anything. He then used the opportunity to come out of the closet as gay. Shortly afterwards, many other individuals, including eight “House of Cards” staff, came forwards with similar stories. He was also accused of racism, adding cream to the crop. This is an interesting, if not horrifying, twist of the so-called Weinstein Effect – the category of harassment being addressed is broadened.
Obviously, this coming out is a good thing. Every serial harasser still holding on to power is one too many. They all need to go as soon as possible, and Spacey’s exposure is good. It’s also a tribute to the courage of Rapp. By coming forward himself with a story 30 years old, he – intentionally or not – opened the path for others with smaller platforms to share their experiences. It’s even presumable that the whole disgusting racism thing, where it was revealed that Spacey refused to shake hands with his security chief over the colour of his skin and spouted the vilest ethnic slurs, got aired out thanks to Rapp.
It’s also another good sign that even powerful men who present as being progressive aren’t given a carte blanche for their vile activities just because they sometimes say the right things. This was true from the beginning. Harvey Weinstein was, after all, a major Clinton campaign donor. But every instance that confirms strict consequences for sexual assault and harassment is welcome. It also means we all now get the moral high ground required to feel good about torrenting “House of Cards” because the last thing Spacey deserves is royalties. Overall, another one biting the dust is a wonderful thing.
However, what makes Spacey’s case different from that of any of the other high-flying men was his response. He hit most of the expected notes. He apologized for any hurt feelings, claimed he didn’t remember it, offered up a lame excuse, and promised to seek “counselling and treatment.” As a translation, that means: 1) he’s not sorry for what he actually did, 2) he absolves himself of all responsibility, and 3) he’s going to use his enormous cash reserve to lay low in comfort and avoid any reckoning with his deeds. Despicable, but fairly standard. What makes this odd is that he also used his response to an allegation that he was a pedophile to come out as gay.
There’s a time and a place for everything, and it’s not really clear why Spacey chose that particular moment. Did he do it to try and explain his actions? It really doesn’t change that he repeatedly tried to forcibly engage in sordid acts with underaged people. Even if he is gay, that has nothing to do with nor explains anything about his vile behaviour. Is this a genuine crie de coeur? Then why now? Is this a distraction? If so, why did he think it would work? Whatever it is, it doesn’t change or elicit forgiveness for anything.
It does, however, create a genuine problem. One of the oldest stereotypes about gay men in particular relates them to pedophiles. In the 1950s, government anti-gay commercials raised the spectre of predatory men cruising around picking up hitchhiking teens. One of the first roll-backs of laws against sexual discrimination was in Florida, where a moral panic was whipped up that LGBTQ+ folks would use their new-found rights to go after children. This same language was used right through the 80s to enforce similar laws across America and stall much of the formerly promising progress through the nation.
Even in the aftermath of Spacey’s confession, notorious extreme-right conspiracy crank and anti-gay crusader Scott Lively cited Spacey as proof of his pet delusion that a gay plot is underway to destroy the West. Mr. Lively is not an unimportant man – he was a key figure in Uganda’s anti-gay laws, which make non-heterosexual relationships punishable by death, and he has had appearances on Russian state TV where he whipped up hatred in an already-fraught climate. Mr. Lively is currently being sued for complicity in crimes against humanity. Whatever Spacey’s personal motivations are, he directly fed into a problematic (and objectively false) narrative which continues causing problems for marginalized communities around the world. His were the actions of a coward.
It’s really too much to ask people outed as harassers, abusers, and perpetrators of sexual violence for any kind of basic human decency. They proved their lack thereof long ago. But even by that standard, Spacey is a uniquely despicable case. Already shown to be a thoroughly morally bankrupt man, he added to the dumpster fire by throwing an entire community under the bus on his way to a luxurious retreat. Given his wealth – Spacey is apparently worth $100 million – he will never face any serious reckoning or accountability for his actions. He has lost future earning potential and will likely never return to the screen. Ridley Scott is even removing Spacey from his movie All The Money in the World (kudos to him) completely through digital editing. But Kevin Spacey will live out the rest of his life in perfect comfort. He will never have to pay for what he has done. He’s gotten away with it – the least we could expect him to do is not be any worse on the way out.