#MeToo: I Really Thought Kevin Spacey Was Cool
I really did. I thought Kevin Spacey was cool. I remember the first time I saw any of his works. It was a late-nineties movie called The Negotiator where he played, uh, the negotiator. I remember turning to my mom and asking her, "who's that guy?" and subsequently thinking "what kind of name is Spacey?" (turns out, the only other notable Spaceys are English soccer player Marieanne Spacey, and the annual award show run by the Canadian cable network "Space"). I remember thinking his job was cool, especially if the person you're negotiating with happens to be Samuel Jackson. I remember seeing him play Lex Luthor in Superman Returns and thinking "huh, that's weird", and then retroactively modifying my opinion to "I guess that was cool" after seeing Jesse Eisenberg's portrayal of Lex Luthor a decade later. I remember him teaching kids how to count cards in 21, which was cool because none of my teachers taught me how to do that. I remember when the writers for The Men Who Stare At Goats specifically wrote a character for Kevin Spacey to play, and wondered how cool you had to be to make that happen.
Social media campaigns tend to range from mundane to ineffective. Most of them arise from a faceless motivator, like the ice bucket challenge for ALS, which is part of the problem. If you were to ask everyone who did the challenge, only a handful of them would know that it was for ALS, even fewer would be able to tell you what ALS is, and a couple might have actually donated money. The #metoo movement was faceless in a different kind of way, in that it had too many faces for one to prominently be at the forefront. You could say that it was founder Tarana Burke, Rose McGowan, Taylor Swift, or whoever, but the fact that you have to list of a bunch of people is indicative of the power of the movement as opposed to the impact of its foundation. It's a Batman-esque concept, where the idea lives on regardless of who wears the suit.
There's a clear distinction between #metoo and former high-profile Hollywood cases, and why none of the others engendered such a movement. Others – in the mold of Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, R. Kelly, or Bill Cosby – though they were the same level of shitty, never left behind victims that had such a raw relatability. Allen and Polanski fell into the narrow criminal category of child sexual abusers. R. Kelly has had some more unique offenses. Cosby, perhaps the most similar to Weinstein in terms of scale, was accused of rape by several women. While Weinstein has likewise been accused of rape, he was thrust into the news for harassment, which is an importantly differentiable crime. The statistics on sexual harassment are well-known and somehow still nauseating – 1 in 6 are victims of rape, 1 in 4 face assault from their intimate partner, and 1 in 5 are below the age of 17 when it happened. But that's where the movement draws its diffusivity from, because every person it reaches has a good chance of passing it on. But these numbers don't have an emotional connection. I have far more than six important women in my life from family to friends to a significant other, which means that surely one of them has been a victim. As a guy, I still have that façade of invincibility, where it surely can't have happened to someone *I* know. I would have found out about it, surely. Seen it. Could have stopped it from happening. But when I found out it had happened – not to just one, not to two, but to three women – it was still a surprise.
Yeah, I've been that guy to try and convince a girl to be intimate. To that, I can say "what guy hasn't" – not as a defense or normalization of what I did, but rather as an acceptance that none of us should have done it. Yeah I've been that guy to engage (I'd like to think unknowingly, but at the very least subconsciously) with women in the context of a power differential. To that, I can say "I didn't think it mattered" – not as a dismissal or mitigation of the dynamic, but as a recognition that maybe certain girls responded to who I was in a larger context than just myself. Yeah, I've been that guy to walk down a dark empty street with my keys interlaced with my fingers to ward off a potential attacker, but that was out of fear of robbery, not rape. Robbery is a deeply impersonal crime, where I'm just someone who owns something and can be parted from those things. Rape, conversely is entirely personal, a show of force and dominion that turns a person into an object. And any 'minor' offense – from catcalling to actual harassment – is a reminder that that show of force exists somewhere, that it is possible to turn that person into an object.
Quick sidenote: Two of the most powerful things I've ever read are (1) the statement from the rape victim in the case of rapist (oh and he's also pretty good at swimming so those two things cancel each other out right?) Brock Turner [link] where she starts of by saying "You don’t know me, but you’ve been inside me," and (2) the story of Brenda Tracy, who was drugged and gang-raped by Oregon State football players [link], in which she says that she recalls waking up to see a man raping her. I think that use of the word 'rape', in its progressive tense, is particularly impactful. So often rape is seen as a far-away, detached concept unless you've been a victim or known one, but when put like that it's evocative of a visual from anyone's nightmare.
The ice bucket challenge wasn't particularly compelling, even if someone you knew did it. If you've seen one, you've seen them all, and it kind of feels like a waste of water. But with #metoo, every story is compelling. Every story is different even though it's at its core about the same thing. Things like "being raped once made it easier to be raped again." The extent to which such harassment is embedded in the ethos of our day-to-day is now (hopefully) like Christian Bale's eye wart – it's hard to see at first but once you spot it, it's impossible to un-see.
It's telling that the response 'I have a boyfriend' is a more dissuading remark than simply 'no.' Because the internal male reaction goes something along the lines of 'oh shit she has a man, can't violate the bro code' or 'oh shit she has a man, he could probably beat me up' as opposed to the way it should probably go, which is 'I don't need the unifying/threatening presence of another guy in this situation to understand when I have been rebuffed and move on.' It's also telling that the story of someone like Terry Crews was among the most impactful – not just because he's a guy, but because he's a big tall buff guy, and he was sexually assaulted and taunted by an agent at a party, and that experience left him feeling "emasculated, more objectified." It somehow resonated more with me – even though I probably have more in common with the average #metoo woman than I do Terry Crews – and that's because he's a man. And that's something I'm more inherently receptive to, for some reason. That's telling.
Sidenote #2: Can we stop hating Taylor Swift, for just one fucking second, for this reason specifically? Taking out whether you appreciate her music, neglecting whether you think she's a dickish or overdramatic person in general, she deserved to be on the cover for Time's person of the year. She had her own #metoo moment that was before it even became a movement all the way back in August. She didn't report her assault to the police, just to her attacker's place of employment, he chose to sue her several years later, and she countersued him for $1. And won. She didn't make it into a publicity stunt, she didn't do it for the money, she did it on principle. Her testimony included lines like "he grabbed my bare ass," "I’m not going to allow you or your client to make me feel in any way that this is my fault," and perhaps most incredibly when asked why the front of her skirt wasn't wrinkled from the assault, "Because my ass is located at the back of my body." The #metoo campaign is centered around giving a voice to people regardless of who they are and their position or status relative to their harasser, and it should work even when the victim is far more famous and rich of the two.
What is the apt societal punishment for those accused of sexual harassment? It's easy for the Weinstein and Spacey-type habitual harassers, we'll be fine if we don't see their faces again. It's even simpler for the Roy Moore-types, the ninth circle of hell will do just fine. But what about all those in between, in the mold of Ben Affleck, Tavis Smiley, Louis CK, Oliver Stone, and so on. What is the societal punishment, keeping in mind that a judicial punishment would be impossible due to a lack of hard evidence? I don't think the solution is to throw them in a hole and wait for them to die. I don't think they should never be heard from again. But when and how should they be heard from? Maybe a self-imposed exile whose length increases with the severity of their transgressions would work. Maybe they are all heard from in a capacity outside of their former profession – Al Franken shouldn't ever hold public office again, but there's value in having him as a I-used-to-think-honking-someone's-boobs-while-they-were-asleep-was-hilarious-but-now-I-realize-it's-fucked-up type of activist or speaker. CK shouldn't get a major stand-up deal from any distributor, but he can self-release material where he broaches this as an issue, and have the proceeds go to an organization that helps women. Does a sincere apology help in the slightest – not in the sense of earning brownie points, but if someone genuinely appears to be remorseful for their actions, doesn't that validate the whole purpose of the movement? What if someone confesses even though no one accused them (yet)? A creepy stare shouldn't merit a death sentence, where everyone around that person immediately purges themselves. There's a need for nuance in dealing with matters like these, where the punishment is truly reflective of the crime, and sexual assault is differentiated from sexual harassment and an uninvited remark.
And what's the state of their art? I asked this back when Bill Cosby's accusers came forward, but are there moral implications to watching someone's work when you know they're a shitty person? Football makes it easier because you can root for a team of domestic abusers, but in the end you feel like you're rooting for the name on the front of the jersey instead of the back. But what about a CK comedy special, any Batman movie, or a Stone documentary? Does it make a difference that Weinstein was a producer and hence off-screen, so I can enjoy movies that he made because I don't have to look directly at his stupid face? Do we throw all those things into a hole as well? Perhaps in a Richard Pryor or Charlie Sheen-esque manner, time helps divorce their material with their persona.
I remember watching Kevin Spacey play a carefully-controlled-asshole-but-still-kinda-cool-dude in Horrible Bosses, which became one of my favorite movies, and I remember waiting patiently for any appearance his character would make in the more painful Horrible Bosses 2. I remember being excited to watch the dumb-sounding and dumb-looking Baby Driver because of him. And of course, I've waited every year for the day that House of Cards is released, which for a couple years happened to be on Valentine's Day weekend, so I could watch him drawl to the camera in a manipulative-but-definitely-cool kind of way.
He also starred in a movie called All The Money In The World, which was released just a week ago on December 18. But after Anthony Rapp and every other accuser came out against Spacey (on October 29), he was re-cast in that movie by Christopher Plummer and had all of his scenes re-shot a month (!!!) before its release. He starred in the series House of Cards for five seasons as its inextricable lead, but after the accusers came out, Netflix fired the shit out of him and pivoted to his on-screen wife, Robin Wright, as their series lead for their last season.
Now that's really fucking cool.