11/3/17 update: I admitted in my first line of this post that I “may regret writing this once more facts come to light” which indeed didn’t take long. It seems from additional credible allegations that continue to come to light that Spacey had career long pattern of harassment and intimidation which is indeed a shame on many levels. In the interest of not being a self revisionist I’m leaving the article up and in tact but feel free to skip to the bottom half where I deal with the struggle of art vs. the artist as that is the real debate for Spacey fans now.

I may regret writing this once more facts come to light. Regardless, these are my thoughts now when considering the latest Hollywood scandal, that of Kevin Spacey.

From The Usual Suspects to American Beauty, Seven to House of Cards Kevin Spacey has been one of the  best actors of his generation. He’s also been one of the largest examples of an actor guarding his privacy and personal life to a such a degree that most knew nothing of it at all for reasons he claims have always been so that he could effortlessly disappear into the roles he plays—no tabloid snapshots to distract the viewer and for an actor who loves and promotes the theater at the level Spacey always has that seemed plausible. In interviews and appearances he’s always come across as likeable, talented, and witty.

None of that—talent, wit, appearances—negates the seriousness of the allegation he now faces nor does it excuse the behavior if true. It is however a likely culprit for my initial desire to reject such an allegation. We don’t usually want the artists we like to be terrible people. I like Spacey the actor so if I’m confronted with evidence that I wouldn’t like him as a person there’s a disconnect (we’ll get to art vs. artist in a bit).  Yet the concern that sparked this article is the rush of the crowd to pass a final verdict at the first hint of an allegation and the wide swath painted by the paintbrush in labeling all questionable behavior and mistakes (no matter how old and foggy with memory) as equally bad. In that regard this reminds me of recent allegations made against former President George H.W. Bush—for those who haven’t heard, three women to date have accused Bush Sr. of touching their backsides while cracking the same joke during photo opportunities (“Want to know who my favorite magician is? David cop-a-feel!”). While H.W.’s behavior (and it looks like those allegations are definitely true) is certainly not acceptable behavior, the act of a 90+ year old man in a wheelchair touching a woman’s butt as his wife rolls her eyes and slaps at him (a man with early dementia to boot) shouldn’t be equated with rape as it was in the first woman’s allegation (“he sexually assaulted me..”).

The atrocious behavior of Harvey Weinstein that blew open with confession after confession of abused victims coupled with the fact that it was an “open secret” for so long in Hollywood coming on the heels of similar stories of abuse by other powerful men (Bill O’Reilly, Roger Ailes, Bill Cosby, Donald Trump) has resulted in a much deserved soul-searching (of sorts) in Hollywood (and beyond, especially on Facebook). Women in every field and facet of life have been judged, ignored and silenced for so long that to have their stories finally heard is a positive development to say the least. But like anything this rush of exposure and widespread public sharing of personal experiences does invite some potential dangers. While no predator should be allowed to roam free (throw Cosby in jail, impeach Trump, stop financing O’Reilly’s worthless career by buying his abysmal “books”) the rush to pass judgement in the court of public opinion before the facts are in can sometimes lead to unfairly tarnished reputations. Furthermore, flattening all indiscretions so they fit under the same label and deserve the same punishment does a disservice to the real victims of rape and assault. We all know (if we’re being honest) that women still face an uphill battle in almost every workplace: they aren’t paid as much as their male counterparts, they aren’t treated the same (what is seen as assertive in a male coworker is often seen as “shrill”  or worse in a female), and they are subject to harassment and assault at much higher rates than their male colleagues. I am certainly not trying to contest that. Calling out sexist practices in every industry is important—because it’s not just Hollywood, it’s not just in government or the church (Protestant, Catholic and Evangelical in large numbers), it’s not just in big business, it’s everywhere and those areas of higher visibility are just observable microcosms of a national problem.  However, there is a chance that hitching to the coattails of this long-needed re-evaluation there also emerges some gleeful condemnation as well as a dash of puritanical and unjustly smug self-righteousness. The unwritten “rules” are changing and while mostly all for the better when it comes to workplace flirtation, sexual innuendo and exploitation, etc. it doesn’t hurt to realize the greys amidst the black and white and the differentiating aspects of each individual case and story.

For example—Kevin Spacey is accused by actor Anthony Rapp of sexually propositioning him in 1986 when he (Spacey) was 26 or so and Rapp (the victim) was 14. According to the allegation Spacey laid on top of Rapp after the other guests had left a party at Spacey’s house and “tried to seduce” him to which Rapp declined and the encounter ended. While it’s not only unethical but disgusting for any adult to proposition a 14 year old kid there are several factors worth considering in this example. One is that Spacey has not confirmed the event occurred—only that “if it did” it was the result of “too much drinking” 30 years ago and Spacey apologized to the accuser by saying if any hurt was caused by anything that may have happened that he can’t recall he was truly sorry. I personally would know that I had never flirted with a minor no matter how many years back it is alleged to have been but I’m also not a closeted actor flirting with any and all other gay actors I come into contact with out of a hyper-awareness that my career would be derailed if I had a public relationship with another man (name an openly gay film superstar from 30 years ago—heck name a leading man that is openly gay in Hollywood TODAY). Another fact to remember—Spacey’s alleged attempt allegedly ceased once verbal declination was given. There is no claim of rape or assault.  To cement Spacey as a pedophile or other such scum-bucket I feel we need to hear that this was a pattern of his. Did he proposition other minors? Did he do so over time and into the present? Is there any evidence that such propositions were ever consummated? If any of these other factors are an affirmative then I believe it is more than fair to throw his name in with the others (Cosby, Ailes, Weinstein). But if all that ever occurred was a drunken proposition that was declined 30 years ago I think he deserves another chance.

I in no way want to make light of sexual assault, harassment or child abuse. Nor do I want us to return us to the days of instantly doubting all accusers. I know that statistically speaking very few women (or in the Spacey case men) make false sexual abuse claims (satanic panic and false-memory cases aside*). I know that those who do bring accusations to light and pursue legal recourse very rarely receive compensation and justice for their abuse. I mainly want to make the following points: (1) not all crimes are the same; and (2) the court of public opinion is rarely the best arbiter of guilt. Kevin Spacey may be guilty of something. Hopefully the extent of that guilt is making a very wrong-headed decision to proposition an under-age coworker for sex 30 years ago in a drunken haze. If that is the sum total of his guilt then stripping him of all accolades (his Netflix series cancelled, his Emmy nomination rescinded, the possible loss of any association with the theater in London he oversaw for so long) and condemning him to the forgotten past is not only wrong but is a shame. I know some of the anger levelled at Spacey comes from the LGBT community as the wording of his recent statement that he “chooses now to live as a gay man” and the timing of that announcement is pernicious given the accusation (thus damaging the LGBT cause by once again allowing for conservatives to draw a false line between homosexuality and pederasty). But read that statement again in full and put it in the context of a man who has lived his life in the closet and done his best to keep his private life out of the spotlight. If this is the only accusation involving any hint of involvement with a minor then cut the man a little slack and give him a little grace.

Conversely it could come out that Spacey in addition to being  a great actor is a terrible person in which case we are once again facing the issue of art vs. the artist: can we separate the work we love from the person who created it if that person is horrible? It’s a different decision for everyone. I long ago gave up on believing every artist I love is a wonderful person. Lots of great musicians were absolute terrible people yet I still love the work they created. Lots of great writers had terrible political ideas, inane religious beliefs, and behaved atrociously. HP Lovecraft’s embedded racism gave him a fear of the “other” that presented itself in ways likely unknown to him in his fiction yet it doesn’t negate the effectiveness of his supernatural horror. John Lennon wasn’t the peaceful, altruistic savior his many fans hoped he was but his songs remain timeless. On the other hand, Bill Cosby presented himself as America’s father figure and his comedian stage presence and TV persona was so tied up with who we thought he was that to learn he was a serial rapist make it impossible for me to actively enjoy his work anymore. I struggle with a current example as if rumor after rumor is true I fear the best comedian working today may be guilty of forcing women who were trying to flee to watch him masturbate (and said comedian is producing and writing a superb cable comedy that is highly female-centric for a good friend and frequent collaborator of his, a show I enjoy but can’t watch without pondering said allegations). We each make our decisions on these issues. I don’t hold artists to the same moral standard I hold myself to just for me to enjoy their work but I try not to actively finance the careers of artists who commit actions I deem past the pale (helps when they’re long dead). It gets a bit like divestment—can you actively avoid doing business with any company guilty of terrible crimes? Probably not—but you can pick your battles.

 

 

*I didn’t want to derail this article with a full paragraph on the “satanic panic” of the 1980s but feel it is an area overlooked when some of these types of discussions are made. An excellent journalistic investigation into that area is Lawrence Wright’s “Remembering Satan” book. For the unaware, in the 1980s dozens of cases throughout the US emerged where parents, daycares, churches and schools were accused of sexually assaulting infants and children as part of satanic rituals. No evidence for such widespread occurrences every emerged and most were linked to copycat stories formed by teens and children repeating previous stories made popular in dimestore “autobios” and daytime talk shows. Parents even confessed in instances where it was clearly impossible they had committed the acts they claimed. Embedded “false memories” were ultimately given the ultimate blame. I can think of only one Hollywood scandal that bears striking resemblance to this phenomena and I’d rather not invite a lot of hate by speculating too openly of it here only that it involves a big cinema figure who is alleged to have committed an act one time that bears many similarities to embedded memory stories. Said alleged perpetrator paid for multiple open investigations into the allegations by third-parties, no evidence was found, no later allegations ever made, no conviction ever made yet in many (liberal and conservative) circles this person is synonomous with guilt to this day for a number of reasons.       

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Bacon or a Marbloro?

October 26, 2015

So it seems the Guardian, NPR, CNN, Yahoo and every other purveyor of news is reporting the WHO classification of processed meat (bacon, sausages, hot dogs, corned beef, cold cuts) as revelatory and/or “breaking” new. And perhaps it is now that bacon is being classifed by the WHO on the same level as cigarettes.

But, as far as I can tell, this has been in the medical literature and reported for many years, maybe more than a decade or two. I was just having this conversation with my wife last week, and I know back when I adapted (with a slip weekend or two) my diet to exclude most red meat, processed meat and high sodium food–for BP and heart, but I was aware of the colorectal cancer issues as that’s what my father died of) that most meta-analysis shows processed meats as comparable to cigarettes.

Of course, the question is correlation as well as consumption level. As it is so hard to crunch numbers to  prove direct correlation, you enter the guesswork field the very minute you try to establish a universal law. Person A may smoke 2 packs a day for 60 years and die of natural causes while person B might develop lung cancer after 10 years and a cessation of 10. Genetics, environmental factors and sheer luck play more of a role in most health issues than we would like to admit. But, if one is to speak in stark lines the best estimate I have read equates the effect of 6 cigarettes as roughly equal to 1 strip of bacon in terms of how it affects one’s overall heart and colorectal cancer health, particularly past a certain age.

But look…processed meat and most red meat are just not good for you. We’ve known this for many years and I’ve read this in many a medical study long before today’s WHO news extravaganza. It’s really a matter of trade-offs. I’ve never seen social media or news comment threads spark off in defense of an alleged perpetrator like they do over bacon…not with alcohol or tobacco, certainly not with drugs (okay maybe pot). People seem to love their bacon in an irrational over the top way–maybe because, as long as they’re Christian (not Muslim, Jewish or Hindus) their scriptures don’t condemn it. I’m not sure if this started as an ironic kind of stance or what, but people meme bacon like it is Jesus. If you love it that much, eat it. I can honestly take it or leave it. It’s good occasionally but I can empathize with you because I dissect every alcohol or tobacco story for the specific details because I love scotch and cigars in moderation. But I’ll leave my bacon at the store unless the recipe just demands it because I can find hundreds of other foods worth eating that are good for me and I’ll leave that trade-off in favor when possible.

Really though….my question is, will a surgeon’s general warning now go on cold cuts, Subway sandwiches and bacon? It’s important that the public has the facts so they can make educated decisions on what they eat, drink, smoke, etc. But how much of an effect do those facts have, particulalry when so many conflicting stories emerge? I think the case with processed and red meats is pretty airtight though–it may not cause cancer in everyone but over a minimal limit it has bad health effects in most folks. It won’t get you high, curb your stress or chill you out but it may give you peace as a comfort food (and give you the meat sweats) but if eating bacon improves your life that much you make that choice.