There’s an old joke. A young man sits his mother down and says ominously, “Mom, I have news.”
“What is it?” says the mother, her face stricken with fear.
“I have brain cancer,” says the son.
“Oh no!” she cries. “My dear boy, anything but that!”
The boy smiles sheepishly. “Just kidding, Mom. Actually, I’m gay.”
For some reason, that’s the first thing that came to mind when I read Kevin Spacey’s tweet about his unremembered “inappropriate drunken” behavior toward Anthony Rapp 30 years ago, when the latter was 14. What started as a half-hearted apology veered quickly into a different kind of confession—basically, “I may be a pedophile. … No, just kidding, I’m gay.”
This would be a quite different situation if Spacey’s homosexuality hadn’t been rumored for years. He’d even started tiptoeing out of the closet recently, with his jokes while hosting the Tony awards (in Norma Desmond drag), not to mention the bisexual subplot on House of Cards.
But ironically, through his awkward and untimely coming out, Spacey has played right into the ugliest of stereotypes. If the current allegations are to be believed, he really did have something to hide—and it wasn’t his sexual orientation. By staying in the closet for so long (a Tony and two Oscars weren’t enough to solidify his career?), he made coming out of it particularly ugly. He may have been trying to make a distinction between homosexuality and pedophilia, but all he succeeded in doing was to draw an unjustified linkage between the two. And in the process, he has turned gay men into the usual suspects.
With the preponderance of accusations now flying at Spacey, I can understand why the producers of House of Cards have called a halt to production. Ostensibly, they need to make sure they don’t have a hostile work environment on their hands.
What I’m not so comfortable with is the tendency of many people to equate the art with the artist. One of my friends posted on Facebook that he had searched his DVD collection for any of Spacey’s movies so he could throw them out. Perhaps merely looking at Spacey’s face on the cover of The Shipping News or Glengarry Glen Ross would be enough to turn his stomach. Never mind all the other actors, writers, and crew who worked hard on those films and whose work may now be boycotted as collateral damage.
To avert that eventuality, Spacey is now being edited out of a completed movie, All the Money in the World. I’m not sure what purpose that serves other than to make the filmmakers feel better about themselves. Apparently they’re afraid Spacey’s presence will drive down ticket sales, but the cynic in me is dead certain that if they leave Spacey in the film, sales will go through the roof. That’s not a reason to keep him in the movie, but self-righteousness isn’t a reason to keep him out, either.
I’ve always been more than willing to draw a line between an artist’s flaws and the work itself. Allegations of Wagner’s anti-Semitism will never come between me and the transcendent experience of the Ring cycle. I even watched and thoroughly enjoyed Feud this year, despite the feud I was having in my head with Susan Sarandon over her endorsement of Jill Stein. And no doubt I will soon watch Thelma and Louise for the 15th time, though I may find myself cheering at the end. (Movies are a great way to safely work out your anger.)
The “me, too” campaign in the wake of the Weinstein revelations has been successful in demonstrating the scope of Hollywood’s problem with sexual harassment and assault—and with Spacey, the scandal has reached into the gay community, as well. Maybe what we need now is a more upbeat version: maybe this is the time for other gay actors to come out of the closet as happy, healthy people who are attracted only to adults. Let’s not let Kevin Spacey be the poster child on this one, folks.