Kevin Spacey’s Twitter statement highlights problems with sexual assault beyond just the film industry
Preface: I know that this subject can be a sensitive one for victims of past attacks. With that in mind, I feel it necessary to state that this article will be dealing with the topics of rape and sexual assault.
Kevin Spacey’s tweet, issued unprompted late on Sunday night, reads like a ramble through the mind of a man unfamiliar with laws and ethics. In many ways, it is indeed indicative of that.
Spacey has been largely unproblematic throughout his storied acting career, and the resurgence that came with the hit political drama House of Cards seemingly cemented his legacy as a cult favorite and a multitalented actor who captivated the public through his eccentric desire to hardly reveal any personal information. Spacey’s own words, spoken in an interview years before, bear out his rationale for that curtain of privacy:
“I didn’t know a thing about Henry Fonda. I believed that they were the people they were acting. I don’t want to know anything about the actors I see on screen except their performance.”
That enigma no longer matters. That air of mystery, once charming, now reeks of suspicion and misdirection.
For those unfamiliar with this news story, Spacey responded last night to an accusation by fellow actor Anthony Rapp that the former made sexual advances on Rapp over 30 years ago — at the time, the victim would have been just 14 years old. Spacey’s response neither affirmed nor totally denied this accusation, which is perhaps the best legal recourse, but it also revealed some troubling themes. While we obviously cannot say with certainty that Spacey has committed a crime, there remain multiple issues with his reasoning in the below statement.
Foremost among them is Spacey’s apparent attempt to play the “I’m drunk” card as an absolution from his assault. No form of intoxication — not a wild high, a bender from a pub crawl, nor even too much gas at the dentist — should or will redeem a sexual predator from their crime. For so many years, the mantra tossed at sexual assault victims is that they should have drunk less, dressed less provocatively, or not flirted so heavily. The idea implicit in Spacey’s statement, as it has been in so many cases of varying national profile, is that we should hold sexual assault perpetrators to a more lenient standard than we hold their victims.
That is obviously ridiculous. Sexual assault, while perhaps uninhibited by drunkenness, is not enabled by it. I’m a college kid; I’ve hung out with many drunk people. It’s not that hard to drink and not sexually assault someone. There is no ingredient in your Miller High Life (or whatever Kevin Spacey drinks) that forces you to attack someone, least of all a 14-year-old boy at an adult party.
Equally as troubling is that Spacey follows this statement up with one only tangentially related to it: his sexuality. The choice to tie in a statement about a sexual assault case with one about his LGBTQ status is as detrimental to the community as it is wildly inappropriate for this post. Whether intentional or not, Spacey has bridged the idea gap between pedophilic assault and homosexual identity in his statement, and he would have been much better served to wait and confirm that rumor another day. If he truly identifies as he says he does, he should take more care not to paint a giant red target on the collective back of the gay community.
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In addition, this latter paragraph reads as a sort of deflection, one that attempts to muddy headlines and ledes with mentions of his sexual orientation rather than his assault. Sexual orientation is not to be used as a weapon or a smokescreen; it is a simple fact of life. To talk about it on this stage, with the context in which he has brought it up, only damages the normalcy of non-heterosexual relationships in the eye of the public. It casts seeds of doubt on others who have come out in the public sphere — were they too trying to cover their tracks? It also threatens to dismiss sexuality in the minds of some who now view it as a get-out-of-jail-free card. It isn’t. No matter how you identify, rape is rape and assault is assault. I don’t get out of speeding tickets because I’m a Protestant. (I do sometimes get out of them because I’m white, but that’s a different article.)
To be absolutely clear: LGBTQ-identifying people should never be barred from talking about their sexuality. That is entirely not my point. The issue here is that Spacey’s decision to come out in this context has harmful implications for the LGBTQ community.
And what, then, are the implications for Rapp? Moreover, what does this say to victims that lack his influence and podium to speak? The actor wasn’t even of driving age when he had to “squirm” out of Spacey’s grasp, per his interview with Buzzfeed. It took him 31 years to come forward completely about this, though he brought up the assault in a 2001 conversation with gay writer Dennis Hensley, which was organized and published by Advocate. Spacey’s name, of course, was redacted. While the question itself remained in print, it reads like this:
Rapp: “Now, for some actors, being closeted may make them more interesting because that might create some sort of tension in their work.”
Hensley: “That makes me think of [a certain leading man] in [a certain award-winning film].”
While the ambiguity is enough to hide Spacey, we know now that Hensley was likely referring to the former’s role in Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, where he plays a wealthy and semi-closeted homosexual man. Rapp’s response to Hensley’s mention of Spacey gives little doubt as to how the encounter affected him:
“It’s hard for me to evaluate his acting because I’m so angry at him. I met him when I was 14 because we were both in plays and he invited me to a party at his house…he came to the bedroom and he picked me up and lay down on top of me. I came out and I excused myself, and he’s like ‘You sure you want to go?’ I always wonder if he remembers it, because he was pretty drunk. And he’s had so many.”
1986. 2001. 2017. Three events, separated by a total of 31 years, have finally unlocked Rapp’s story. Hints that Spacey could be involved in this have always been there, dangled like a Hollywood inside joke — an unspoken rule — just like Courtney Love’s 2005 statement that people shouldn’t go to Harvey Weinstein’s parties. It’s not just that people have known about it that presents a problem, rather it has become an accepted and even parodied truth is just as troubling a situation.
Things are coming out now because people aren’t afraid of libel, but more should have been made of earlier accusations. Referring to Cardillo’s tweet, why wasn’t that statement followed up on? Rapp is just one example, and a powerful one at that, who has not only the platform from which to speak but the bravery as well. Not all victims are so fortunate. Not all victims get away. I wouldn’t wish what happened to Rapp on anyone, and it’s a step in the right direction that this news is out in the open, but don’t get it twisted. There’s still a lot of work to be done.