Calculated. Callous. Corrupt. It is difficult to think of positive adjectives to describe Frank Underwood, the Machiavellian anti-hero of the Netflix Originals drama House of Cards. Had the events of the past few months not unfolded as they did, it might have been equally difficult to think of negative adjectives to describe Underwood’s actor, Kevin Spacey, and the other formerly esteemed men now accused of sexual misconduct.
Our society’s reliance on social media is growing. We now know so much about famous artists that it is becoming more challenging to separate the artist from their art. Many millennials, including myself, will choose to boycott certain works, brands, or people because of their reputation, but taking this stance only leads to frustration when problematic creators produce content that is actually good.
Is it only the bodies of work of obvious villains that we are quick to dismiss? In 2014, it was revealed to the British public that the BBC and other institutions had protected, hidden, and therefore condoned the abusive behaviour of Jimmy Savile from the 1960s to his death in 2011. Savile was an English television and radio personality who had also founded and worked with many children’s charities.
After his death, there were hundreds of allegations made that Savile had molested and raped hundreds of children over the course of his career. Despite there having been numerous opportunities to halt his abuse, he was permitted to continue because of his status.
My mum never liked Savile, so I had never been subjected to any of his shows. I’m not sure I even knew who he was until his sexual abuse scandal surfaced. Celebrities and newspapers were quick to come forward with support for the victims and to condemn the hidden actions of yet another privileged white man. This made it incredibly easy for me to categorize Savile: ‘bad man, bad content, do not endorse.’
These cases become even more morally repugnant when the actions of alleged sexual abusers are essentially condoned by allowing them to continue with their art. In Savile’s case, the accounts of his abusive crimes were buried until his death. Today, despite Hollywood’s current attempts to irrevocably remove predators from the community, Woody Allen’s new film Wonder Wheel will still be released this December.
Despite being married to his former wife’s adopted daughter and being investigated for the sexual abuse of his own daughter Dylan Farrow, Woody Allen is still as successful as he was when he made Annie Hall in 1977. Similarly, Roman Polanski raped a 13-year-old girl in 1977, but he won an Academy Award for The Pianist in 2003, premiered Based on a True Story at the Cannes Film Festival this year, and was honoured at the Cinémathèque Française in October.
Bill Cosby was first charged with sexual misconduct years ago, but he still has an abundance of supporters. Previously a hero to a marginalized community, some argue that continued support for Cosby is a result of discourse on racism in the United States. The Cosby case highlighted the belief of people of minority groups that their cultural icons were being unfairly targeted by the media — but perhaps these people were trying to justify his actions because they had invested themselves in Cosby’s legacy.
Coupling admission of his unacceptable behaviour making sexual advances on a teenager with his coming out, Spacey was trying to encourage an emotional dilemma. How could we not rationalize his behaviour upon learning he’s gay?
Cutting off our emotional attachment to the content produced by these individuals proves difficult, especially when popular media outlets are quick to praise them and the academy celebrates their work.
Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, Roman Polanski’s The Pianist, and now House of Cards were fictional stories that I adored. I savoured the whimsical yet poignant romantic moments that Owen Wilson shared with some of my favourite artists in a spellbinding city. I was haunted by Adrian Brody’s gripping portrayal of a talented Polish-Jewish pianist in Nazi Germany. I was delighted by Robin Wright’s unapologetic hunger for power in a world dominated by men. While my fondness for the performances of these actors remains intact, I am not sure that I can show any allegiance to the show and films they appear in due to the conduct of their creators.
Over the past month, I have been satisfied to read about Harvey Weinstein’s career crumbling around him. In a recent interview with BBC Two’s Newsnight, actress Emma Thompson stated that Weinstein was just one predator among many in an exploitative industry. As it turns out, she was right.
Hollywood’s own house of cards is falling, and we’re simply waiting to see who’s left with the highest hand. The formerly renowned reputations of these men — Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, Bill Cosby, Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Brett Ratner, Johnny Depp, Casey Affleck, Louis CK, Jeffrey Tambor, James Toback, and more — demonstrates how those accused of sexual intimidation and harassment have been protected by powerful institutions and the influential.
We are finally beginning to recognize that these moral transgressions are the result of an abuse of power at the expense of the vulnerable. Having been axed from House of Cards, disassociated from the London theatre The Old Vic, and being roundly criticized for using the allegations as a platform to come out, Spacey and his future in Hollywood look just about as fruitful as — spoilers — Frank Underwood’s career at the end of season five.
We need to start paying attention to the details, listening to the unheard, and supporting those who have been hurt. So, when the lights are turned on and the monsters are exposed from the shadows, we won’t be left wondering why we didn’t see them coming out from under our own beds.