What do we make of this, released by actor Kevin Spacey lastweek almost at the same time as he was being indicted for sexual assault?
The much-acclaimed actor career collapsed in 2017 as more than 30 people claimed that Spacey had sexually assaulted them. Now he is speaking in the persona—with accent!— of his Netflix series villain, Frank Underwood, the central character of “House of Cards.” Or is he? Much of the speech seems to refer to Spacey’s own plight, and suggests that the actor is being unfairly convicted in the court of public opinion. By using the voice and character of an unequivocal miscreant however, for Frank is a liar, a cheat, a sociopath, indeed a murderer, such protests are automatically incredible.
Or is Spacey making a legitimate argument that an artist’s personal flaws should be irrelevant to the appreciation of his art, especially in a case like “House of Cards,” where the actor’s role can’t possibly be undermined by the actor’s own misdeeds: whatever one says or thinks about Spacey, he can’t be as bad as Frank Underwood. If you enjoyed watching Underwood destroy lives on his way to power, why should Spacey’s conduct, even if it was criminal, make you give up the pleasure of observing his vivid and diverting fictional creation? This isn’t like Bill Cosby, serially drugging and raping women while playing a wise, moral and funny father-figure. Spacey seems to be arguing that there should be no cognitive dissonance between him and Underwood at all. Who better to play a cur like Frank than an actor who shares his some of his darkness?
It it were possible to isolate the issue solely to the matter of art as Spacey may be doing, I would be in sympathy with the argument. The art shouldn’t be diminished by the character of the artist, except that how an audience experiences the art is inevitably at risk when the artist becomes a distraction (See cultural vandalism, here). There is more involved than art, though Spacey would have us ignore that. “House of Cards” is also a workplace, and employers are ethically and legally bound not to allow sexual predators to run amuck. Employers, and their industries, are also ethically obligated to send clear messages to all employees present and future that sexual misconduct on the job will not be tolerated. Spacey’s video seems to be an argument for The King’s Pass, Rationalization #11: “Come on, I’m so good at what I do that these incidents and allegations, even if they are true, shouldn’t justify taking away the benefits and joy of seeing a great actor work his magic! Be practical!”
I like this analysis a lot better than that of conservative Hollywood commentator Christian Toto, who has four theories:
- Spacey has to act, and the video was just a self-indulgence that he couldn’t resist.
- Spacey is shifting blame to his audience, accusing them of being naive to think he was a better human being than he is.
- He’s trying to exploit the declining trust in the news media, and suggesting that the allegations against him aren’t true.
- He’s in denial.
There’s another possibility: Spacey, in his desperation to salvage some kind of acting career, may be emulating Jessica Hahn. After the church secretary’s reputation was destroyed by TV evangelist Jim Baaker, who dragged her down with him in a sex scandal, she decided to embrace her new public persona as a siren. She had massive plastic surgery and breast implants, posed for Playboy, and became a high profile sexual temptress until her celebrity ran out. As long as his reputation has been shattered beyond repair, perhaps Spacey has decided to embrace his own villainy.