Media critic David Zurawik talks about the quick demise of the career of actor Kevin Spacey following allegations of trying to have sex with actor Anthony Rapp when Rapp was 14-years-old. (Kevin Richardson/Baltimore Sun video)
The speed with which disgrace can destroy even the most successful careers these days is dizzying.
On Sunday, before BuzzFeed’s publication of allegations from actor Anthony Rapp that Kevin Spacey forcibly tried to have sex with him when Rapp was 14 years old, the star of “House of Cards” was one of the leading international figures on stage or screen. From Academy Awards to his own major production company, Spacey was one of Hollywood’s most recognizable and respected faces.
Just four days later, following new allegations of Spacey having sex with another 14-year-old boy and using his power as executive producer and star on “House of Cards” to prey on young male workers, the Academy Award-winning actor appears to be done — not just on the series that helped push Netflix into the top tier of TV services, but in Hollywood altogether. Maybe the upper rungs of the theater world as well.
That’s done — like the late Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein.
If that wasn’t clear when Netflix and Media Rights Capitalshut down production Tuesday, two weeks into season 6 of the locally filmed “House of Cards,” it was Thursday night when it was first reported that Spacey’s Hollywood publicist, Polaris PR, and talent agency, CAA, had parted ways with him.
When you can’t pay someone to make your case in Hollywood, you are out of business.
I have been writing about the downfall of figures like Spacey as the result of a cultural tidal wave connected to the rolling back of patriarchy and the monstrous belief of some men that they have the right to violate and humiliate others in the most private of ways. I believe that that is the larger force driving all these alleged abusers from power, and that we will be a better society for each and every oppressor that is taken down.
But the head-spinning speed with which careers that had been built and endured for decades are now being destroyed is also a function of technology — particularly social media.
Profound cultural change like this, which has been building in the U.S. at least from the women’s movement of the 1960s, is never pretty when it finally breaks through. In 18th-century France, they used the guillotine to announce societal change. Today, we have Twitter and the mob that gathers there when the news is big enough.
Spacey felt the wrath of that mob Sunday when he responded to the report posted at 9:32 p.m. on Buzzfeed by issuing a statement that said he “did not remember the encounter” that Rapp described as having taken place in 1986. (Spacey was 26 at the time.)
“But if I did behave then as he describes, I owe him the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behavior,” Spacey said in the statement before going on to announce that he is gay.
“Kevin Spacey has just invented something that has never existed before: a bad time to come out,” comedian Billy Eichner wrote in response on Twitter. It was one of the milder rebukes of Spacey for linking homosexuality to his alleged assault of a child.
And the denunciation of Spacey continued throughout the week on all media.
Wednesday night on “Late Night With Seth Meyers,” the host let one of the show’s writers, Jenny Hagel, offer her take on Spacey’s response.
“As a gay woman, I have a lot of problems with Kevin Spacey’s statement,” Hagel said, criticizing the actor for coming out as part of his response to allegations of sexually assaulting a 14-year-old — and blaming his actions on alcohol.
“That makes it sound like every gay person is two beers away from molesting a kid — I’m not,” she said.
“The gay community has been made up of brave, brilliant people like Alan Turing and Audre Lorde and Billie Jean King,” Hagel said as if addressing Spacey. “You’re not in the gay community. You’re in the creep community. Go celebrate creep pride, and throw a little creep parade, and leave us out of it.”
“Creep” might not be as bad as the “monster”category in which I placed Ailes as he was trying to brazen it out and keep his job as chairman at Fox News after a wave or harassment and assault allegations arose in July 2016. But it’s close enough to let you know you are despised by people in the same show-business profession that once celebrated you on all those awards nights.
There is a difference between Spacey and Ailes, connected in part to one being a performer. Like Cosby before his downfall, the 58-year-old Spacey was widely liked and even admired. Ailes was not much liked except for some employees and politicos on the right. The near-instant loss of that affection built up over more than three decades makes Spacey’s downfall in less than a week all the more remarkable.
The pattern with these sorts of claims is that they just keep coming. That has been the case not only with the biggest pop culture figures like Cosby, O’Reilly, Weinstein and Ailes, but also the lesser lights, such as journalist Mark Halperin, former Amazon studio chief Roy Price and director James Toback. Bang, bang, drip, drip, drip.
Reporters from several digital and legacy platforms are working the story, and in just a matter of days, they have been able to report the accounts of more alleged victims of Spacey. The Vulture report of man who says Spacey seduced him at age 14 is especially troubling, as is the report by CNN that Spacey was using his power as star and executive producer to sexually harass and intimidate young men on the set of “House of Cards.”
On Friday night, Netflix parted ways with Spacey, saying that "it will not be involved with any further production of 'House of Cards' that includes Kevin Spacey."
The streaming service said it would continue to work with Media Rights Capital, the company that produces the show, "during this hiatus time to evaluate our path forward as it relates to the show."
Netflix also said it was not moving forward with the release of the film "Gore," which Spacey produced and starred in. The film was in post-production.