“Holy crap!” I blurted out from the living room couch.
“What?” Lisa said. She sat at the dining room table drinking coffee.
“Netflix just axed House of Cards,” I said, reading a story from Deadline.com.
This was last week, when Kevin Spacey’s past bulldozed his present and future self. Today, the world learned Spacey has been cut out of Ridley Scott’s now all-too-ironically titled film All the Money in the World.
In the last week, more victims have come forward, and Spacey has checked himself into a private rehab clinic.
Lisa and I both like Kevin Spacey as an actor, but neither of us are viewers of the show. In the aesthetic comparison with Harvey Weinstein, even when he was known more for being a bully rather than serial harasser, Kevin Spacey hardly looked like a monster. But that’s the devil’s great trick, right?
“Well, good for them,” she said.
I paused. I agreed, but I wanted to go Socratic.
Lisa is thoughtful by nature, and her academic background in cultural theory has led to some very engaging conversations about pop culture. But not today. Not on this topic.
“You know, enough of that shit,” she said, as she walked across the living room toward the steps.
She stopped on the landing and looked at me.
“Why,” she asked. “Do you disagree?”
“No, no” I said. “But that was really quick.”
“It should be,” she said. “He was 14.”
“But did they cut the show because he attacked a kid, or because he assaulted who he thought he was with an adult?”
Lisa cocked her head. She arched an eyebrow.
“I don’t see how that matters. There’s no justification--”
“I’m not justifying--”
What was I attempting to do? This wasn’t a serious inquiry. It was mansploring sophistry.
I realize now how dumb I sound now when measured against the outright hostility of Gay Talese, one of the dean’s of the New Journalism movement, who believes Spacey’s victims should just “suck it up.” Craggy words from a dotty octogenarian? No, considering his thoughts continue to be measured by the mainstream press.
I’m not Talese, but in retrospect I wasn’t off by much. My tone and thinking were the same -- a soft voice to soft peddle.
I’ve spent the better part of the my professional life reporting and writing about corporate and political missteps, particularly as an editorial writer and op-ed columnist.
In that space, I highlighted injustice and chastised officials for their timidity, especially when it was clear that the restraint or even hostility toward accepting responsibility was based on economic factors rather than moral values.
Now that I’m working to shape messaging, it’s imperative for practitioners not to compromise on such obviously vile behavior, lest minions to monsters.
When it comes to clear moral failings, in this case -- the systematic use of one’s position and authority to restrain, detain and control others -- an unambiguous line must be drawn.
Brands that place their reputation above basic decency will find the road to recovery far less forgiving, as Millennials are more engaged with brands than their predecessors, and the want for meaningful encounters won’t diminish soon. My 13-year-old son asks more pointed questions about the brands we buy than I did at his age, and I came from a fairly activist family.
Some might find Netflix’s decision capricious, maybe even cynical given the deluge of allegations against Harvey Weinstein and James Toback. Why take the heat when you don’t have to?
However, if this is the cultural moment where we rectify past atrocious behavior that was pawned off as acceptable because of financial consideration and critical success, then bring it on -- finally.
It’s not as though Hollywood hasn’t had its chances for self-examination and behavioral change.
Movie director Roman Polanski still has his defenders despite having fled to France in 1978 after he was convicted of statutorily raping a 13-year-old girl. He won the Academy Award for best director in 2003 for The Pianist.
Woody Allen continues to make films and even win an Academy Award nearly 24 years after allegations of molesting his children nearly tanked his career.
Ironically, the man who saved Allen’s career was Harvey Weinstein. “Shunned by Hollywood means nothing to Miramax,” he told the Los Angeles Times in 1994. “We’re talking about a comic genius.”
How can we be shocked by Hollywood monsters when we continue to gloss over the predatory pathology of “creative” men?
Katie Pruitt, my CPU colleague and former university instructor, made the astute observation that as Big Hollywood flounders under this cultural quake, actions by Netflix and Amazon, which fired its studio chief, Roy Price, after harassment charges were leveled against him, is New Hollywood starting off on the right foot.
Setting an early precedent of zero-tolerance on sexual harassment isn’t just for the entertainment industry. It is a code that ought to be adopted cross industries and institutions, which continue to be mired in the much of the Old Ways.