About a week ago, I had a conversation with a friend about the movie “Baby Driver.” My friend refused to see it because, according to him, “Kevin Spacey is in it and it turns out he’s a terrible man.” My friend is right: Kevin Spacey is a terrible man. But he’s still one of my favorite actors. The fact that he abused teenage boys, then reacted to their testimonies by coming out as homosexual deeply angers me. Yet none of this removes “American Beauty” from my Top 10 Movies List.
But should it? Is it wrong, celebrating the work of people who have intimately violated others? Is it possible to reconcile their treachery with their artistry? Or is their talent discounted by their other faulty actions?
I don’t know. There are no clear answers to these questions. There are also various opinions from both sides that make me conflicted on the issue as a whole.
I’ve been thinking about these viewpoints since the Harvey Weinstein allegations popped the cork on a slew of scandals involving high-profile men including Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K., Al Franken, and more recently, Matt Lauer. You don’t have to go as far as Hollywood to see sexual harassment and the abuse of power. This fall, The Daily Princetonian has run three pieces surrounding the hostile culture within the predominantly male German department and allegations against electrical engineering professor Sergio Verdú. The political can so easily become personal, I struggle with wanting to separate their work from their major indiscretions.
I know I support Netflix’s decision to drop Spacey from “House of Cards”; co-workers cannot be expected to work in an unsafe environment. But I also still think “House of Cards” is deserving of every Emmy it’s won, and consider all of the hours I spent watching Claire and Frank Underwood well worth it.
Yet, despite this, did I feel guilty for touting Spacey’s acting genius in an effort to show someone a movie I like? Yes. I felt as if I were enabling the privilege hid his actions for so long. He’s great. He knows he’s great, we know he’s great, and so did his victims. But still, no amount of power should warrant the entitlement and disrespect that Spacey and his other Hollywood counterparts displayed.
Do I still listen to Chris Brown? Yes. In 2009, Chris Brown beat Rihanna. Photos of her swollen black eye circulated everywhere. I was in the fifth grade, and many of my friends were forced by their parents to delete his music from their iPods. I think my father asked me to as well. But Brown’s “Run It” and “Forever” remained some of my most listened-to songs. His career staged a comeback, and he is still Spotify’s 39th most played artist. When “Kiss Kiss” is played, 10 years later, people still rush to the dance floor.
Is it cultural amnesia that allows us to continue to watch, listen to, and idolize people, who would be in jail if not for their ability to afford multi-million dollar lawyers? Is it the “out of sight, out of mind” with headlines: once the news has moved on, maybe we do as well? Or is it apathy? Are acts of sexual and domestic violence so normalized in our culture that we are able to turn off registering that someone committed a crime?
In Sarah Silverman’s statement about her friend Louis C.K.’s scandal, she questions, “Can you love someone who did bad things?” We are all searching for answers, and it’s time to start a campus discourse on this.
We didn’t end up watching “Baby Driver.” But that was because the HDMI cord wasn’t working. I wonder how I would have felt if we had. Would the movie be different, now that I know the villain on screen is even more menacing in real life?
Rachel Kennedy is a freshman from Dedham, Mass. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.