In light of recent sexual assault and harassment charges against iconic cultural icons like Kevin Spacey, and , various high-profile media outlets and production companies have officially severed their ties with these once acclaimed public figures. The message being sent by the entertainment industry is clear: sexual assault and harassment, no matter how iconic the perpetrator is, will not be tolerated anymore. Despite the clear decisiveness on the part of the media for disavowing themselves from these high-profile perpetrators, a lingering question still remains: what to do with their iconic work?
Figures like Kevin Spacey and Louis C.K, notwithstanding the allegations, nonetheless represent iconic players within contemporary culture. Over the last twenty years, for instance, Kevin Spacey has occupied an arguably perennial place in American popular culture from his Oscar-winning portrayal of disgruntled, middle-aged Lester Burnham in “American Beauty” to most recently his acclaimed role as the machiavellian President Underwood in “House of Cards.” Consequently. unlike the swift, abrupt nature by which many media companies have come out against figures like Spacey, it will be undoubtedly be extremely difficult to disavow ourselves completely from their work. Simply put, their work has become far too prolific and entrenched within our collective popular culture to disregard wholly.
Despite a knee-jerk reaction to immediately boycott the art created by perpetrators, our response should take on a more nuanced framework. Art can be valuable for the contributions it makes to society even if the men involved are morally reprehensible. We can condemn and reject those exposed for transgressions, but still be able to consume the works that they have helped to create because of the intrinsic value of media. However, keeping in mind the context around such works, including possible misconduct by contributors, should be an essential component of our viewing process. The recent outpour of accusations has shown that harassment and assault are painfully too common, yet these issues stem from a larger system of sexism and power that cannot simply be solved by boycotts alone. Societal ills like gendered violence will only be resolved by confronting the patriarchal thinking that is so deeply entrenched within our society. Refusing to watch House of Cards will not solve the crisis of harassment; we need action more decisive and tangible than just choosing another series on Netflix to binge-watch.
Moreover, what is often ignored is that films and media productions are often the product of a large collection of people, not just the perpetrators. Oftentimes, costume designers, set developers and script writers collaborate with sound technicians, makeup artists and special effects experts to create something incredible, just to have their collective work ruined by one horrible person—with “House of Cards.” The hard work of many, including the victims involved with production, should not be wholly erased and discounted based on the actions of deplorable individuals. Critique can co-exist with viewership and we have the capacity to take on the role of consumers with critical eyes, to appreciate cinema for its story and characters while also rejecting the people who use their positions of power to exploit others.
In the aftermath of these allegations against some of popular culture’s most iconic figures, it is important that we as consumers critically examine their work in a more nuanced light beyond just simply boycotting them outright. Just as we must consider the reprehensible actions of Alfred Hitchcock— of his female actors—when watching “Vertigo”, we should also maintain a similar attitude when viewing Kevin Spacey’s performance in “House of Cards.” Finally, cinematic and television productions represent a collaborative effort by multiple cast members; refusing to consume their work simply because of one irresponsible cast member does a disservice to the many hard-working actors involved in the industry.
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