Three-D Issue 29: A curse on all his ‘Houses of Cards’: the life and times of Kevin Spacey

In politics, there’s a classic line ‘when you are the story its time to quit’ – think Andy Coulson, Lizzie Louden and Alistair Campbell. And so it comes to pass in the pungent world of media personalities and Hollywood-esque legends. Here, I focus on just one example, what we might poetically consider to be the rise and fall of an icon of stage, screen, and directing, Kevin Spacey.

‘I’m living as a gay man now’ says Kevin in an apparent declaration of lifestyle choice akin to what colour tie you might wear at your next award nomination appearance. Only this apparent statement of preference appears to contain several seeds … of doubt (how can you victimise a victim), of suspicion (so the real agenda here is homophobic), of myth endorsement (we’re talking about young gay guys who, as you’ll appreciate, put the P in promiscuous), and of explanatory power (its ‘man on man’, so there’s no gendered power relations here to concern you). However, his initial foray into managing his media – rather than a defusing strategy –means the plot thickens. He apologised if, rather than for, unsurprisingly the proverbial has hit the fan!

As with many of his performance acts, might this have been foretold. He longed to play Lago in Othello, a character who ‘may be bad but knows he’s good at it’. Whilst he least wanted to play the fool in King Lear…enough said. A quick pondering of Spacey’s lead roles draws an obvious and pertinent theme: power. More particularly, a type of power personified by someone’s immense ambition coupled with their ethical inadequacy. In this context, what comes to mind are vulgar images of the dripping juices of dominance…But instead of dwelling in such terrain I turn instead to the cultured thoughts of Mary Beard and her recent book Women and Power where she offers a vivid account of the historic forces of female silence and misogyny. There are meaningful parallels here with Spacey’s use, I mean here, abuse, of males – misandry.

Introducing a classicist into my argument leads, as if scripted, to ancient Rome and so back to Shakespeare’s ‘Roman Plays’, to the dark arts of acting and finally to a reading of Kevin Spacey as a form of historic recurrence. A life of decadent seduction (Anthony and Cleopatra), a cycle of sexual violence (Titus Andronicus), the futile efforts to calm a mutiny amongst the underlings (Coriolanus) and finally the cumulative betrayal of his once friends and allies (Julius Caesar).

The outcome? In cases of reputational damage, it often depends on whether, in this case, you are a Die-hard fan or one of The Inbetweens, in relation to Kevin Spacey’s creative outputs. Not this time – Spacey, to paraphrase Dr Frasier Crane ‘has left the building’. His deletion from Hollywood should however not mean his removal from history though, because, back to Mary Beard:

“If the assassination of Julius Caesar became a model for the effective removal of a tyrant, it was also a powerful reminder that getting rid of a tyrant [does] not necessarily dispose of tyranny.” (SPQR: a history of ancient Rome, 2015).

The scrutiny of the spotlight needs to shine beyond the celebrity to our celebrity culture.

I too, the author, am now ‘living as a gay man’, and have been since I turned 18. As such I have no more unique, intuitive or insightful perspective on this issue as you. I offer a stance knowingly bereft of any claims to be an Archimedean point.

Posted by Einar Thorsen