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Reflexive Belief.

3 November 2017

I didn’t want to believe the stories about Kevin Spacey. I still don’t. But I do. But when the very first accusation against him was made, my instinctive response was to question the credibility of the accusation. I really liked Kevin Spacey. I really like his acting. He comes off with a humility and sincerity on screen and in interviews that I found charming and thoughtful. He’s a great actor, with rare gifts.

The current wave of exposures of criminal sexual activity in Hollywood, and indeed in a large swath of industries, may finally be a turning point against the pervasive habit of harassment and assault that seems entrenched in our entire culture. Mostly women, but generally the powerless at large, are victimized by mostly men with money and power. Used as disposable playthings, or simply humiliated for sport. This creates a power funnel by which men are drawn up, and women discarded. Even men who do not behave this way benefit from the vortex; though we are learning that it is a much smaller proportion of men than we’d hope who resist these base urges when given money and power.

Exposing the criminals in these places is a good thing. It needs to go on and it needs to play out.

But I also want to be honest about the strange conflict I feel at the revelation of each new accusation. I frequently flash first to a reflexive disbelief of the accuser. I find myself thinking, “If these accusation garner publicity for the accusers, it won’t be long until we have false accusations in an industry which thrives on publicity as currency.” And that might be true. But it’s no reason to disbelieve any particular accusation.

I find myself ashamed by association, and that tells me how important representation is. I dream of being one of those white men with money and power. I hope to rise in hospital management, becoming someone of import and authority. But as I look at the group of people I hope to join, right now I see it as a cesspool of avaricious, licentious men with only concern for satisfying their various appetites.

That’s not fair of course. Judging a group by its individuals’ shortcomings is the definition of bigotry. But it informs me deeply of the critical importance of representation. It feels terrible to be on the side of “all these horrible people look like me, and even though I am not like them, people will think I am because of what I look like.” It’s an education that white men rarely receive.

It makes me think how American Muslims must feel after the attack in New York this week. To be judged by so many fellow Americans by skin and creed, not character. How women must feel when they are generally assumed to be less capable in the sciences, based on their representation as bimbos and sex objects in the media. How black Americans are assumed to be inferior simply because they bear the brunt of centuries of oppression.

It is not the same as any of those things, of course. It is not even close to as severe. It has only the vague, elusive flavor of the consequences meted out to those others. My whiteness and my maleness and my straightness remain powerful cultural assets.

But it is important to use whatever opportunity arises to empathize and understand the experience of others. The use that experience – as harmless to me as it is – to bend my prejudice in favor of the oppressed. Of the victim. Of the marginalized. My general experience is that I resemble to hero. John McClean saving the world.

It’s important here to recognize that in this, I resemble the villains. The heroes are the ones speaking up, at great risk, and great cost, to bring some small measure of justice to the powerful men who’ve victimized them. I won’t dismiss this experience as the acts of a few bad apples. Bad apples spoil the barrel. I am tarnished by these men. And if I want to live in a world worth living in, I need to accept that, and learn from it.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Aimee permalink
    3 November 2017 16:19

    It’s kind of cute that you think you – mostly – aren’t being judged and stereotyped as a villain for being a man, that you are generally seen as “more like the hero.” I guess one of the privileges you enjoy is seeing mostly positive images reflected back to you, regardless of what people are actually thinking. Let me assure that there’s a sizeable percentage of the female population that has all sorts of fixed, negative ideas about men in general.

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