In works of comedy, misdirections can be poetically effective. When a character escapes responsibility by pointing the finger at something or someone else, the audience gets the joke mainly because we’ve all done the same thing at one time or another, most likely when we were children.
But when this rhetorical device is put to use by famous men accused of harassing or assaulting people who held less power than them, it’s not funny, it’s repulsive. And pathetic. And that’s why the actor Kevin Spacey is being called out today for his “apology” to fellow actor Anthony Rapp, who yesterday publicly accused Spacey of harassing him at a Hollywood party more than 30 years ago, when Rapp was 14 years old.
Rapp said Spacey, then 26, invited him to his apartment for a party and at the end of the night, physically picked him up and put him on his bed, climbing on top of him in a sexual advance.
In response, Spacey offered this pseudo-apology:
He writes that he was “beyond horrified” to hear Rapp’s account. “I honestly do not remember the encounter, it would have been over 30 years ago,” he says.
He then used the apology as a chance to come out about his sexuality, confirming long-held rumors that he is gay, writing: “I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
The change-the-topic apology in this case is doubly offensive because it also links being gay to being a sexual predator.
One would think that Spacey would have learned something from Harvey Weinstein, the disgraced movie producer whose past crimes against women inspired the #MeToo movement that encouraged Rapp to speak up. In Weinstein’s own bizarre statement, the Hollywood mogul blamed the work culture of the 1960s, said he regretted his actions, and vowed to turn his attention to Donald Trump and the gun-rights advocates at the National Rifle Association. Weinstein wrote:
I am going to need a place to channel that anger, so I’ve decided that I’m going to give the NRA my full attention. I hope Wayne LaPierre will enjoy his retirement party. I’m going to do it at the same place I had my Bar Mitzvah. I’m making a movie about our President, perhaps we can make it a joint retirement party.
Spacey’s own red herring was perhaps less obvious to some. As Quartz’s Sam Rigby notes, “ABC News’s story (which has since been edited) originally read: “Kevin Spacey comes out in emotional tweet.” Reuters chose to lead with Spacey declaring he now lives as a gay man, making no mention of the assault claim in the original headline.”
But the sleight of hand was not missed by everyone.
A real apology is never about the apologizer. We might not have expected the severely egocentric men of Hollywood to know this before. But in the wake of Weinstein’s poor attempt at misdirection, we might have expected better from Spacey, and all else who come after.