Kevin Spacey has long made a point of serving as a mentor to younger actors. In a 2014 appearance at the University of Virginia, he spoke of the mentorship he had received from his idol, Jack Lemmon—and spoke of the “send the elevator back down” idea that animated him even, especially, in his great fame. In a 2016 interview with the Harvard Business Review, Spacey said: “It’s incredible to help young people find their own self-esteem and voice and learn collaborative skills … No matter what happens in my life, no matter what success I achieve, I don’t want to ever be out of touch with that.”
Richard Dreyfuss, whose son Harry was one of Spacey’s alleged victims, shared the story Harry wrote for Buzzfeed with the following preface: “I love my son @harrydreyfuss more than I could explain with all the words in the world. And I am so incredibly proud of him right now.” This was just before the writer Jessica Teich came forward to allege that Dreyfuss the elder had exposed himself to her.
This time last week, The Flash, executive produced by Andrew Kreisberg, aired a feminism-themed episode. (Sample line: “Because we live in a society that’s dictated by the male gaze. I wanna control the narrative of feminism, okay?”) Later the same week, Variety reported that multiple people are accusing Kreisberg—who has also served as an executive producer on Arrow, Supergirl, and DC’s Legends of Tomorrow—of harassment.
Ben Affleck, in 2014, spoke about raising feminist daughters: “[They’re] a little young for a sort of Gloria Steinem doctoral thesis, but without getting into exactly what it means politically to be a feminist, our daughters understand what my wife understands full well, which is it’s important to be strong, present, and powerful, and accept nothing less than a man would—in fact, ask for more.” Ben Affleck, in 2017, apologized for groping the breasts of Hilarie Burton on live television in 2003: “I acted inappropriately toward Ms. Burton and I sincerely apologize.”
Leon Wieseltier, the former literary editor of the New Republic, was known as a champion of women, many of his former colleagues said. He mentored them, advised them, and took an interest in their careers—even as he, those same colleagues said, objectified them.
Roy Price, the former head of Amazon Studios, helped to bring the groundbreaking show Transparent into the world; in October, Isa Hackett, an executive producer on The Man in the High Castle, came forward with allegations that he had lewdly propositioned her.
The offenses vary; so do the distances between the men’s words and the men’s actions. What they have in common is their reliance on a culture of impunity for the powerful and the wealthy and the talented. (Dreyfuss, commenting on the allegation against him: “At the height of my fame in the late 1970s I became an asshole—the kind of performative masculine man my father had modeled for me to be. I lived by the motto, ‘If you don’t flirt, you die.’ And flirt I did.”) Niceguyism can be pernicious specifically because it invests the nice guy with even more power than he already enjoys: To make and break careers. To give money or hold it back. To keep abusing his power—and to keep getting away with it. The niceness helps to justify the other stuff, to cajole, to enable. Brad Pitt, knowing what Harvey Weinstein had allegedly done to Gwyneth Paltrow, his ex-fianceé, and making more movies with him nonetheless. Quentin Tarantino doing the same, knowing something similar about Mira Sorvino. Jon Stewart, hearing of the C.K. rumors during a podcast taping in 2016, responding, “So the internet said Louis harassed women.” Aziz Ansari—who has made the exploration of sexism a core element of his stand-up and his show and his book—refusing, in 2015, even to discuss the rumors about C.K.