“If that’s the burden of history,” he added, “you don’t want to deal with that. But the reality is, Kevin Spacey [may have] acted in a criminal way with a 14-year-old, and you have to deal with it.”
Common psychiatric wisdom holds that pedophilia is a diagnosable mental condition, a notion the Vulture accuser recognizes in his interview: “It is in your brain. That’s one of the tragic things about it for those people.” He talked about turning 25 and trying to understand what Spacey and the accuser’s older cousin (who he said also preyed on him) saw in boys like him a decade earlier. “I couldn’t conjure up the desire,” he said. “It was nauseating to think of having sex with them, and that was, I think, certainly when I understood, on a very deep level, these men were fucked up.”
The discourse around pedophilia often centers around whether it is rooted in desire itself, or in a lust for power (it also involves a debate over whether “pedophilia” is the correct term when the targets are adolescent—a debate that is, morally, irrelevant in this case). The allegations against Spacey suggests that both can be possible. Acting upon urges toward children is, fundamentally, taking advantage. When he was in his mid-20s, Spacey wasn’t yet famous and wasn’t that powerful. But to a young teen curious about the acting world, it likely felt quite otherwise.
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Though the myriad revelations that followed Weinstein’s downfall have largely been about men preying on adult women, Spacey’s allegations nonetheless seem deeply familiar in this moment. Many of Weinstein’s accusers, too, were much younger than him, and many stayed silent, too, because of his media influence. Just in the space of a few days, Spacey’s name has been joined in the headlines because of new accusations against other movie titans, and comparing those cases with his is a queasy but illuminating exercise.
In one of the most troubling anecdotes this week, the actress Natasha Henstridge says she fell asleep on the director Brett Ratner’s couch and awoke to find him forcing himself on her. Spacey, too, has been accused of approaching someone who was asleep: Note the simple power dynamic there. Both men’s reputations had been a punchline around town, as well. Spacey’s rumored taste for young men was a running gag on the sitcom Difficult People, and a dark joke on Family Guy. At The Hollywood Reporter’s 2016 Women in Entertainment breakfast, Tina Fey told the crowd, “Brett Ratner is here. In his defense, he thought this was a thing where you could eat breakfast off of 100 women.” (Ratner has denied all allegations.)
The writer Anna Graham Hunter has said she was serially harassed by Dustin Hoffman when she was working as an assistant on a 1985 TV production of Death of a Salesman. Her essay for The Hollywood Reporter is essential reading, featuring a stomach-turning collection of letters Hunter wrote from the set. She told of Hoffman making lewd comments, grabbing her, and quizzing the then-17-year-old girl about her sex life. Her youth was, as in the stories about Spacey, a major factor: “My heart aches for the awkward virgin with the bad hair who had only been kissed three times in her life, laughing as the man her father’s age talked about breasts and sex.” (Hoffman apologized and said he felt “terrible that anything I might have done could have put her in an uncomfortable situation.”)