It isn’t just Catholic cardinals whose careers and reputations are crucified in the Age of #MeTooism. According to the promos for Channel Seven’s newish TV drama The Blake Mysteries, A New Beginning, the Craig McLachlan-less show takes place eight months after Lucien Blake’s “unexplained disappearance”.
Well, there is no need for an explanation, really. We know why our much loved Lucien Blake disappeared. Craig McLachlan was accused of sexual malfeasance by a fellow actor from another show (in which I have zero interest), The Rocky Horror Show. So, with the greatest respect to the series’ remaining star Nadine Garner, now we have a show called Blake, only without a Blake. Should we be ticked off by this new trend of the corporatist killing of careers and asking questions later? You bet we should. MeToo + woke = death to art and entertainment, and a denial of choice to consumers of art and entertainment, that goes way beyond censorship and removes from us the right to make choices about whether the real or alleged misdeeds of the producers of art affect our attitudes to their work.
Geoffrey Rush is perhaps lucky to have his own career still intact, following scarcely believable accusations that were found to be without merit. Likewise John Jarratt, who brilliantly scared us witless in Wolf Creek and who has survived a legal grilling following an historic allegation of rape found to have been without basis. Thankfully he can resume his career and again scare us witless.
Others are not so fortunate, and the stain of private failures and/or crimes, or alleged private failures, may mean that our favourite performers and writers are just made to disappear. In some cases, it is merely for thought crimes, not real crimes. More of this anon.
Some time back, in a piece entitled “Bring Back Kevin Spacey”, Tanya Gold in The Spectator lamented the outworkings of strictly enforced #MeTooism, as seen through the disappearance from The House of Cards of its star.
The sixth and final season of House of Cards has begun without Kevin Spacey, who played the murderous Democratic American president Frank Underwood. Netflix fired Spacey when he was accused in 2019 of multiple sexual assaults, although he was not then nor since been charged with any crime. The longed-for dénouement of Frank Underwood — the moment when he realises his crimes have been in vain — never came. Instead his wife, Claire, so lovely in looks, is now president. (It’s TV.) When the trailer for the final season appeared, Underwood was already in his grave, with Claire, played by Robin Wright, standing over it. Wright gave an interview saying that she had never known Kevin Spacey, which made me smile, because it is exactly what House of Cards character would have said.
I don’t write to defend Spacey as a man. I met him once and got the freezing stare he gave to all journalists who sought something of him beyond that which he wished to give. Criminal or not, he was a man with secrets, and I expected, and deserved, nothing else. He didn’t sign autographs at the stage door of the Old Vic, where he was artistic director from 2004 to 2015. Rather he signed them through a slot in the door — and why not? There is something hateful about the way we crawl over actors, looking for a narrative they give better, and more freely, on screen.
But I am angry that he fell without trial. If #MeToo and #TimesUp take away the presumption of innocence, we will be worse off. If Spacey is not tried, and therefore not convicted — a few enquiries have come to nothing, owing to the statute of limitations, but others are ongoing — he should return to acting. But I fear he won’t.
Gold’s argument was that, short of a conviction, Spacey should return to screen and stage, allowed to ply his trade for his income and our pleasure. She also argued that it is just awful that we-the-public are denied the enjoyment of Spacey’s talent merely as a result of corporately decided guilt. We just want to see our stars, she argued with power and logic while openly acknowledging Spacey’s peculiarities, indeed his personal creepiness, in the process.
One can only guess at what the new rules are for denying the public the opportunity to see or listen to their favourite performers, or indeed to have access to their favourite poets, playwrights and novelists in this age where #MeTooism meets wokeness and neo-puritanism all mixed in together.
There is a strange divide between those performers known to have done bad things, and simply forgiven, and others simply wiped from history.
Of course, we will all make our own judgements about our potential unease with watching, say, OJ Simpson in The Naked Gun. He may well be a murderer. Many, perhaps most, people assume he is. Should we listen to the old Thriller album from the accused paedophile Michael Jackson? Then, of course, there are the old Gary Glitter songs and re-runs of Rolf Harris performing the now highly dubious Jake the Peg (with his extra leg). What about listening to the classical music of Benjamin Britten, widely thought to have been a pederast? No mention of this inconvenient fact ever on Classic FM, that bastion of political correctness. Britten’s communism and homosexuality alone almost guarantee regular appearances on the ABC.
And what about the photography of Bill Henson, alternately considered hero and villain, the excellence of his photography acknowledged along with its celebrated, occasional edgy, borderline paedophilia? No less a personage than our most recent ex-prime minister has argued Henson’s greatness and his ongoing right to be thought above board as well as brilliant.
Sadly, the US career of Placido Domingo is now snuffed out, for alleged sexual discretions that may or may not have included casting couch activities and other misdemeanours of far less concern to the general public. Mel Gibson in in his own special category of beyond-the-paleness in the world of Hollyworld.
Finally, we might consider the almost secular sainthood of the late David Bowie, who admitted to having had sexual relationships with groupie girls as young as thirteen. Again, conveniently forgotten. To my knowledge, Bowie has never been considered verboten as a result of this (presumably well known) history of taking advantage of underage sex opportunities, albeit willing provided, it seems.
Sometimes we are not allowed to hear or see things, not because the artist has committed a crime, or a sin, or has been alleged to have done so, but because he has broken the new rules of wokeness. In the age of the dreaded “homophobic slur” – just ask Victorian fast bowler James Pattinson, who we were denied seeing play in the First Test against Pakistan as a result of a dobbing umpire – we might want to reconsider listening to the old Dire Straits song, Money for Nothing. The song contained the following lyrics:
See the little faggot with the earring and the make-up
Yeah buddy that’s his own hair
That little faggot got his own jet airplane
That little faggot he’s a millionaire.
Since then, and despite songwriter Mark Knopfler’s explanation of the origins of the lyrics, the song had been edited or made to disappear altogether by many radio stations so as not to offend those likely to be offended. Knopfler has himself explained the song:
In 2000, Knopfler appeared on Parkinson on BBC One and explained again where the lyrics originated. According to Knopfler, he was in New York and stopped by an appliance store. At the back of the store, they had a wall of TVs which were all tuned to MTV. Knopfler said there was a man working there dressed in a baseball cap, work boots, and a checkered shirt delivering boxes who was standing next to him watching. As they were standing there watching MTV, Knopfler remembers the man coming up with lines such as “what are those, Hawaiian noises?…that ain’t workin’,” etc. Knopfler asked for a pen to write some of these lines down and then eventually put those words to music. The first-person narrating character in the lyrics refers to a musician “banging on the bongos like a chimpanzee” and a woman “stickin’ in the camera, man we could have some fun”. He describes a singer as “that little faggot with the earring and the make-up”, and bemoans that these artists get “money for nothing and chicks for free”.
So, the offensive lyrics are actually spoken by a character from an appliance store, and not meant to offend. But this isn’t good enough in the Age of Not Giving Offence, especially not to people of colour – giving offence to people of whiteness is OK – or to homosexuals.
Yes, we can, in a liberal society, still largely draw our own conclusions about who we watch and listen to, and about the extent to which their sins (and/or crimes, even if only thought crimes as in the case of Dire Straits) should shape our tastes and decisions. I don’t listen to Gary Glitter at home (and neither do New Jersey Devils ice hockey fans, even though that’s what they want to hear), but I do still enjoy the pop mastery and beats of Jackson, whatever went on or did not go on at Neverland. I don’t especially advertise my devotion to Jackson – well, I am now – but I don’t deny it either. I won’t be throwing out my copy of The Usual Suspects any time soon, despite what emerged about Spacey. I still enjoy the sometimes whacky and mostly brilliant pop of Bowie. Let’s dance, indeed.
I might be a bad person for doing so, just as meat eaters are thought by vegans and perhaps also by most vegetarians to be bad people for eating dead animals, many of which might well have been treated less than humanely by their executioners, and possibly even by the farmers who reared them.
But what is now occurring goes way beyond this. Now we have not governments but corporatised sporting bodies, media organisations, TV production companies, film producers and the like effectively making our decisions for us by killing or diminishing the careers of those considered too risky to have on board. Some characters are deemed to be just too problematic in the post Harvey Weinstein era, and are simply made non-persons for their sins, real or merely alleged. (Dame Judi Dench, totally beyond criticism in Britain and in Hollyworld, hasn’t, as far as I know, expressed regret for having a (temporary) tattoo celebrating Weinstein stamped on her derriere).
And consumers of art and entertainment are the ones who suffer, ultimately. We are denied access to works never completed, the shows never made, the stages never adorned by the excellence of the stars.
Perhaps we should just be thankful that some of our favourite old time heroes of stage, screen or the recording studio never had their sins or thought crimes discovered. This is a bit like the old sporting stars who regularly got up to no good, but got away with it in an age that lacked smart phones, intrusive social media, twenty-four hour exposure and embedded #MeTooism. Perhaps we should be allowed to remember Keith Miller’s stunning prowess on the cricket field, despite the increasing evidence of his energetic lusts, which seems to have included having a mother-and-daughter combo fling, with the age of the daughter questionable at best. And yes, I too still love reading about and relishing the on-field exploits of the man with the fabulous movie star looks and the stylish hair flicks who flew Mosquitoes and defended our freedom over German skies, then peppered the Poms with savage bouncers and caressed cover drives in the aftermath of the War.
Contemporary sport is not immune. The case of rugby league star Jack de Belin speaks to the dangers of #MeTooism as a career-ending force. The fans of rugby league suffer the consequences, even before the case of alleged rape has come to court.
Politics are not immune from the age of #MeTooism, as well. Just ask Luke Foley, the former talented and promising NSW Labor leader, outed as a groper, against the wishes of the groped, by, of all people, David Elliott, the current NSW Minister for Being Away During Emergencies. Foley, too, was made to disappear, thus denying NSW voters any real political choice in a state which urgently needs, indeed pines for, real political choices. The sort that Foley might well have provided. Again, the consumers suffer the consequences. The people suffer.
The #MeToo rules of engagement remain unclear, what with favoured sinners and those deemed ‘simply not acceptable’. Some crimes are worse than others, of course, and no one much feels great sorrow or sympathy for Rolf Harris, and certainly not for his old dead buddy, His Creepiness Jimmy Saville. It is easy too to cast aside sinful artists whose art is no longer de rigeur – think Gary Glitter – while seeming to forgive the Bowies, Brittens or Hensons whose art still thrills. Grey areas, indeed, abound. Yes, the leftoid luvvies do indeed forgive their own – see under William Jefferson Clinton and the morally questionable former ABC journalist, now deceased, Richard Neville. Neville’s employer has stayed shtum in relation to his purported actions back in the day, while at the same time mercilessly flaying a Catholic cardinal for similar alleged offences.
But until we have worked out the new rules about how we are to treat the moral lives of our erstwhile heroes, please do not deny us our viewing and reading pleasures, despite the sins and crimes, real or alleged, of those whose art yet gives us so much unalloyed joy. Especially do not kill the careers of those who plead innocence, like Geoffrey Rush (whose claims were endorsed in the courts) or the wonderfully talented Craig McLachlan (whose claims of innocence are still to be tested legally), or deny us access to the deceased whose guilt has not been proven. I am with Tanya Gold. Vale Dr Blake, vale President Frank Underwood.