Owen Jones, Kevin Spacey & What Happened to Leftist Critique?

Owen Jones

Owen Jones, writing in The Guardian, criticizes Kevin Spacey for ‘coming out’ as gay as a part of his apology regarding an allegation of sexual assault. Responding to accusations of sexual assault made by Anthony Rapp, who is now an actor on the Star Trek: Discovery series, and the comments later made by Spacey, Jones makes a series of errors.”How dare you, Kevin Spacey?,” the title of Jones’s article hearkens us back to the sexual moralism of Victorian Britain. More on that later.

First, let us review the event, as recounted by Rapp,

 “At some point, Rapp said he turned to see Spacey standing at the bedroom door. And that’s when he first realized that everyone else had left the party. They were alone.

“My memory was that I thought, Oh, everybody’s gone. Well, yeah, I should probably go home,” Rapp said. Spacey, he recalled, “sort of stood in the doorway, kind of swaying. My impression when he came in the room was that he was drunk.” Rapp doesn’t remember Spacey saying anything to him. Instead, Rapp said, “He picked me up like a groom picks up the bride over the threshold. But I don’t, like, squirm away initially, because I’m like, ‘What’s going on?’ And then he lays down on top of me.”

“He was trying to seduce me,” Rapp said. “I don’t know if I would have used that language. But I was aware that he was trying to get with me sexually.”

Rapp recalled this all happening — Spacey appearing at the door, coming into the room, picking him up, and putting him on the bed — in one clumsy action, with Spacey landing at a slight angle on top of him. He said Spacey “was, like, pressing into me,” and that he remembers Spacey “tightening his arms.” But while he can’t recall exactly how long Spacey remained on top of him, Rapp said he was able to “squirm” away after a short period.

“It was a frozen moment,” Rapp said of the entire encounter, with a deep, exasperated sigh. “In terms of fight or flight or freeze, I tend to freeze.”

After pushing Spacey off him, Rapp remembered he was able to step into the bathroom and close the door. “I was like, ‘What is happening?’” he said. “I saw on the counter next to the sink a picture of him having his arm around a man. So I think on some level I was like, Oh. He’s gay. I guess. Then I opened the door, and I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to go home now.’ He followed me to the front door of the apartment, and as I opened the door to leave, he was leaning on the front door[frame]. And he was like, ‘Are you sure you wanna go?’ I said, ‘Yes, good night,’ and then I did leave.” (Courtesy of Buzzfeed)


Troubling, Spacey states he cannot remember, and by Rapp’s account this is clearly a violation of consent. However, does it, as Jones states in his article, reinforce, “[o]ne of the age-old tropes deployed against gay and bisexual men is that they pose a threat to children, that they are synonymous with pedophiles and pederasts?” Perhaps Spacey’s ‘coming out’ at this moment might congeal these two properties together, but isn’t Jones’s role to educate? The Guardian calls itself a voice for reason, yet the article produced by Jones is without any.

Spacey (allegedly) assaulted Rapp when he was 14 years old, this is not at all related to pedophilia, which is a persistent sexual attraction towards children younger than 11 years of age. Ergo, it would fall under a type of hebephilia (11 to 14) attraction, or perhaps even closer to ephebophilia (15 to 19).

As Ender Wiggins notes,

“I’ve said multiple times in many of my posts, the terms pedophile and child molester are often indistinguishable in people’s minds, mostly because of the way they are irresponsibly conflated in the media. However, as I’ve also pointed out, the definitions of both terms — as well as the facts — fully support the notion that they are not the same thing. For one, someone isn’t a child molester unless they actually molest a child. And since there are plenty of pedophiles who never have and never will do such a thing, they simply don’t qualify for that term. Additionally, engaging in sexual activity with a child is not a criterion for determining whether someone is a pedophile or not. In other words, not everyone who has ever engaged in sexual activity with a child is a pedophile … A study by Michael Seto and Martin L. Lalumière titled “A Brief Screening Scale to Identify Pedophilic Interests Among Child Molesters” found that only between 27% and 40% of child molesters were pedophiles. The wide variation depends on where they set the cutting point for a diagnosis of pedophilia. With a more permissive cut-off point, they concluded that 40% of child molesters are pedophiles (which means that even in this case more than half of all child molesters aren’t pedophiles).”

Reiterating the common tropes that gay and bisexual men are threats to children, without countering them with facts, Jones places the onus of the entire right-wing anti-LGBTQ movement onto Spacey. Parroting conservative and reactionary tropes, Jones does not counter or critically examine the differences between pedophilia, hebephilia, ephebophilia, pedastry and child sex abuse. Jones writes,

“Remember Section 28, introduced by Thatcher’s government in 1988, barring the so-called promotion of homosexuality in schools? How its defenders justified the homophobic legislation on the grounds that gay men were deviants and perverts who threatened the nation’s children?

It is a common theme. In the late 1970s, rightwing Californian Senator John Briggs launched an initiative called California Proposition 6, attempting to bar gays and lesbians from working in Californian schools. California, thankfully, voted the initiative down – but its defenders portrayed LGBTQ people as a menace to American children.”

Jones is correct to point out that children have been used as political footballs by all sorts of right-wing groups, yet he doesn’t seem to critique the narrative. Simply because Spacey sexually assaulted Rapp as a 14 year old, does not mean Jones himself must engage in restating or legitimizing those right-wing claims. And yes, Spacey was virtually out before the allegations, yet not fully out, so in terms of clarification (“why did you want to sleep with a 14 year old male?”), it logically follows that one would need to explain his sexual orientation.

Yet, Jones, apoplectic in tone goes on,

“But to use an allegation of attempted sexual assault against a child as an opportunity to come out? Again, how dare you, Kevin Spacey. When celebrities respond to scandals, they have a team of experienced PR representatives to help craft statements. And what do PR representatives try to do in these circumstances? They try to deflect attention by introducing a new story. In this case, it was their client coming out. Spacey has injured a minority he has publicly refused to associate with until a few hours ago.”

As stated above, Spacey needed to come out (most of ‘us’ knew) in order for his apology to make any sense. I don’t see this as a deflection, but rather as a confirmation. He admits it’s quite possible that the event happened, because he is attracted to males (aka gay). From his apology, he identifies as a gay man, and has had relationships with men and women.

Jones absurdly avers that this will lead to pogroms,

“In the coming days, weeks and months, I bet you that homophobic bigots will use Spacey’s case to press the case that LGBTQ people threaten children. It will be used to justify oppression and mental and physical abuse. There will be those who have yet to come out who will be deterred from doing so. And all because of Spacey’s statement.”

Problematically Jones offers no Left counter-narrative to the dystopian fall-out he predicts will happen. He ingeminates the discourse of “Putin’s Russia,” stating that “the most prominent homophobic vigilante group [in Russia] has called itself Occupy Paedophilia. Portraying themselves as champions of the rights of children, they target gay people for assault and humiliation. Some Russian laws treat “pedophile” and “gay” as though they are synonymous.”

There is no thinking here, no attempt at nuanced examination of sexual orientations that are age-related, no attempt to disentangle Spacey’s behavior from pedophilia (in fact, Jones entangles it further). No attempt to separate pedophilia from child sexual abuse is made in Jones’s article. No attempt is made to clarify the differences between pedophilia and pederasty, which is deeply tied to cultural customs, not simply an individual’s endogenous sexual attraction. No attempt is made to parse out age of consent laws, which would have placed Rapp as a legal adult in some European nations (Germany, Austria, Hungary, Italy and Portugal). Had this been in another place where a sensible age of consent existed, Rapp would have been able to consent or not (the US disallows teenagers from consensual sex with people even in their latest teen year (19) or 20s), but that is another matter.

Legally, at the specific time and place, Spacey’s actions, if true, count as child sex abuse. Further, and most importantly, Rapp did not consent. Spacey’s behavior is unacceptable and terrible. However, his unjustifiable behavior must not be used as fodder for mindless mimetic moralizing.

. . .

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