Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Kevin Spacey, Bryan Singer, and Apt Pupil: some cliches

If 2016 was "the year people died," celebrity-wise, 2017 is shaping up to be "the year people were outed as sexual predators." I guess that's an improvement, but there's troubling stuff out there.

I haven't figured out what I want to say, as a fat man, about the fact that two of the prominent accused in the casting couch scandals that are breaking are fat men, Harvey Weinstein and James Toback. I'm kinda hoping some skinny, good looking straight men get busted too, soon. (I mean, sure, there's the Afflecks, but the stories I've read about them seem more of a "spoiled fratboy" nature than serial sexual predation, unless I'm forgetting something).

I'm going to leave that all aside, here, and focus instead on the whole pedophilia thing in Hollywood.

As others are noting, it is at the very least deeply unfortunate and poorly thought out - "distraction tactics" aside - for Kevin Spacey to use the accusation of coming on to a 14 year old as an opportunity to out himself. I guess I can see the logic of it - I mean, you read that he's tried to fuck a 14 year old boy and you go, "wait, Kevin Spacey likes boys?" So he may just be guilty of concision: yes, I might have tried to drunkenly seduce a 14 year old boy, and yes, by the way, I'm gay. 

But it has an unfortunate correlate: suddenly you've re-equated homosexuality with the desire to fuck kids, a destructive stereotype that gay men have been trying to get off their backs for a long time.

It's not an entirely UNFOUNDED stereotype, mind you. There are writers out there - lesbian-to-transman queer activist Pat Califa, for instance - who have written about the appeal of the underage, and the problems with the taboos around pedophila (some of Califa's writings are excerpted here, albeit in a contentious context). Unlike the NAMBLA people - who had friends even in people like respected queer icon Allen Ginsberg, but never mind that - Califa is more associated with the queer community in general than with pedophilia proper. The same way there are a lot of straight men - Roman Polanski, alas, also recently outed as a repeat offender, which I'd never known - who want to fuck female teenagers, there are apparently lots of gay men who feel the same way about male teenagers.

And lest I seem to be demonizing that, let me add that I think I actually can understand that a little. If you've had troubling life experiences around early queer experiences - say, when you're first trying to find your way, are vulnerable and confused and unsure of yourself, and are either approached as a teen by older men, or make approaches to your own peers, which may or may not end positively, and these experiences leave some degree of psychic residue, whether positive or negative, they might leave part of you sort of stuck developmentally, on people FROM that age in your life.

Is that a cliche? Am I presenting a cliche'd stereotype as an insight? Maybe, but I should add - I'm not just theorizing from the outside here. I had a couple early queerish experiences in my preteens myself, when girls were kind of terrifying but my male friends safe; I've written before, during my time writing the odd article for Xtra West, about one experience, where a male friend a few years older than myself and I literally got into my closet - yes, my closet - and looked at and touched each other. It wasn't really sexual, for me - I didn't even have an erection, though as I remember it, he did, and wanted things to go further, wanted me to put his penis into my mouth, which I didn't do. But it troubled me, and led to an episode where we actually fought quite violently in my bedroom, the next time I saw him, as an outpouring of whatever turmoil was going on inside us; that fighting, of course, was probably the consummation of a different kind of tension, that I didn't really understand at all at the time, and maybe is its own sort of cliche, but what can I say, that's how it happened.

Anyhow, there's more to that story, but suffice to say, occasionally when I see young men who remind me of this particular guy, I feel a flicker of something. It is something I don't ACT on - I identify as a straight male, and have no interest in any sort of teenagers, male or female - but observing it in myself makes me wonder if men who want to fuck teenage boys had life experiences that stuck with them in the same way that one did for me; if part of them wants to go back and revisit those experiences, redo them, relive them, rewrite them...?

Regardless, there are certainly people who are both gay and who like it young. To say homosexuality equals pedophilia is deeply wrong, but so is saying that the two have no areas of overlap - see the shower sequences in Gus Van Sant's Paranoid Park for another example of a respected queer activist who obviously has attraction to young teens. Using pedophilia as an excuse to justify the oppression of gays is, obviously, wrong; there also gay men who have no interest in teenagers, or who would never act on attractions they may sometimes feel. But like I say - there are overlaps, and denying that is naive or maybe, while politically admirable, slightly disingenuous.

And as for the other aspect of that cliche - young men who have been victimized by adult sexual predators, note that I've also had the experience of having had older men come onto me when I was a kid, too. I remember a guy suggesting we go to drinks at a Maple Ridge bus stop when I was about 13. Another approached me at a Quebec raceway, age 14, where I was waiting for my father to finish placing bets. I guess he misunderstood my standing around alone for something else, like that I was available for a pick up; he seemed most disappointed, and tried several times to get me to go for drinks with him. I was 14, a virgin, and didn't even drink. No, really - I'm not interested. My father is just over there. You should go away. 

He did.

But again, this doesn't seem all that surprising.   Teenagers, male or female, have a physical beauty to them that older people lack. I certainly was a lot prettier to look at at 14 than at 49! Go do a survey of porn sites, straight or gay; I don't really look at the latter (nor the former, all that often), but I would hasten to guess that there's a huge amount of teen porn for gay male consumption out there. Some of that might come with a disclaimer that "all our models are 18 years of age," but some of it might not. (There's also a ton of porn out there of the "casting couch" variety, incidentally, another very popular trope of porn that has, in its real life counterpart, been drawing outrage, but I don't want to digress too far).

Anyhow, given how ubiquitous that sort of thing doubtlessly is, it seems a bit silly to say that the sort of behaviour Spacey is accused of is THAT exceptional. It may be destructive, it may be dangerous, there may be good reasons for having taboos in place against it, and it may even be a cliche, but it's not like it isn't OUT there. It's just not that unusual - so much so that you get the feeling Spacey may never have even CONSIDERED that he was saying something that others would perceive as damaging.

This brings us to An Open Secret - the unedited version on Youtube or Vimeo. It seems to be THE much-watch documentary of the moment, distributed for free by the filmmakers so people CAN see it. It's very well-made, if leaning a little to the emotively sentimental (the tone is one of tragedy, not outrage, where the latter at times seems like it might be more appropriate). In it, you'll hear from various people who were sexually seduced and/ or assaulted by Hollywood pedophile power-players. Some of them seem remarkably unscarred by the experience: they've processed having been fucked as a teen by an adult male and gotten on with their lives, however much anger they might feel. On the other hand, some of the victims, like a young man who drank and drugged himself into a debilitating stroke, when he finally tried to cold turkey, after having survived long exposure to Hollywood pedos - ended up trapped in a cycle of self-destructive behaviour, apparently caused by how troubling their experiences were to them. (I've personally known people like that, too, who were sexually abused as kids and ended up as alcoholic adults, who directly correlated the two aspects of their lives; it might also be a cliche, but it doesn't mean there isn't truth to it).

Where it all really gets interesting, especially in the uncensored version of that film, is in the repeated outing of Bryan Singer. He was - until a key lawsuit against him was dropped - named more than once in the original cut of that film, as someone who had known pedophile associates, who frequently attended DEN pool parties where, for a brief time in the 1990's, it was ALMOST normalized - normal for Hollywood, anyhow - to have wealthy, powerful, adult gay men being attended by naked 14 year old boys, who were sometimes then drugged and raped. Though there is no word on Kevin Spacey attending such pool parties, Singer, of course, directed one of Kevin Spacey's breakthrough films, The Usual Suspects, a film which might bear some subtextual analysis in light of recent developments. After all, it has a tale told from the point of view of a monster hiding in plain sight.

And actually, that's a theme behind Bryan Singer's Apt Pupil, too - a very disturbing film to watch in the current climate, with its controversial shower scene (teen male extras complained about being asked to shower (nearly) naked for long periods). The film deals with a secret, special, and very close relationship between a young teenage boy and an adult male with a secret. It's based on a Stephen King story, and of course, there are weird pedo things in a few of King's stories, too, from a dominant subtext in Salem's Lot to the child abuse in It. The relationship in Apt Pupil actually ISN'T overtly sexual - the older man (Ian McKellan, whose being gay no doubt was just coincidental to the casting) is a Nazi fugitive and the young man, the dominant figure, is more interested in history than sex. But there are suggestions that the young man is gay, and there are all sorts of weird moments in the film, from the shower scene (where the showers change into gas chambers and the naked boys into old Jewish men) to conversations about keeping secrets, that have very striking, disturbing resonances with the stories that are circulating about Singer.

Having revisted the film last night, I looked up Brad Renfro, who I hadn't heard about for years; did he ever accuse Bryan Singer of impropriety?

Nope: he developed drug and alcohol problems which led to his death of an overdose at age 25. His story, in fact, seems very similar to that of the stroke victim in An Open Secret.


It's a shame; Renfro is a good actor, actually, and holds his own against Ian McKellan in the film. One wonders, if he'd lived to appear in An Open Secret, if he'd have his own stories to tell about Bryan Singer?

One wonders what Sir Ian McKellan saw/ remembers?

In any event, it's a reasonably interesting film to watch, if you've a mind for a horror movie tonight. Personally, I am glad never to have really been a fan of Mr. Singer's cinema. I do like Apt Pupil, a bit, but I'm not so attached to it that I'm not prepared to throw it under the bus.

That's a bit harder with people like Roman Polanski, or James Toback (or Klaus Kinski or... well, I was never a big Woody Allen fan)...

It's going to be a tumultuous year.


Allan MacInnis said...

Finished the film last night and it really does seem readable as being "about" pedophilia. There is an overtly queer bit involving Elias Koteas, and there is even a line where McKellan tells Renfro "£we're fucking each other." Something is UP with thus film. Meantime friends on social media are saying Spacey and his taste for young males has been known for years. Not by me!

Allan MacInnis said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allan MacInnis said...


Karen said...

The actress Michelle Clunie had a baby with Bryan Singer a couple of years ago (platonically although they dated years ago) and I figure she is in some kind of whopping denial about him.
As for Spacey - I think you are right, it isn't exceptional behaviour. The allure of the perfect young twink seems to be a part of the deal, which Queer as folk, both the British and the American series, certainly brought to light almost 20 years ago. But it seems Spacey was rather obsessively putting his hands in the pants of teenaged boys and/or treating them like crap. I'd somehow heard rumours about this for years, dating back to a Canadian film he did in Newfoundland or something where he had a car accident with a teen boy in the car. I'm sure some of the teenaged boys were more than willing but still, yuck.
I wonder if Spacey will try and kill himself - his career is over and he is reviled.
As for gay men being stuck at an emotional age - that is probably true and given the constant high school level drama that goes on amongst the gay men of my liberal church, I'd agree. But obviously being stuck at that age mentally doesn't mean you have to go around and actually fuck 14 year olds. There may be high school drama amongst my middle-aged gay male friends, but none of them (as far as I know) are attracted to young teenage boys The obsession to keep looking good though seems almost on par with straight women's obsession with it. Exhausting really.
There is of course an equivalent in the straight world - I'm sure Weinstein was raping teenaged girls as well.
As for the Afflecks - Casey is accused of some pretty intense stuff that seems more than mere frat boy stuff. Ben is just kind of gross - check out the video of him and a Quebec female interviewer - she consented and giggled through sitting on his lap while he fondled her but yuck. And both he and Matt Damon knew about Weinstein as much as they deny it now.
And Louis CK. I used to find him funny and then all his act was about masturbation. Everyone knew in that situation as well.
I wonder when we will hear about Michael Douglas, Ashton Kutcher and on and on. I liked Samantha Bee's short video on how to behave at work - pretty much don't masturbate at work. Seemed simple.
Karen formerly of PGIC and still trapped in the ESL game and underemployed as ever.\

Allan MacInnis said...

Karen, I am afraid you are presuming kinship I don't reciprocate, and putting some words in my mouth while you're at it. Twinks? Gays are arrested developmentally? Please.

Karen said...

huh? You wrote:
"If you've had troubling life experiences around early queer experiences - say, when you're first trying to find your way, are vulnerable and confused and unsure of yourself, and are either approached as a teen by older men, or make approaches to your own peers, which may or may not end positively, and these experiences leave some degree of psychic residue, whether positive or negative, they might leave part of you sort of stuck developmentally, on people FROM that age in your life."

You wrote:
"It's just not that unusual - so much so that you get the feeling Spacey may never have even considered that eh was saying something that others would perceive as dangerous."
you wrote:
". . . I would hasten to guess that there's a huge amount of teen porn for gay male consumption out there . . . "
"Given how ubiquitous that sort of thing doubtlessly is . . ."
"...it makes me wonder if men who want to fuck teenaged boys had life experiences that stuck with them . . . if part of them wants to go back and revisit those experiences, redo them, relive them, rewrite them . . .?
"Regardless, there are certainly people who are both gay and who like it young. To say homosexuality equals pedophilia is deeply wrong (of course), but so is saying that the two have no sense of overlap." (I actually disagree with that and think that way of thinking is as harmful as equating the two).
I am honestly unclear how you writing that some folks are stuck developmentally doesn't mean that some folks are stuck developmentally. I didn't mean if they are stuck developmentally that they want to have sex with underaged boys. I just agreed that some gay men are stunted developmentally. This can play out in rather high school dramatics because for them (being middle-aged now, when it was even more difficult to come out as teenagers 35 years ago) coming out as teenagers often led to bullying, rejection from parents etc, so they never got to emotionally mature beyond that. That homophobia can and does often emotionally stunt some gay men. That is not a new idea and not one that I invented
Nor is it 'anti-gay'. it is homophobia that caused it and that is awful. I know many middle-aged gay men who have told me that they are somewhat stunted emotionally because of crippling experience of homophobia during their teenage years.
Twinks as I am sure you are aware is simply a term for, well, young gay men. They appear in the porn you were talking about and some gay men are into them. Not necessarily underage men. In fact, they aren't underage although they may look it. Twinks are a thing and lots of gay men are attracted to twinks. Not a bad thing, just a thing.
I am still bewildered at how badly I apparently mis-read what you meant and I think you may have mis-read me as thinking that all gay men are emotionally stunted. Hardly.
And I would never even suggest an overlap between gay men and pedophilia - that is as bad as equating the two really.
Finally, what Casey Affleck did on movie sets to women is not 'frat boy' stuff. It was abuse of power on his part.
And finally, finally, I will ever be confused how you wrote that some folks are stunted developmentally and then suggest I made that up.

Allan MacInnis said...

Whoa! I know what I wrote. But I thought I took pains not to generalize that ALL gay men (or straight men) are into young stuff, and to avoid any bottom-drawer homophobia... Saying that maybe some people who have attractions to teens are stuck at some point in their youth isn't quite the same as saying all gay men are developmentally arrested, either. Your initial reply seemed a titch brash and to ignore some of my qualifiers! And I am pretty sure the queer community has not embraced the word "twinks." It is also somewhat provocative and brash terminology, eh? It kinda bulls up my china shop.

BUT I confess not having finished the second reply you just posted - I am on my phone and it is a pain to scroll thru. Gimme a bit and I will look thru it later today when the coffee hits and I am on my computer. Or not. Sorry to hear you are under-employed - wish I could say otherwise for myself, too.

Karen said...

Oh okay you got my first comment! I wouldn't have sent the second one if I'd known that!
Actually, it was one of the rare times I wasn't being brash and interesting that it came across that way.
I disagree about the twink term because I've had numerous gay men tell me they love twinks or that they consider themselves twinks. I'll check in again though because I don't want to co-opt terms.
I also wasn't meaning all gay men are developmentally stunted or whatever term we are using. I hadn't even thought that might be a thing until my middle-aged gay friend said yeah, for a lot of middle-aged gay men who came out 30 years ago when it was even more difficult, they got emotionally stuck at that age because the fallout from them coming out as teens was so tremendously horrible. I don't think that all gay men are stuck in a high school mindset, not at all.
I do apologize if I came across as brash - not my intent.
And yeah, chronic underemployment is crazy. Very sadly, my dad recently passed but with that came an inheritance that will keep me going for a year or two, thank goodness.