Fiamma Nirenstein
Fiamma Nirenstein

About Kevin Spacey: should we remove Caravaggio’s paintings from museums?

What does Netflix, the streaming service, which has decided not to renew House of Cards past Season 6 and the International Academy that announced it will no longer honor Kevin Spacey with the 2017 Emmy Founders Award later this month have to do with the fact that he engaged in sexual misconduct? I’m sorry, not much.

The actor has professed his guilt, and if he’s truly a pedophile, worse still. However, when morality takes over and starts censoring culture – especially in the sectors of art and entertainment – this always implies the preponderance of authoritarian reasoning. The irony is that this time it’s being perpetuated not by a political dictatorship, but through political correctness taken to the extreme, which means that a dictatorial mindset is in place, and that it has seeped into both aesthetic and common sense – two essential elements for democracy.

Let’s look at a simple example in which authoritarianism is clear: Miss Turkey’s Itir Esen, 18, wrote a tweet in memory of the “martyrs” who attempted a coup against Erdogan in July 2016: well, for the regime her comment was enough to take away the Beauty Queen’s sash, she’s no more beautiful. She has been stripped of her title and her photos no longer appear on social media. Moreover, even her tweet has disappeared into thin air!

This is dictatorial censorship because it hurts an individual in a realm that has nothing to do with the offense in which Esen has been accused. This is similar to what Kevin Spacey has suffered during these past few days even if, in his case .we’re talking about someone who is guilty: ok, he must be stigmatized, shamed, tried for sexually assaulting a 14-year-old boy.

No one could be more disgusted than I, even if the occurrence took place over 30 years ago and – as Spacey says – when he was a drunken 26-year-old. A public’s angry reaction is a good thing: sexual misconduct seem to take place everywhere, from Harvey Weinstein to Bill Cosby and even Bill O’Reilly, and it’s a social illness that connects power with contempt for women and children and leads to abuse and violence. It’s a behavior we must not only address, but also overcome.

But again what does House of Cards have to do with this and the fact that Spacey is a great actor? Production has ceased, the series has been cancelled and Spacey is no longer considered an accomplished actor, his awards must be taken away. It’s what we can only define as a “damnatio vitae”; let’s destroy him as a man and as an artist, he’s worse than a serial killer.

I reluctantly accept the idea that Kevin Spacey, a great actor, a two-time Oscar winner (perhaps those too will eventually be taken away too) is today consigned to the dustbin of history, a black spot in the sewage that already engulfs the world.

If Dante Alighieri had created a group of rapists and sexual offenders in particular, he would have flooded Hell itself. He probably would have encountered some of the best artists, thinkers and statesmen throughout history. Among the heap of Hollywood actors – oh, and Dustin Hoffman has now even been accused – down there behind them we would see Caravaggio, who for a piece of bread perhaps forced his pallid and emaciated child models to yield to his ignoble desires. He was also known to be extremely violent; for most artists sex has been a perverse affair, also for Michelangelo my idol; the majority of gentlemen and popes, irrespective of their position, took, used and thrown girls and boys into a corner by following in Borgia’s footsteps.

Perhaps Socrates was rough with his students boyfriends, who knows… And in the infinite wake of Dante’s Inferno, that “I had not thought death had undone so many”, Charon the demon  would have probably sent down in a “girone” John F. Kennedy, who confused charm with power, like the majority of sex offenders and leaders of both the Communist and Nazi parties before him, and a number of contemporary politicians – British, French ( some have short ago professed themselves guilty of one crime or another), Italians from various generations and diverse political colors, as well as writers and journalists. You would also see one of my former professors who after accompanying me to a Research Institute tried to grope me in his car. Violence – we must remember – is also a phrase uttered in the street, a gesture, and a stranger’s wandering hand on a bus.

Many of us have been subjected to such behavior and have suffered. Yet perhaps we’re preparing for a different era, but for now we are simply navigating through the waves of what not only is currently happening, but also that which has occurred through the centuries. Therefore, let’s calm down for a moment and respond appropriately.

Sexual violence not only has been, but also continues to be a frequent occurrence according to statistics: It affects 26% of gays, 37% of bisexuals, and 29% of heterosexuals, who, of course, are almost all women. Maybe these statistics are encouraging, but the experience of each and every one has been marked at least until my generation by a lot of wandering hands placed upon our bodies, which we fended off with a slap, a punch, etc.

But often fear, humiliation and shame create a multitude of victims: for them sex will be transformed by these events into something traumatic and, sometimes, ruined forever. Therefore, it’s good that a campaign has been initiated – one in which gives girls and boys the courage to fend off the next molester. Actually, it’s imperative.

But the punishment must not only be substantial, but also should properly fit the crime. Spacey is perhaps a criminal, but he’s also certainly a great actor and we shouldn’t confuse the two. And with regard to Caravaggio, who was violent and aggressive before eventually becoming a real murderer, has anyone suggested removing his paintings from museums?

Translation by Amy Rosenthal

This article originally appeared in slightly different form in Italian in Il Giornale (November 5, 2017)

About the Author
Fiamma Nirenstein is a journalist, author, former Deputy President of the Committee on Foreign Affairs of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, and member of the Italian delegation at the Council of Europe.