The Quality of Mercy

I must admit I am approaching this piece of writing gingerly. The thought of being trolled by some appalling witch of a woman in Tower Hamlets, some union-jack flapping person in Penge or a coven of ghastly, acne-faced sprogs in Market Harborough, fills me with dread. This is just my opinion, and you are free to decide I’m wrong.

Firstly, on the BBC’s news channel today were further details of the Welsh politician who took his own life this week, whilst under investigation by the Labour Party. Now – after his death – it appears that the accusations are in connection with inappropriate touching, or groping. He and his family felt that he had been denied natural justice. Since he had not been allowed to have any details of the accusations, he could not defend himself.

This is what I think:

No action is so bad that a human being should be driven by public opinion to commit suicide. Whatever someone has been accused of, in this country at least, they remain innocent until proven guilty. And even if they are eventually proven guilty they should be given a chance to put their side of the story, to apologise, to express remorse and to attempt to make amends. We do not have the moral right to push another person over the edge.

That thing about casting the first stone – male or female, which of us hasn’t done or said stuff in their past that – in the light of current thinking – they now wish they hadn’t?  Is it proportional, is it fair to seek a belated revenge for some decades-old pat on the knee or unwanted kiss after a boozy lunch by destroying somebody’s career? We cannot really know the vulnerabilities of others. They may appear strong and confident, but how desperate might they be, inside, right now? They could be waving, but then again they might be drowning.

wavingMy second thought is about the American actor Kevin Spacey. I don’t know whether he is guilty of all the things he has been accused of – I didn’t even know he was gay – but it seems that now they are planning to edit him out of his latest film. By the miracle of technology they are going to substitute a different actor for him.

Until now there has always been a clear, if unspoken, barrier between the work of an artist and the private life of the same. Painters, musicians, actors, writers, scientific geniuses, just like the rest of us, may be held to account and if necessary prosecuted for any wicked or foolish act they commit, but are we really going to deprive ourselves for ever after of what that person is capable of creating?

It seems to me that Kevin Spacey is one of the very few great American actors. Compared to him most American actors (and yes, actresses) are pants, frankly. Has it now become impossible for him to act in anything, ever again? I have this feeling, you see, that people with gifts are sent here to use them, and preventing them from using them is a form of spiritual torture, which is something none of us has the right to inflict.

I seem to recall that one of the main pieces of advice handed out to couples in counselling and parents having trouble parenting their children is never to say ‘I hate you’, but rather to say ‘I hate what you just did’ or ‘What you said made me angry, and this is why…’ Surely we should apply this principle when those in public life fall short of whatever standard of behaviour society happens to be finding acceptable at the moment?

Surely we could bring ourselves to say: we hate what you did but we will not pretend that you never existed. We will not prevent you from exercising your art, or from giving humanity whatever gift you were sent here to give, because you are human and we too are human. We disapprove of what you may have done in your past and private life, but we will not airbrush you out.

7 thoughts on “The Quality of Mercy

  1. Mr. Spacey has been on my mind for the last several days as well. But for different reasons. And I must admit, to my shame, that I didn’t stop to consider the damage that the studio’s action will inflict upon his spirit. So, thank you for that reminder.

    I haven’t stopped to consider anything about Mr. Spacey. I figure this will play out and he will suffer or not, he will survive or not, and, to be perfectly blunt, I’m not sure that I really care at this point.

    My focus has been on the studio’s haste to distance themselves from the alleged crime and the alleged perpetrator of the alleged crime. And I have a question.

    (Not to distract from your carefully and sensitively crafted post – but this is the cue I’ve been waiting for, or so it seems.)

    Why is it that when the women spoke out about the abuses they suffered at the hands of Mr. Weinstein, the studios didn’t do the same for them as they did for Mr. Spacey?

    I have a theory: because all of Hollywood would come to a screeching halt, that’s why. The number of women who have suffered are legion. The number of pictures or series that would have to be pulled would be legion. Hollywood simply cannot afford to deal with the issue, not the way it deserves.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. You articulated perfectly what I feel about this! Thanks for writing it!
    And I agree, people who commit crimes (of whatever sort) should still be considered innocent until proven guilty, and beyond that, we don’t have the right to hound someone to their death. The mob mentality is never the right one. And we can despise someone’s actions without trying to erase their whole life.
    Another blogger I follow, Jon Katz, wrote about the same thing several times, also lamenting the loss of mercy in our current world. I wish I could provide a link to the specific posts, but that is beyond my limited tech talents.
    As for Maggie’s theory, I think she is absolutely correct. They can remove Kevin Spacey from one film (heck, doing so may even mean that the movie will make even more money as people go see it to support that action.) If Hollywood pulled all of Weinstein’s movies, they would go broke, so that isn’t going to happen. Posturing is cheap and easy for those who indulge in it.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. The whole thing with Spacey has been bothering me, too. It’s like overkill or overreaction, isn’t it? Now, there are complaints breaking about a certain comedian. Mind you, the questionable behavior was all with adults (so far) and no one got hurt.. but while his appearances are being cancelled like gunfire, he’s being tried in the press! I fear for such a rush to judgement by people who have a money agenda and no pristine closet themselves, and all of us out here wondering if we’ve become the new Soviet Union.

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    1. It has occurred to me how easy it is to accuse someone, especially if the accusation alone is enough to ruin the person’s career. I absolutely think victims should speak up, but I also think there should be some way to make sure the story is true.

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  4. I do agree that accusation can’t be the same thing as a guilty verdict, but I’m also relieved to hear women (and, yes, some men, although frankly I’m less worried about them given the history we’re dealing with) speaking up–after how many centuries?–about sexual harassment. I don’t know what the story behind the Welsh politician’s suicide was, and I don’t know that we’ll ever be sure. the information I’ve seen is pretty limited. But I don’t believe his decision means the accusation was handled badly. It may have been, but equally it may not have. Given the lack of information available, we just can’t know yet. What we can say is that the culture needs to work out ways to handle sexual harassment complaints that don’t dismiss them but that also don’t condemn anyone out of hand. Up to now, the mistakes have been made heavily of the side of dismissing the complaint.

    Liked by 1 person

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