celebrity

Three famous men, three career comebacks, and the reality of 'pause culture'.

This post deals with sexual misconduct and sexual assault, and could be triggering for some readers.

In April, Louis C.K. quietly accepted the Grammy Award for Best Comedy Album for Sincerely Louis CK, on which he joked about his well-documented sexual misconduct allegations.

The following month, Ryan Adams played a sold-out show at New York's famous Carnegie Hall.

Days after that, distribution rights for two films led by Kevin Spacey were shopped around at the Cannes Film Festival.

And so it seems, the 'uncancellations' are in full swing.

Watch: Women and violence - the hidden numbers. Post continues below video.


Video via Mamamia.

These three men have followed a pretty similar path over the past few years, having each faced sexual misconduct or abuse allegations from multiple accusers.

In 2017, five women came forward with allegations of sexual misconduct against C.K. in a New York Times expose, which accused him of masturbating in front of women without consent.

Similarly, in 2019, seven women, including musician Phoebe Bridgers and his ex-wife, Mandy Moore, accused Adams of misconduct. A New York Times investigation, titled 'Ryan Adams Dangled Success. Women Say They Paid a Price', documents allegations of verbal and emotional abuse, and harassment.

Then there's Spacey, who in 2017 was accused by actor Anthony Rapp of making a sexual advance towards him in 1986, when he was 14 and Spacey was 26. Following this, 15 others came forward alleging similar abuse, including eight who worked on his Netflix series, House of Cards.

After each flurry of allegations, the men released lengthy statements, offering apologies.

In his, C.K. said the women's accounts were true, and he was "remorseful" of his actions. He ended by saying he would "step back and take a long time to listen".

ADVERTISEMENT

Spacey responded to Rapp's claims on Twitter, saying he did not remember the encounter, but if it did happen he owed Rapp "the sincerest apology for what would have been deeply inappropriate drunken behaviour".

He then came out as gay: "I have had relationships with both men and women. I have loved and had romantic encounters with men throughout my life, and I choose now to live as a gay man," he said.

The statement drew ire from many who felt it was an attempt to distract from the allegations and implied a connection between sexuality and child sexual abuse. Spacey has not since addressed this concern.

In contrast, following his expose, Adams quickly fired off a tweet claiming the Times was "going down". He soon deleted it and apologised to anyone he had hurt "however unintentionally".

In 2020, after 18 months, he wrote a story acknowledging his actions in an op-ed published in the Daily Mail. Moore responded to say he had reached out to her for a private apology.

At this point, 'cancel culture' just feels like a buzz term thrown around to create clicky headlines and cause moral panic, but in a broad sense, people talk about each of these three men being 'cancelled'.

Merrium Webster defines cancel culture as "the practice or tendency of engaging in mass canceling as a way of expressing disapproval and exerting social pressure". By 'cancelling', it means "to withdraw one's support for (someone, such as a celebrity, or something, such as a company) publicly and especially on social media".

It sounds a bit like a boogeyman hiding under the bed, waiting for a famous person to walk past so it can grab onto their leg and yell about that time they wrote a sexist tweet, doesn't it?

ADVERTISEMENT

In reality, the term is used as a broad stroke to describe the men who 'fell' during the #MeToo movement, like Harvey Weinstein, who is in jail for rape, but also to describe people like Ellen DeGeneres, who is supposedly not as nice as we thought she was. 

The term has plenty of issues, and it tends to conjure up some strong opinions. But let's not get into the weeds. 

Instead, let's talk about how so many of the 'cancelled' - particularly the white men facing sexual harassment or abuse allegations - get themselves out of this supposed 'cancellation'. 

Because it's not really a cancellation. It's more like a postponement. A pause.

There's precedent, pre-dating the term cancel culture by decades. Roman Polanski has continued to work - and receive standing ovations at the Oscars - despite raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. 

If Polanski can flee the United States following that, and continue to have a prolific career in showbiz, well, who - if not incarcerated - can't mount a comeback?  

Each of these situations is different, of course, but in a post-#MeToo and 'cancel culture' world, these men seem to follow a similar formula in attempting to return to work.

There's a well-trodden path by now.

After the allegations, and their individual statements, each of these men retreated from public life for a while. Perhaps to 'work on themselves', as Adams claimed in his Daily Mail story, or perhaps just to bide their time.

ADVERTISEMENT

No doubt this time also included panicked phone calls, emergency meetings and many, many crisis communication professionals behind-the-scenes. In a Variety article examining Adams' return, the singer's crisis PR specialist is full of praise for the "excellent man", who they are at pains to point out is now sober. They talk about the lack of publicity around his return to stage, which was spurred mostly by fan support.

That makes sense. Even in the midst of their 'cancellation', these men continued some form of fan service, preserving a smaller but more rabid base of supporters who either don't care about allegations or choose not to believe them. 

In Spacey's case, he fled to Europe and continued to release strange videos at Christmas time, as his very popular House of Cards character, Frank Underwood. 

C.K. did an unannounced 15-minute set at a New York comedy club just nine months after admitting to harassing female comics, during which he made a joke about rape whistles and received a standing ovation.

Adams was active on Instagram, sharing sad captions about how he had lost everything, had "no friends" and begging music labels to give him another go. They received plenty of sympathetic responses.

ADVERTISEMENT

Then, after their public pause, these men all returned to whatever it is they do - comedy, music, film - in a more substantial way. Slowly and quietly, like they were tiptoeing their way back inside a bar they'd been trespassed from.

In this metaphor, they always make it inside. Maybe not back into the VIP areas they had grown accustomed to, but they're still back in the club. Rubbing shoulders with peers, flanked by supporters and back to making themselves - and others - lots of money.

Louis C.K. in September 2017. Image: Getty.

There is tension here between acknowledging that people can atone and change, wanting people to face the full repercussions of their actions and wanting to ensure victims get the justice they deserve.

Adams and C.K. apologised - to various degrees of satisfaction, depending on who you talk to. Neither has faced any legal action. Is a couple of years in the cold enough punishment for their behaviour? Some will say yes, plenty of others will say no. 

But in their exiles, the 'cancelled' have learned how to work with a much more niche audience - who are often willing to go into bat for them. Trawling through their social media comments brings up hundreds of people excited by potential comebacks.

Currently, C.K. is using the fan support he's fostered over the past few years to great effect, asking them to rally their local movie theatres into screening his upcoming film, Fourth Of July.

ADVERTISEMENT

So in short? The path out of 'cancellation' is apologise, retreat, then tip-toe your way back through the door, having built a following full of people who will have your back.

This path asks people to ignore allegations and victims - and many are happy to oblige.

It's a formula plenty of others are following too.

Sources have begun to leak information about Armie Hammer's 'commitment to sobriety', and his desire to get back into acting. James Franco recently signed onto an action thriller from director Jon Amiel. 

If that doesn't work, well, there's now also a way to take things further.

The Johnny Depp path of defamation lawsuits and a 'burn it all down' approach now has a legal backing. Whatever your thoughts about Depp, Amber Heard and the outcomes of that situation, one of the most worrying outcomes has been making a mockery and entertainment out of violence and abuse.

Marilyn Manson, who is accused of sexual assault and abuse by multiple women, has recently sued Evan Rachel Wood for defamation too.

Rather than ignoring or forgetting alleged domestic violence victims, this path asks consumers to do something even worse: ridicule them.

At least one man's desired redemption arch will have to wait, however.

At the same time his new films were being shown to would-be buyers in Cannes, Spacey was charged with four counts of sexual assault against three men in the UK. In New York, Rapp is also suing him for assault, battery and intentional infliction of emotional distress. 

Maybe that will lead to actual cancellation AKA prison. 

If not, he unfortunately already knows the very careful steps he needs to make a comeback. 

If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.

You can also call safe steps 24/7 Family Violence Response Line on 1800 015 188 or visit www.safesteps.org.au for further information.

The Men’s Referral Service is also available on 1300 766 491 or via online chat at www.ntv.org.au.www.ntv.org.au.

Feature image: Getty.

Looking forward to a brighter future? Complete this survey now and go in the running to win one of six $100 gift vouchers!