Earlier today a friend contacted me through social media. I hadn’t heard from them in a while, and saw the notification on my phone as a chance to reconnect, albeit all too briefly in this super information highway kinda world. When I read their dialogue, however, it was nothing like the pleasantries I’d expected to hear. My “friend” had taken exception at the use of a promotional picture on my website.
Informally launched in February 2017, I’ve tried to update this page when I can, but work commitments and real life have made it somewhat challenging – especially when I like every piece on the site to at least have something entertaining or informative to say representative of my voice. Otherwise, I might as well post other peoples original or copied content on my personal space, and that’s what Facebook is for.
Also working within the media bubble, such as film, radio and television; the message informed me that the sender would very much like if I removed a picture from my website featuring myself and director Morgan Spurlock. For those who don’t already know, Spurlock is a director who first shot to fame with the documentary Supersize Me in 2004. Although criticized afterwards for its overreaction and flamboyant tabloid esque journalism, Supersize Me actually raised questions in the cinema going public about their consumption of fast food (in this case, predominantly McDonalds) and also the health concerns it might pose if someone was to include it as part of their staple diet.
In 2008 Spurlock created the now largely forgotten (and well aged) Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden?; a documentary allegedly focused on finding Osama Bin Laden in the hills of Afghanistan. I’ve only seen this film once, but I remember it clearly, because I met Morgan Spurlock after the screening. He’d been in Dublin on the European leg of a media tour to help promote the movie and I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of people who didn’t realize he was actually going to attend the screening in person and answer questions afterwards. In a mad rush to the escalator, I managed to be the first person to leave the screen, asking Mr Spurlock if he’d mind posing as a random man (who was attempting to reach the toilet) agreed to take our photo.
I’ll never forget how excited I was going into work that evening at Chartbusters Video Store to tell everyone I’d managed to take the greatest photo with one of the coolest handlebar mustaches in Hollywood. And, being fair, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles shirt I was wearing at the time obviously helped seal the deal. It was one of my first photographed experiences meeting “celebrities” and as I look back on the photographs in my possession also one of the oldest I have.
Fast forward nine years from that brief meeting, and a friend is sending me a message, asking me to remove the photo from my website. Primarily, they say, this is because my association with said photo is embarrassing in light of Spurlock’s recent admissions of sexual misconduct. And they’re very serious about it too.
Admittedly, this is a new one for me. I’ll admit to being very indifferent when I first heard the news of Harvey Weinstein and, in similar vein, Kevin Spacey. I’ll admit to being a fan of Kevin Spacey’s work, House of Cards has been one of my favorite shows of recent years, and films Spacey has made – such as ‘The Life of David Gale’ and ‘Ordinary Decent Criminal’ have a pride of place in my collection. Not because I own every copy of every film he’s made, but because I rank his work as an actor very highly, and separate the man from the entertainer in the role he’s playing.
That, I would hope people agree, is very different from me saying we should immediately hire Spacey to work on every project available to him and ignore all misgivings. We should not. But there should be a fine line, particularly in Journalism, where writers are quick to maintain the difference between an entertainer performing a role and a man who has acted inappropriately – and allegedly, illegally – in a number of personal cases. Hulk Hogan’s recent court case brings to mind this very principle, where do we draw the line between the performer/entertainer and their personal identity.
The question with Spurlock remains unchanged, however, should I immediately decide to erase any – albeit extremely brief – association with him from my website because of his actions. And the answer is no. I condemn Spacey and I condemn Spurlock for his personal actions but I will not begin purposefully ignoring to watch the films he appears in or pretending he has never existed or directed. And this is simply because, when it comes down to it, I don’t know the man on a personal level and he hasn’t wronged me in any way. In Spurlock’s case specifically, this photo is a memory for me, a good and positive memory in my media career – am I to undo this and simply pretend it didn’t exist?
There might be arguments that there are other photos, other potential memories to share, but it forces me to invoke censorship in my own life. It forces me to remove something I actually care about, not because of the individuals involved, but because of the memory and the time it represents.
I shall not be removing this photograph because it represents a time and a place. And because, although it might be critical to say Morgan Spurlock has admitted to sexual misconduct to capitalize on both it’s (and his) relevance within the world media; these are the actions of private individuals behind relatively closed doors.
I feel that if there is one thing the Hollywood allegations have done it has brought to my attention the step down of the male gender in 2017. And I want to be very clear before I elaborate that this is not a sexist or underhanded attack on female gender or empowerment. I welcome equal rights for both sexes and I condemn sexual misconduct in the strongest terms and support any person affected by #MeToo but I ask where – in a world that holds Donald Trump as the most significant example of white male power – a young man might look for an example of hope? In a world every Johnny Depp is forgiven and every Mel Gibson recovers, who are the positive male role models we can depend upon?