We’ve been working on a book called American Tricksters: From Madoff to Trump, the Rise of the Archetypal Con Artist in the 21st Century. The challenge here is that the story changes daily, sometimes hourly.
Let’s take actor Kevin Spacey, whose acting role the past six years has been as President Underwood in Netflix’s original series House of Cards. We’ve watched the series and I’ve fluctuated between not caring because Spacey reminds me so much of Trump, and being fascinated by how corrupt Underwood is as a politician, a husband, and by the behind the scenes deals that are made.
The Spacey sexual allegation story broke shortly after the Weinstein fiasco, when actor Anthony Rapp (Star Trek: Discovery) accused Spacey of trying to have sex with him when he attended a party at Spacey’s New York apartment in 1986. At the time, Rapp was 14. Spacey was 26.
The story initially broke on BuzzFeed and several hours after it broke, Spacey tweeted: I’m beyond horrified to hear his story… This story has encouraged me to address other things about my life. I now choose to live as a gay man. I want to deal with this honestly and openly and that starts with examining my own behavior.”
He was scorched in the media and by fellow actors for not apologizing to Raff and using the accusation as an opportunity to comes out as gay.
Raff’s accusation quickly was followed by others. Eight current and former employees of House of Cards told CNN that Spacey “had engaged in a pattern of sexual harassment, making the show’s set a ‘toxic’ work environment. Then a former production assistant accused Spacey of sexually assaulting him.
As the LA Times noted, “When House of Cards debuted in 2013, it catapulted Netflix into a whole new level of Hollywood recognition and acclaim. The dark political series about an unscrupulous Washington power couple became Netflix’s first breakout hit, planting a flag for the streaming service in the competitive world of original TV programming.”
The series is estimated to cost several million dollars per episode, according to the Times, with each season made up of 13 episodes. Spacey is listed as one of the executive producers.
Now here’s where the trickster initially comes in. Last season, Underwood fell from power in the series and the last scene was of Underwood alone in a hotel room. Now, the series itself has collapsed – just as the title suggests. After all, when we talk about the phrase “house of cards” we usually think that it’s not too sturdy and a breeze may blow it over.
Within 48 hours of Spacey’s tweet after Rapp had accused him, Netflix and Media Rights Capital, the company that produces House of Cards, announced that the sixth season of the series would be the last, suspended production on it indefinitely, and canceled season 7. Netflix also announced it won’t release the movie Gore, starring Spacey, which is now in post production. Then the trickster went even farther: the agency that represented Spacey – Creative Artists Agency – and his publicist, Staci Wolfe, have dropped him. Spacey had been slated to receive the International Emmy Award on November 20, 2017 and they’ve announced he won’t receive the award now.
The trickster usually has a legend, fairy tale, folklore, or myth associated with it. The one that fits the trickster in this scenario is that of the pink dolphin of the Amazon, a fresh water dolphin. According to Amazonian tribes, the pink dolphin is actually a shape shifter, deceiver, liar, and seducer. It’s smaller than its ocean brothers, is the color of bubble gum and such a splendid sight against the green curtain of jungle it seems impossible that such a legend about it exists.
On nights of the full moon, the pink dolphin assumes human form as a man, dresses in a white suit with a white straw hat that covers his blowhole, and looks like quite the dapper outsider. He goes into the nearest villages and dances with the most beautiful women. Because he’s sly and cunning, he lures one of them into the jungle, down to the banks of the river. Part of his seduction routine is convincing the woman to visit his secret underground cavern. Here, he impregnates the woman. At dawn, she returns to her village and when she later discovers she’s pregnant, the story is that the dolphin did it!
This shape-shifting element fits Spacey. We TV viewers were engaged by his public persona as an actor and discovered it was the perfect cover for his darker side, con artist.