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The Age of Consent in the Age of Exposure

Flickr Kevin Spacey Marcos Gasparutti

And another one bites the dust.

Kevin Spacey’s latest admission that he may indeed, in a drunken state, have pushed himself sexually on to a 14 year old boy many years ago, is the end of his career.

Just as Harvey Weinstein’s recent exposure for, er, exposure and more, is the end of his career.

No doubt many an actor in Hollywood is looking down the barrel of the end of their career now, waiting in trepidation for the email, Tweet, blog post that pulls the trigger.  “Lawyer up!” as Saul Goodman might say.  Though perhaps not if you are Roman Polanski.  Though things might just get interesting for him now.

Hollywood ran at the head of the pack in the Sexual Revolution and now finds itself reaping the bitter fruit of what was sown.  The problem with the Sexual Revolution of course is that it took a few decades to figure out the consent bit of the revolution.

Hollywood ran at the head of the pack in the Sexual Revolution and now finds itself reaping the bitter fruit of what was sown.

As was observed by insiders within the BBC about the seedy seventies and the subsequent necessity of Operation Yewtree these past years,  “it’s just the way the culture was.” Licentious and anything else went, and went, and went. Before the age of consent and the age of exposure collided.

Licentious Puritans

What those who imbibed dangerously, or over-reached themselves (i.e. sexually assaulted others or were grey when it came to consent) did not realise was that late modern culture, while still tracking merrily with the Sexual Revolution, would combine it with a puritanical streak almost at odds with the idea of a revolution.  There’s a shoot to kill policy in operation now, and it’s going to take a lot of those free-flyers down. Just as it did with Harvey and Kevin.

Not that I think this is wrong—in fact it’s a good thing.  What’s very clear is the modern conundrum at play in all of these sordid allegations: liberal moderns assumed that they could control their sex—when in reality, as many are now discovering, their sex controlled them. This should come as no surprise for those of us familiar with the biblical material on sin, sexual or otherwise.  Sin is, if nothing else—and it is a lot more things than that—utterly deceitful.

Now? Sexual liberty finds itself in a bind.  At the very time sexuality is dominating the culture to an even greater extent than before—and in an age when you are defined by your sexuality—the small matter of consent is rearing its head.  And there is much confusion.

At the very time sexuality is dominating the culture to an even greater extent than before, the small matter of consent is rearing its head. And there is much confusion.

I quote Dale Kuehne’s excellent book, Sex and the iWorld constantly. But it’s a prophetic text for our times.  Kuehne maps our movement in Western culture from what he calls the “tWorld”, or the traditional relationships of older stable communities, marriage and family.  He posits not a return to that world, because too much has changed even if we wanted to return, but a move forward to what he calls the “rWorld”, or relational world, a world built on an alternate ethical community—one he situates in the stream of the biblical faith community.

The Limits of Freedom

But where are we now?  The “iWorld”—the world of deep individualism in which our sexuality is our primary identity marker.  Kuehne is well ahead of the curve in naming the taboos that occupy the “iWorld”, and it’s a set of taboos that the love-drunk hippies of Woodstock would not have envisaged, and would indeed be horrified by due to the very need to name them.

Kuehne states:

Even in the iWorld, however, there are limits to freedom.  While the iWorld focuses on expanding the range of individual freedom, even it cannot allow complete individual freedom, lest…one person use it coercively over another.  The iWorld embraces three taboos that serve to limit individual freedom if it affects another person’s individual freedom:
1. One may not criticise someone else’s life choices or behaviour.
2. One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others.
3. One may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent.

He goes on to say  (and note the comments I have put in bold):

Freedom of individual choice, the first taboo, is the highest ideal of the iWorld, but all three taboos are held in such esteemed regard that the person who breaks them is treated not with toleration or mere disdain but with strident anger.  In the iWorld these taboos are held with the fervour of religious zeal, and those who challenge or are willing to entertain questions about their adequacy are usually treated as heretics.

The average orthodox Christian who holds to a traditional view of marriage thought they were the only ones whose beliefs were met with strident anger, who were argued against with all the fervour of religious zeal, and who are increasingly treated as heretics.

No longer. Liberal voices such as  Weinstein and Spacey et al. (and I suspect it’s going to be a longer list by the time the Hollywood establishment has sated its appetite for blood), have been unified in their scorn and condemnation for all those who broke taboo one.

Dead Men Walking

Anyone who held a traditional view on marriage, for example, was rejected as a taboo breaker merely for holding that perspective, never mind voicing it.  And now suddenly the likes of Weinstein and Spacey, on the basis of breaking the other two taboos, find themselves cast adrift with the very taboo breakers they previous scorned. All lumped into the same basket.

The three taboos bear equal weight and no amount of liberal establishment movies or fund raisers will salve their guilt.  These men are dead men walking in Hollywood.  Never mind “no lunch in this town again”—they won’t even be able to live there.

I can only imagine their horror at it all, and the sense of dread and guilt at the cultural rejection that is coming their way for the rest of the lives.  All they have to look forward to is strident anger, religious zealotry, and cat-calls of “heretic” from the very establishment that has spent billions promoting a post-traditional, post-religious world, to us all.  The irony is extreme.

The fact is, taboos two and three are not merely modern inventions, they are woven into the fabric of the world that God has put together and which he has revealed in Scripture.  They were commands of God long before they were secular taboos.  Modern culture just assumed it was smarter than God by attempting to isolate these two taboos from all of the other commands about sex that have been broken with gay and straight abandon down the centuries.  And the result is a mess.

Modern culture just assumed it was smarter than God by attempting to isolate these two taboos from all of the other commands about sex that have been broken with gay and straight abandon down the centuries. And the result is a mess.

We now live in a world in which university students film each other with their iPhones—not during sex – but before it, just to have a recorded proof of the consent of the other person, in case it all gets ugly in the morning or in thirty years time.  Perhaps universities will start handing out consent templates on freshers’ day, with “insert name here before you insert anything else anywhere” on them.

Harvey and Kevin’s real concern is that Hollywood has no confessional, no altar, no service of reconciliation.  Hollywood creates movies that extol forgiveness, redemption and restoration, but all they’re doing is piggy-backing on the biblical story while stripping it of transcendence.  The awful reality is much different—just ask Bojack Horseman of the cult series about life as a Hollywood has-been.

Like Bojack, all that will be left to the likes of Harvey and Kevin is an ever tightening circle of self-justification and self-loathing, fuelled by an increasing realisation that the best is behind them, along with the unspoken fear that their exposure in this age of consent is the start of a living hell from which they will never be set free.


Originally published on https://stephenmcalpine.com
Photos (from top): Emarliner, Marcos Gasparutti; flickr

Steve is approaching an age which would be a more than useful Test batting average. He is a pastor of Providence Church in WA, is married to Jill and together they have two children, Sophie and Declan. Steve grew up in Northern Ireland, but apart from rolling his “r’s”, and talking too fast, is a West Aussie through and through. He has degrees in journalism and theology and enjoys combining the two through writing and blogging, especially on matters of church planting and cultural negotiation for Christians in the increasingly complex West.

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