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Ending House of Cards amid Kevin Spacey sexual harassment allegations is the best disruption

It's plausible that Netflix meant to end House of Cards after its upcoming sixth season. The series has run its course and the fifth season had much less impact than previous outings. It's also plausible that Netflix would want to keep the series alive, attaching sentimental significance to it because the series made the streaming service a player in this golden age of TV drama.

But the show is essentially dead, with production suspended indefinitely on Tuesday. On Monday, it had been announced that the sixth would be the final season. And that is all thanks to an actor's allegation that star Kevin Spacey attempted to sexually exploit him when the actor was 14 years old and thanks to Spacey's strange, self-serving response to the allegation.

Netflix is an opaque outfit. It doesn't release figures about the number of subscribers who watch House of Cards or any other program. It is secretive about the algorithims it uses to commission original programing. What it is, however, is an important brand, a family-friendly brand and a publicly traded company. Further association with Spacey and promotion of the actor's career was unthinkable.

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Read more: The Weinstein domino effect: Who else is accused of sexual harassment so far? Read the list

Netflix's decision is hugely significant because it is a formal breach of the convenient myth that the entertainment arena is a parallel universe where things are done differently, unsavoury things happen and powerful men can get away with unspeakable acts of exploitation. It's a myth perpetuated by a sycophantic media and a code of secrecy inside the arena. With this decision about House of Cards, Netflix is not only a disruptor of traditional TV and film, it is literally a disruptor of old ideas about what is acceptable behaviour in the entertainment industry.

What is key in this instance is that the victim was 14 when he says the incident occurred. On Sunday in an interview with Buzzfeed, Star Trek: Discovery actor Anthony Rapp claimed that Spacey made sexual advances to him at a party in 1986 when he was 14 and Spacey was 26. At the time, both were actors in successful Broadway shows. Spacey quickly apologized to Rapp on Sunday night in a statement and said he was "beyond horrified" by Rapp's story, but that he did not recall the incident. Bizarrely, Spacey used the statement to say he was now choosing "to live as a gay man" from now on. The implied connection between his status as a gay man and the attempted exploitation of a 14-year-old was truly toxic. It was also tone-deaf to blithely equate homosexuality with child abuse.

There is a lot of tone-deafness in the arts community from which the Spacey circumstance emerges. Some players in the industry took to social media to express a kind of confused sympathy for Spacey, a "drunken mistake" he made in the 1980s and congratulated him on a forthright apology. Those who aren't inside the entertainment world and are simply horrified by the allegation against Spacey quickly shut down this type of comment.

This is where the breach between the entertainment industry and the general public becomes apparent. Rosie O'Donnell, for instance, took to Twitter to lambaste Spacey and wrote "like Harvey we all knew about u", which prompted someone to reply instantly and correctly, "You imply you're aware of what went on, and compared him to Harvey. Yet you stayed quiet! For 30 years!?" And O'Donnell duly replied, inadequately, "no one knew details – like harvey – but u knew both were creepy men with reps that said so".

There are now inferences that lots of people knew about Spacey's allegedly predatory ways as an actor and as an arts executive. Spacey was artistic director of the Old Vic theatre in London from 2004 to 2015, a position of great influence in the theatre there. His counterpart at the Royal Court Theatre, Vicky Featherstone, told BBC Radio on Monday, "Kevin Spacey would be one of the people that people have had concerns about." She meant concern going back years.

To the general public, there is an inexplicable murkiness in all of this. If people knew about the actions of Harvey Weinstein and were concerned about the behaviour of Spacey, how could they continue to be allowed to behave as they did? Is sexual exploitation institutionalized in the entertainment industry? Is that arena so steeped in archaic ways? Do people who are aware of exploitation have no moral compass?

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There are many ways to interpret the flood of accusations that the Weinstein exposé unleashed. Its possible to suggest that a disgruntlement with Donald Trump has led to the exposure of figures who are symbolic surrogates for the U.S. President, and some sort of instinctive cultural cleansing is unfolding. It's possible to joke bitterly that, since Spacey plays a scheming, ruthless president in House of Cards, the public has higher standards for fictional presidents than real ones.

What's not murky but is perfectly clear is that Netflix has disrupted in the best possible way by suspending indefinitely production on House of Cards. And the general public wouldn't have it any other way. The time of murky lies, excuses and willful ignorance is over.

House of Cards to end as Kevin Spacey scandal deepens (Reuters)
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About the Author
Television critic

John Doyle is The Globe and Mail's television critic. His column appears in the Review section Monday to Thursday and on Saturday. He has been the paper's critic since 2000. More

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