Are We Seriously Going To Accuse Someone Of Rape Based On One Comment On A Shady Gossip Blog?
Actor Kirk Douglas died yesterday at the age of 103. I am not a massive Kirk Douglas fan. In fact, I am still mad about the time this guy took me to see Paths of Glory at a revival theater, as I will never get those 87 hours of my life back. As far as old Hollywood male stars go, I am much more personally invested in Humphrey Bogart, Cary Grant, Spencer Tracy, and Paul Newman.
Yesterday, as happens when a big star dies, Douglas trended on Twitter. Soon after, Natalie Wood started trending as well. I am, in fact, a big Natalie Wood fan, so that I paid attention to.
And I was horrified. Because the reason she was trending, I saw, was because loads and loads of people — some very prominent people whom I generally respect — were chastising those celebrating Douglas's life and career, because he "brutally raped a teenage Natalie Wood for hours." This was entirely new information to me. Sure, I knew at least one of Wood's biographers and her sister had said she was raped by a big Hollywood executive, but as far as I knew, no one had given an actual name.
So I Googled. And the only thing I was able to come up with was one Gawker article from eight years ago regarding an anonymous comment on a blind item gossip blog by someone that people commenting on the blog speculated was Robert Downey Jr. Are you fucking kidding me?
So I went on Twitter and, cautiously, asked for some other source. I tread lightly because I know that I tend to be a very skeptical person and that I have an innate aversion to bandwagons of any kind. Also because I figured it seemed that if everyone was so passionately stating it as an absolute fact, there must be something I was missing. There was not.
The whole entire story was that there had been speculation for years that Douglas (among several others) could have been the man who raped Natalie Wood, and that in 2012, someone who commenters at the gossip blog Crazy Days and Nights believed was secretly Robert Downey Jr. posted a comment saying that it was definitely him. Gawker picked up the story and determined that there was no way to confirm it, that whoever it was, it probably was not Robert Downey Jr. and Robert Downey Jr.'s spokesman denied it was him.
The "proof" in the comment was that the commenter said he had starred in a movie with Wood's daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner and Heather Graham (just like Robert Downey Jr. did!) ... and that he then left her phone number in one of the comments so people could call her to confirm it.
I know a lot of you have speculated that I'm some nobody nut-case pretending to be someone else. Pretending to be a movie star when in fact I'm not. I think that's kind of hilarious. But if you want to call Natasha and ask her the name of the male actor she co-starred with in a movie with Heather Graham, then go for it. Call her at home if you want to but be polite. Her number is: ac 310 Four [last six digits redacted]. And remember, she's NOT in on this so don't blame or interrogate her.
Pretty sure there are less objectively horrible ways of confirming you are Robert Downey Jr. than leaving a woman's phone number on a gossip blog! Gawker found that the number posted did appear on several internet sites for someone named Natasha Wagner who was the same age as Wood's daughter. But also, the person pretending to be Robert Downey Jr. probably also had Google.
After reading all of this, I tried to do the whole, "Oooh, not sure I feel super comfortable accusing Kirk Douglas of being a brutal rapist based on this information, not that anyone who believes it is wrong to believe it, I'm just not there yet" deal. I was then pointed to a New York Post article -- about how the proprietor of the Crazy Days and Nights blog was a known bullshit artist -- by Mike Redmond, former proprietor of the celebrity gossip blog The Superficial (he currently writes for Pajiba and is great). Redmond told me that the site "also used the 'RDJ is secretly spilling tea' thing to peddle clicks towards a story that Hayden Panettiere and Amanda Bynes' parents pimped them out as children."
And still I tried to do the whole mealy-mouthed, it's fine if you believe it but I'm just not sure thing.
But you know what? I woke up this morning and I was mad. So mad that it is my day off and I asked Rebecca if I could come in and write this anyway.
I am sorry, but this is fucked up. This is really, really not OK. It's wrong. What are we, the QAnon people now? (Crazy Days and Nights, by the way, is now pretty lousy with QAnon-ers.) It is one thing to believe victims. It is another thing to believe "people who pretend to secretly be Robert Downey Jr. on the internet." After all, literally anyone could pretend to be Robert Downey Jr. on the internet. I could pretend to be Robert Downey Jr. on the internet.
Can I categorically say that Kirk Douglas did not rape Natalie Wood? Of course not. I have no way of knowing that. But rape is something I take very seriously. It's one of the worst things anyone can do to a person, if not the worst thing. It's also a horrible thing to falsely accuse someone of without any evidence. It feels like people have gotten into this mindset where that doesn't matter anymore, and that it's not actually a big deal to ruin someone's reputation in that way if it's not true. It is a big deal. Look at the way people's lives were ruined during the Satanic Panic. If we say it's not a big deal to ruin someone's reputation by saying they did a thing we have no evidence for, we are also saying that thing isn't that big of a deal anyway. That worries me.
I have people asking me all the time, "God, Robyn how do you think these QAnon/Pizzagate people can believe this stuff? How can people believe that Hillary Clinton is trafficking children out of non-existent pizza parlor basements?" But how are we any better than those people if we cannot be bothered to Google before accusing someone, definitively, of being a rapist? If we see a tweet, assume that it's true, and then go and share our own tweet piggybacking off of that tweet? That's pretty much what they're doing. They're assuming that things are true just because someone on the internet said they were true.
I get that we are all very jaded right now as far as men with power and sexual assault are concerned. I know I am. But we need to make sure things are actually true, that we are not just participants in a messed up game of telephone, before we open our mouths. If we don't, we give credence to the "Has #MeToo Gone Too Far?" people, which should be the last thing we want to do.
Call me crazy, but I need more than gossip and innuendo and the joys of being on a self-righteous bandwagon to believe that someone is a rapist. So should we all.
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Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse