Trigger Warning: We’re going to be talking about some heady stuff today. Mostly to do with the rampant sexual harassment occurring on the national stage right now. So, ya know, if that’s not your bag, completely understandable. We’ll get back to the light stuff on Wednesday, but for now, I want to get this down while it’s still raw and honest.
So I wrote the first draft of this a day after the revelation that Louis C.K. had apparently been sexually abusing women, and then using his position in the industry to intimidate said women into keeping silent. This is a reprehensible act, and hours after the allegations came to light, HBO rightfully dropped C.K. from all of their programming. FX followed suit in short order, and, as if the show was really still happening anyway, we should kiss Louie, Louis C.K.’s original, semi-autobiographical series, good-bye.
And my first thought, god dammit, was, “Damn, I’m going to miss that show.”
And that absolutely makes me feel like a horrible person.
What must have been twelve billion years ago, my mother helped found a local abused women shelter. A short few billion years later, I was born, and shortly thereafter, my parents got divorced. My parents were both very eager to be present parents, and, as a result, I spent a lot of one-on-one time with both of them. This is an elaborate way of saying that I was raised by a pretty vocal feminist and -is there a concise word for this?- a woman who was very outspoken about sexual abuse. And, while I haven’t always had the best relationship with my mother (fun fact: when you’re a teenager, your parents have this tendency to become the most horrible people on the planet. They got better after a few years, though, so good on them) I’ve always internalized her lessons on what is right and wrong when interacting with women. The idea of hitting a woman revolts me, and the concept of even unintentionally sexually harassing someone fills me with a deep disgust. It’s part of how I was raised, and, honestly, I owe a debt to my mother for instilling in me lessons that so obviously missed the majority of my gender.
Oh, and my mother and I? We’re both huge Woody Allen fans.
The two of us spoke about this a couple of weeks ago when the Weinstein information came to light (incidentally, exposed by Woody Allen’s son/brother-in-law), and we both came to the same conclusion: we’re horrible people. Ever seen Midnight in Paris? It is a well-written, funny meditation on art and idols and the constant generational supposition that everything was perfect fifty years ago going back infinitely to the dawn of time. It’s also a movie made by a sexually abusive man that has used his wealth and fame to be untouchable. Talking about it with my mother, how merely enjoying that movie is in some way enabling this monster, we unanimously came to the conclusion that we won’t defend Woody Allen or what he’s done, we just agree that his movies are funny and speak to people with our generally neurotic personality types (shocking fact: I am mentally similar to the woman that raised me). And our problematic like is “justified” by the fact that everything we do is horrible. Sure, we’re giving money to a ghastly person, but my mother also just got a new computer for all of $300, and electronics are only that cheap because of borderline slave labor available in impoverished areas of Asia. In short, we’re going with a sort of “but there are children starving in Africa” approach to media consumption, and, while we acknowledge that we are supporting something terrible, at least everything is terrible. Can’t even see Lego Batman without accidentally backing the damn Trump administration!
Look, it’s not ideal, but it helps us sleep at night.
But Louis C.K.? That’s my burden to bear, and it’s a little different. If I’m going to claim that my mother wound up being a sort of moral compass for my own dealings with these issues, I also have to admit that I use her as a sort of excuse. I like Woody Allen, but she does, too! It’s okay! See! I understand women! I have wives and daughters (no I don’t)! But, no, my mother unfortunately has no opinions one way or another about Louis C.K. (okay, she probably does now), so I’m stuck going it alone on this moral quandary.
Actually, no, let me rephrase that. There is no moral quandary here. Louis C.K. did some rotten things (you know what? I hate articles where the writer dances around some obvious truth and never seems to actually make eye contact with the issue at hand. Let’s say it out loud: Louis C.K., unsolicited, got naked, whipped out his lil’ Louie, and masturbated in front of five different women on separate occasions. There. Got that out of my system), and the first people we should be considering right now are the women who have a long, difficult trail ahead of them. As we’ve seen time and time again, it is no fun accusing a powerful man (despite the “poor schlub” bits of his act, anyone that has their own production company clearly has enough power to create or kill an entire career) of sexual misconduct. The media and blogosphere and twitter are all very supportive now, but, when you consider your average court case takes years, not days, it’s pretty safe to say that the overt support will die down well before this is finished. HBO shows its support for the victims!… Has it been long enough now? Can we stop it with the moralizing and get back to promoting the final season of Game of Thrones now? And, in the meanwhile, there are lawyers, cross examinations, and every malcontent in the world that wants to spit in the victims’ collective faces because they were really looking forward to that one standup special. Oh, and this is ignoring everything these brave women had to go through in the first place, ie watching a private screening of Life with Louie and then being threatened with “repercussions” should they ever try to do something to curb this vile behavior. Could you just take a moment to consider being in that situation? Watching your rapist (unwanted sexual events don’t require penetration, and I’d say if a dick is out and proud, we’re in rape country) grow more and more popular, gaining awards and accolades for his “honest” showmanship and “woke” persona of a an approachable, understanding celebrity, and knowing all the while that he’s a complete shit that once threatened your livelihood for daring to defy the narrative of this “sympathetic” individual? I don’t know how these victims have the strength to get up in the morning, left alone finally reveal the truth. I become a despondent mess when I knock over a salt shaker! (In my defense, it was a salt shaker I really liked.)
But I suppose that whole “personable celebrity” thing is part of the problem here. Why did the victims not come forward sooner? Aside from the obvious (“the obvious” in any case like this doesn’t need to be restated in another paragraph), Louis C.K.’s general persona seems to naturally repel any and all contradictions to his carefully cultivated identity. Sure, he loves fart jokes, but he’s also a guy that gave over an episode of his series to the difference between the joys of being a fat man versus the dreads of being a fat woman. Horace and Pete was a triumph of fundraising, shattering the Hollywood elite production methods, and spent time showcasing the horrors of modern mental healthcare. He was “that nice guy” on Parks and Recreation, Brandon’s Dad on Home Movies, and the surprisingly sympathetic Horrifying Sweaty One-Armed Monstrosity on Gravity Falls. On camera and off, Louis C.K. seemed to be vulgar, yes, but also a genuinely pleasant guy who understood his own failings and did his best to do right by people he may have wronged. He wasn’t perfect, and he was likely to call your mom a fart monster, but he did his best.
And, yeah, going to go ahead and say that’s how I see myself.
Look, I’m an abrasive person. I try to be civil, I try to be polite, but I do like a good fart joke. If you’ve put on a few pounds, I’m probably going to make a crack about your jeans screaming in pain. I’ll regret it later (hell, I will probably regret it immediately), but it’s kind of how I’m wired. That mother of mine that I mentioned help found an abused women’s shelter? She’s also sarcastic and cynical as hell, and my father isn’t any different. It’s in my DNA to show affection through “gentle ribbing”, and, naturally, when I encounter another personality that does the same thing, I’m understanding. Much of Louis C.K.’s humor appeals to me on a personal level because, yes, I’m right there with you with loving my family but maybe acknowledging they’re driving me nuts. And, similar to my own thinking, Louis C.K. always seemed to be one of those “good” celebrities that wound up using his wealth and fame to make the world a better place. He might not be giving all of his earnings to charity, but the ways he has advanced national discourse through his own productions has been commendable. That’s how I would like to see myself were I that level of successful. I know that earning an assload of cash could easily lead to me lounging around my solid gold mansion in solid gold sweatpants all day, but I like to imagine that I’d use a weekly, half-hour program to progress discussion on difficult topics like war or the amazing world outside our country. In short, more than any celebrity that has recently been accused of sexual misconduct, Louis C.K. seemed more like someone that could be my friend. Or someone that could even be me.
And that scares the hell out of me.
Full disclosure: I was a shitty teenager. To be absolutely clear given the subject matter, I never masturbated in front of anyone, never raped anybody, or committed some other similar transgression. Aside from a little bit of reckless driving and maybe underage drinking (not at the same time, though), I’m technically rather clean of committing any crimes during that time. However, I was absolutely an asshole. Was there a girl I liked that I absolutely “nice guy”’d into oblivion? God yes. Did I ignore completely wonderful women in my life because I when I said I wanted “a girl to play Mario Kart with” I meant “a girl to play Mario Kart with… who has a nice ass”? Obviously. And when I did actually date someone, was I an emotionally manipulative shit? Yes. And I’m sorry. I’ve apologized to the people involved, and I’ve apologized to people in my general orbit from that time. And I know it’s popular to claim you were “a different person then” but what scares me is that I’m not a different person. I’m still me. I knew I was doing something wrong at the time, didn’t care, and let my wang lead me along. There was a time I would have told a woman I was the living reincarnation of Jesus if I thought she would believe it and I could cop like one more feel. Again, I knew it was wrong, but I did it anyway, because I was able to mentally justify that you’re only young once, you’re never going to see these “other kids” again after high school/college/whatever, and what’s the harm? I’m not doing anything illegal, and it’s her own damn fault if she believes my ridiculous lie. It’s a victimless crime!
And, while I feel like I’m “better now”… I should have been better then. And it scares me to think of what would have happened if I had a little more power. It still scares me if such a thing were to happen to me today. Look, I’ve never exactly wanted for love, but there are certainly women I’ve met that would rather lick a cactus than see me naked. And that’s fine! I know plenty of people that, for one reason or another, I am amazed people find attractive. Ben Affleck? Literally have never seen the appeal, and, celebrity or no, if he propositioned me for some reason, I would have to say no. Never mind that we’re both straight and tend to run in different social circles, I’m just plainly stating that I understand some things are never going to happen. But it’s hard to acknowledge that when you’re wealthy, because roughly 90% of our media promotes the hypothesis that if you’re rich and powerful, you can have anything you want, including people. And it’s very easy to surround yourself with yes men and believe your own bullshit to the point that you actually act on such a belief. Yes, what I’m saying is that I find it repugnant, but I completely understand why President Trump thinks it is okay to “grab ‘em by the pussy”. Power is seductive, and when you’ve got it, you want to use it. When you know the law and every male in the immediate area is never going to stop you, all you’ve got is your conscience.
And I guess that’s the crux of this: I thought someone I admired might have a conscience. I thought that someone who seems so apologetic and nice might actually not have five prominent skeletons in his closet. I thought that someone who is like me in a position of power might have that all-important conscience. And I hope that if I ever wind up “at the top”, that I will still have a conscience. It genuinely frightens me to even think of such a thing, but, I mean, if someone I venerate can be so easily tempted, what prayer do I have? As the mightiest of bosstones once said, I’ve never had to knock on wood…
I’m going to miss watching Louie, I’m going to miss enjoying Horace & Pete, and I’m going to miss listening to C.K.’s standup. I’m going to miss all of that. But it’s going to be easy for me to disregard the man behind it all. It’s going to be easy for me to sit in judgment of a celebrity I’ll likely never meet in favor of victims that will likely spend the rest of their lives being derided by lawyers and talk show hosts. It’s easy to say, “Louis bad man” and be done with it. It’s not wrong. Boycotting C.K. is the right thing to do, but it’s also easy.
It’s harder to be a better person, though. It’s harder to acknowledge you are similar to this shitheel, and you could be such a shitheel given the right circumstances. It’s harder to have that thought in your head, and realize that you have to live the rest of your life full well knowing that a random bout of horny could make you literally ruin people’s lives. It’s hard to acknowledge that you’re even capable of doing such a thing, but it must be recognized, because we’re all capable of hurting other people, and we’re all capable of being terrible.
To everyone reading this: be a better person. It’s hard, but be better. Be better than that man, be better than all of these men, and genuinely care for each other.
It’s an excellent way to not be a horrible person.