It’s been a weird week.
Considering that I’ve talked Louis CK up on this site before, I feel like I should say something about all the allegations about him that ran in The New York Times this past Thursday. But I’m honestly not sure what I can add to the conversation other than “Oh my God, this is fucking horrifying.” And the fact that SO many allegations are coming fast and furious about SO many well-known people (Harvey Weinstein! Kevin Spacey! Louis CK! Dustin Hoffman! Richard Dreyfuss! Brett Ratner! Gary Goddard! Andrew Kreisberg! George Takei!) makes it all the more horrifying. It’s almost too much to even process.
There had been rumors about CK’s behavior in the comedy world for a long time, but they were usually oblique and unconfirmed, and CK refused to comment on them. And a lot of people hoped that they weren’t true. And since CK was a powerful figure in the comedy world, nothing happened. That’s all changed now. Five women have gone on the record about their experiences with CK, one anonymously, four publicly. And CK has released a statement confirming that he did the things he’s accused of.
I wrote about this topic here less than a month ago: Where do you separate the art from the artist, and what do you do when an artist you admire has done something awful? Here’s what I wrote then:
What do you do when you discover that the creator of a work you love is an asshole, has done something heinous, or is even an outright criminal? Is there a point where a person becomes SO repugnant that you can no longer support the creative work they were involved in?
I don’t have any better answers now than I did three weeks ago. Hell, if anything, things are even more muddled for me now.
I still love Louis CK as a comic. I was a fan of his work. I’ve seen him perform at Carnegie Hall. I own his albums and DVD sets of his TV show. As a comedian, he’s been an inspiration to me. And, as a human being, he’s done some really rotten shit. Masturbating in front of women who didn’t ask you to do so is really gross and creepy, and the coverup and intimidation of the people he assaulted is equally disgusting. As a fan of his, I feel disappointed and betrayed.
How do you reconcile that? Should you reconcile it? Being a great artist in no way excuses someone from doing awful things. But where does that leave you as a fan? Are you still allowed to like their stuff? Can you put the pieces of your shattered image of that person back together again and still appreciate their old work, at least?
I don’t know. My gut feeling with CK is that I’ll eventually be able to come back to his stand-up material, but it’s going to take me a while. If someone else isn’t comfortable ever following his work again, I certainly get that. Everybody’s got to make their own decision there.
My initial thought on CK’s statement was that as far as apologies on doing heinous shit go, it was a decent one. He clearly admitted what he did. He didn’t try to weasel out of it, or make a joke out of it. He took responsibility for it, and he expressed remorse. Those are good first steps.
But yeah, there are problems with it. Did he have to mention multiple times that he was “admired” by the women he did this stuff to? No. Leave your narcissism out of it, dude. And he more or less papers over his and his management’s role in these charges not gaining much traction in the press.
From the people I’ve talked to about this, it seems like CK’s apology was a lot better received by men than it was by women. I think that maybe that’s because for most men, actions like CK’s are a hypothetical. Imagining this sort of thing is an intellectual exercise for us. For women, it’s just their reality. As a woman in this day and age, you’re going to get unwanted sexual attention. It doesn’t matter what your age is, what you look like, what you’re doing, or what you’re wearing. Guys are going to be creepy to you. It’s just going to happen. So reading about news like this stirs up all sorts of shit for women that most men are never going to be able to completely understand, as much as we might want to, or think that we do. But if you’re a guy and you saw the #MeToo hashtag trending on social media among your female friends, maybe you got an inkling of just how widespread this problem is. It certainly opened my eyes a bit.
In a Facebook thread I started about CK’s admission, my friend and fellow comic Joan Weisblatt put it really well: “Compulsion, entitlement, and shame are a lethal combination.” I think that sums it up perfectly. When someone does something like this, we always ask, “What were they thinking?” In all likelihood, they weren’t thinking anything beyond, “I want to do this, and I can get away with it.”
But it looks like that’s becoming less common now. More and more victims are bravely coming forward and going on the record about this stuff, and more and more of the perpetrators are suffering swift consequences. Companies are severing ties with them, their management and publicists are dropping them, projects are getting cancelled, and some of them will hopefully even face criminal charges. That’s something, I guess. If all of this attention and discussion makes it easier for other victims to come forward in the future, or for other potential abusers to reconsider their actions and start acting appropriately, that’s a good thing.
I suppose I won’t really know how I feel about this stuff until a few years down the road. Like Hatcher said when he wrote about this problem last year, it’s easier to compartmentalize this sort of thing when the artist in question is long dead. Right now, CK’s future career looks bleak (deservedly so), but weirder comebacks have happened. Who would have guessed in 1992 that convicted rapist Mike Tyson would have a beloved cameo in The Hangover, get a cartoon show on Adult Swim, or have a one-man show on Broadway? Or that Mel Gibson would be nominated for another Oscar and be back starring in a mainstream movie? Americans have this weird impulse to build people up, tear them down, and then welcome them back again with open arms. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s because we always like to imagine ourselves as the scrappy underdog, even when that’s far from the case.
I’m not going to pretend that I have any answers. I wrote this partly to sort out my own feelings on this, but you can only figure out so much that way. So please, if I’m way off base here, let me know. I’ll do my best to listen.
There’s a quote from CK that’s stuck with me ever since I first heard it. It’s from his show Louie (“Cop Story,” Season 5, Episode 3, if you’re curious):
“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”
The fact that the person who said this hurt people himself doesn’t make it any less true. Hell, it might even make it more true. If someone tells you that you hurt them, it’s time to shut up for a minute and listen to what the other person has to say. You’re probably going to learn something. And if you learn something, maybe you can change and make things better.
Right now we need to be listening to what Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Abby Schachner, Rebecca Corry, and others like them have to say. And we need to believe them. It may be unpleasant to hear, but it’s stuff that we need to learn. And only after we do that can we start changing and making things better.
See you next week.