in Preparation for Rebuttal Essay Deadline
“Why Men Aren’t Funny”
by Lindy West, New York Times, WED NOV 15, 2017
“Louis C.K. Responds to Accusations: These Stories Are True”
New York Times, FRI NOV 10, 2017
First, some context. President Trump has been accused of rape more than once and settled out of court without ever apologizing to anyone. Harvey Weinstein has been accused of dozens of sexual molestations with women over whom he held at least ostensible power, almost all of them involving indecent exposure, inappropriate touch, or actual physical sex, has admitted nothing, apologized to no one, and spent a fortune discrediting his accusers. Bill Cosby has gone to trial for drugging and raping his dozen or so credible alleged victims, most of whom, like Weinstein’s victims, thought he could help them in “the business,” and has hidden behind the fairy tale that the women he abused were consensual sex partners once he provided them the drugs they needed to relax themselves. Not a single even half-hearted apology among them.
Louis C.K., on the contrary, said this in his written response to the allegations that he showed women his dick and sometimes masturbated in front of them:
These stories are true. . . . The power I had over these women . . . I wielded . . . irresponsibly. I took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired. There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them.
However crafty Lindy West finds that apology to be, however carefully worded, in today’s world of “I regret the offense that others took to my actions,” and non-apologies like “The fact that others suffered weighs heavily on me,” C.K.’s apology comes close to a model of “grownup owning up.” Of course, the words do not undo the wrong. And no one would suggest that admitting to the truth of his repulsive behavior exonerates him or will ever satisfy his victims, or us, as sufficient redress. He’ll have to pay one way or another and make restitution for his personal actions, however his industry may have enabled him to exert his perceived power on vulnerable hopefuls.
But parsing the grammar of C.K.’s response, as West does, to assert that he gives his industry a moral hall pass is an unfair reading of the text. In the same response in which C.K. heaps recrimination on himself for his personal corruption, he additionally blames the Hollywood comedy machine that keeps women down and shuts them up when they complain about oppression and abuse:
When you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. I took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it.
He put his puny manhood out there for them to see and dared them to say they’d seen it, secure in the knowledge that nobody would listen. Lindy West ignores that part of his response when she asserts in “Why Men Aren’t Funny” that she’s had enough of “solemn acknowledgments” from powerful male comedians. She read those words and heard this:
The careful message is “I, one man, made one mistake,” not “I, among many others, preyed upon vulnerable women in my industry, on purpose, because I am both a defender and a beneficiary of an entrenched system of oppression.”
Her reading of the industry dynamic might be altogether true, but her reading of C.K.’s response is disingenuous. She says C.K. wants it both ways: to appear apologetic, but at the same time leave a door open for his eventual return to big-ticket comedy by taking all the blame for himself. Says West:
It’s easier to get your old job back if the power structure that gave it to you in the first place stays intact.
We’ll find out together if C.K. ever works again, and we’ll all applaud if the entertainment industry gets the shakeup it needs to open its doors wider to performer diversity of all kinds. But for now, let’s at least acknowledge that the man did not deny (which would have been common), did not disparage or impugn his accusers (the Trump-Weinstein approach), did not insist the acts were consensual as Cosby has (once C.K. abandoned the flimsy “I always asked first” defense).
He hasn’t exonerated Hollywood. He didn’t shirk his own blame. The only participants he gave a pass to are the women he abused.