Suddenly, people were talking about the Louis CK problem yesterday. Why would anyone talk about this erstwhile woke comedian, a beloved ally to the cause, until his bizarre sexual peccadilloes were revealed? Apparently, he showed up at a comedy club and did a 15 minute set. The audience gave him a standing ovation.
So what’s the problem? If people don’t want to see Louis CK, they don’t have to. No one can make them go see him. If he simply appears, they can walk out. No one can make them watch. If people don’t want to watch Louis CK, he won’t get a stage, he won’t get an audience, he won’t get applause. He got all three. Clearly, people wanted to see him. So what’s the problem?
The scolds before whom Louis CK committed no offense went nuts. How dare this toxic male return from exile without their permission? But even worse, how dare this audience sit there, watch him, applaud? Did they not realize that he was horrible? Did they not realize that he had not been punished sufficiently to sate the scolds? What about justice?
When I raised the obvious point, that people will vote with their feet and pocketbooks as to whether this jerk was ready for prime time, I got a ever-shifting word salad response from one brave twitterer. It was the best anyone could do, there being no rational argument possible.
So the New York Times sought out the one person shameless enough, incoherent enough, disingenuous enough, to make the case. And she didn’t let them down.
“Should a man pay for his misdeeds for the rest of his life?” This is always the question raised when we talk about justice in the case of harassment and rape allegations against public figures. How long should a man who has faced no legal and few financial consequences for such actions pay the price?
There is an old saying: how long should a man’s legs be? Long enough to reach the ground. Put aside Roxane Gay’s avoidance of the unpleasant stuff, like the fact that he faced no legal consequences because nobody did anything legal about his actions.
We spend so little energy thinking about justice for victims and so much energy thinking about the men who perpetrate sexual harassment and violence. We worry about what will become of them in the wake of their mistakes. We don’t worry as much about those who have suffered at their hands. It is easier, for far too many people, to empathize with predators than it is to empathize with prey.
Is Gay saying she spends no energy thinking about justice for victims? I have no clue who her “we” refers to, but it seems pretty unlikely she hangs around with anyone who spends all their energy empathizing with predators. It seems far more likely that she invents strawmen, without which she would find it really hard to explain her elevation to Chief Executioner.
Take Louis C.K. Not only did he expose himself to and masturbate in front of female comics; the actions of people in his employ reportedly worked to impede his victims’ careers. Still, he has remained in control of the narrative. He gets to break the rules, and then he gets to establish rules of his own when he must answer for his misdeeds.
In GayLand, Louis CK has a superpower to force his rules down other people’s throats. He forces his way onto a stage. He forces people to stay and watch him. He forces them to laugh and applaud. He is the embodiment of comic omnipotence, using his mad powers to force an unwilling audience to endure his narrative.
How long should a man like Louis C.K. pay for what he did? At least as long as he worked to silence the women he assaulted and at least as long as he allowed them to doubt themselves and suffer in the wake of his predation and at least as long as the comedy world protected him even though there were very loud whispers about his behavior for decades.
Or as long as people don’t wish to watch him. Gay’s problem isn’t with Louis CK. Gay’s problem is with people not doing as she and her sister scolds command, to hate him, to punish him, to force him to perform acts of contrition that they would impose. How dare people sit there and laugh at this man whom Gay commands be shunned and hated?
We need to figure out what justice looks like in the court of public opinion, not for the sake of the offenders, but for the sake of victims. It is painful to know Louis C.K. simply strolled into a comedy club and did a set as if he hadn’t admitted to masturbating in front of women, as if for sport.
To the extent there is any actual thought in her words, “we” did exactly that. The “we” in this instance was the audience, the petit jury in the court of public opinion. Much as scolds like Gay have anointed themselves the keepers of the faith, the verdict was in. And Gay can’t stand it that the “we” won’t abide her fury, won’t do as she commands them to do.
It is painful to witness the familiar narrative of transgressions coming to light, the perpetrator maybe facing opprobrium and before long, plotting a “comeback” where all is seemingly forgiven. It is painful that these men think they are so vital to the culture that the public wants them to come back. Whatever private acts of contrition these men, and a few women, might make to their victims demands a corresponding public act of contrition, one offered genuinely, rather than to save face or appease the crowd. Until then, they don’t deserve restorative justice or redemption. That is the price they must pay for the wrong they have done.
The audience at that comedy club sat in judgment of Louis CK. Gay got what she pretends to ask for, the judgment of people outside the mob that follows her lead, and they rendered their verdict: Louis CK paid the price for the wrong he did, and now they’re laughing at his jokes again. And they’re laughing at scolds like Gay, who can’t figure out why people won’t always do as she commands.
I won’t go see Louis CK. I wouldn’t before. I won’t now. But not because some scold tells me I can’t. If Louis CK never played another room, I wouldn’t lose a minute’s sleep. But if you agree with Gay, that he hasn’t suffered to her satisfaction, then don’t see him either. But you can’t command other people that they can’t see him if they want to. The court of public opinion has no judge, and Roxane Gay is no more entitled to impose sentence than anyone else, or hold you in contempt for refusing to abide her sentence.