So there’s a murdering, rapist pimp being celebrated at the Louvre for his genius.
Bit of a problem of course because his name’s not Roman Polanski or Weinstein but Caravaggio.
Caravaggio’s The Dormition of The Virgin hangs in the Louvre alongside a dozen or so of his other paintings. The rumor has been for centuries that Caravaggio used a dead whore as a model for the Virgin. And there are other works hanging in the museum by other assholes many of whom, like Caravaggio, were paid in blood money. By gangsters who murdered, raped, and stole. Or had sex with members of their family. And generally treated women like slaves.
Which brings me to Louis CK.
A few years ago Louis told a story on Conan O’Brien’s show about riding a crowded bus in NYC and having to stand and realizing that his zipper was down and his crotch was at eye level with a guy sitting in front of him. It struck me then, in the wake of stories about his seemingly uncontrollable urge to take it out* in front of women, that the story, while funny, was an open door (so to speak) into CK’s psychology.
I thought then, and think now, he should get some help for that because it suggested the rumors were true.
Which brings me to the growing witch hunt in which CK and I’m sure others, will soon find their lives essentially destroyed.
CK is accused, without proof, that he masturbated over the phone while speaking to several women and that he stripped naked, and masturbated in front of two women in his hotel room.
I have no doubt the stories are true. (Even without proof – the stories just sound believable, and as this is being written CK has confirmed them).
I have no doubt the women in question were upset by what happened.
However, despite insistence to the contrary, it’s not rape, it’s not necessarily about intimidation, or humiliating the viewer, though, it could be about those things.
And to be clear, while it seems (the details are murky) none of the women worked directly for CK, it’s not as if the stand up industry is so vast that a major figure like CK wouldn’t have connections that could threaten someone’s ability to get a job. But, and this is crucial, he didn’t threaten anyone.
In fact, according to the New York Times story, the women making the accusations are in several cases stating that when told no, CK dropped the issue, and that in another case, a woman agreed, and that in yet another instance CK again asked, and when told the answer was no, did not force her to watch and walked away.
So far, none of his accusers have said they were held hostage either on the phone or in the hotel room. And in regards to the incident in the hotel room, the question that has to be asked is: Why did they stay? Once he had his shirt off, exactly what did they think was going to happen next? How long does it take before you realize this guy is doing the full CK? And once everything is off and he’s down to business, exactly how long does it take before you bolt?
And did he lock the door? Was there a phone in the room. There were two of them…they say they were “paralyzed.” It’s certainly possible and yet…it’s also possible that one could ask: Why didn’t you leave?
Which brings us to Jessica Valenti of The Guardian. Ms. Valenti apparently knows how to read minds.
Here’s what she says about CK:
“I’ve heard male friends express relief that CK wasn’t accused of rape; as if on the spectrum of harassment and assault, what he did wasn’t as horrific as other kinds of assault. As one man responded to Buzzfeed’s culture reporter Anne Helen-Petersen, “I thought this was going to be career ending. Some women really need to stop wasting people’s time…
And on a Reddit forum dedicated to the comedian, one fan wrote, “it’s not Cosby or Weinstein or Kevin Spacey behavior…it sounds like was lonely and desperate.”
Well, newsflash for Ms. Valenti. It’s not rape and it is absolutely not as horrific as rape. Which is why it’s not treated as a felony but rape is. Unless the person watching or is being coerced into watching and is under the age of consent. In which case CK should be prosecuted for it and face the full consequences of the law being broken.
And in addition to the legal distinction that must be made it is essential to make a moral distinction as well. Equating what he did, however rude, with rape denigrates victims of actual rape and creates an atmosphere of paralysis in which everything is fear and everything is terror and no action is possible, except the frenzy of the mob and the moral cul de sac of the circular firing squad. The immediate counter-argument will no doubt be, some version of, women always live in a state of fear. Except that’s not true and even if it were true, everyone lives with a sense of dread – environmental anxiety, terrorism anxiety, poisonous water/food anxiety, job loss anxiety, and so on. The vast gulag of post-industrial terror takes no prisoners. But in regards to men and women, the irony being that it was CK who said: Men are afraid women will humiliate them and women are afraid men will kill them(1). True and yet not completely true. In other words there are shades of grey. We despise gross generalizations – about minorities and religious faith but here’s Ms. Valenti telling us the broad brush is not only acceptable, it’s a moral imperative.
Louis CK does sound desperate. He does sound lonely. He sounds pathetic(2) and in need of help but he did not rape anyone and legally, the two women in the hotel room would have to answer to the fact that as they did not make any effort to leave, and that because there was nothing physically preventing them from leaving, they in effect gave their consent.
The law is a trainwreck. It’s indifference to how you feel is often sadistic.
But it’s the law. And they didn’t leave and he didn’t force them and he didn’t touch them or threaten them and we are experiencing a witch hunt because genuine predators like Harvey Weinstein have been let loose on the world which has been utterly complicit in enabling him to rape and attack and threaten dozens of women. And as we’ve said elsewhere this is also true of Polanski who drugged and raped a 13 year old girl. But has been lauded by many of his peers all the same.
But CK didn’t drug anyone. He didn’t assault anyone. He didn’t threaten anyone. He didn’t pay anyone off or suggest they’d lose their jobs. Though his agent may have and the agent of someone as powerful as CK doesn’t have to make his threats overt to make them effective. But, the law requires evidence because if it doesn’t then we can just change the name of the country to Salem and be done with it.
CK did something stupid and is possibly guilty of harassment though, he may in fact not be guilty under the letter of the law and while that may be infuriating to many people, the law is not about what infuriates you it’s about the ugly compromises made to ensure some measure of the flimsy thing we call justice.
Ms. Valenti though does not see it that way.
She sees CK as being in the same category as Weinstein, and Judge Moore who apparently tried to have sex with a 14 year old girl. And more terrifying (sic!) is that she is setting up the counterargument. She is already decrying men who are pointing out that, like it or not, the law distinguishes between misdemeanors and felonies, and is claiming that anyone defending CK is guilty of defending rape. That what he did is as vile as an adult trying or actually having sex with a child.
Here’s Ms. Valenti quoting someone in regards to CK:
“Exposing yourself to women and masturbating without their consent is a form of a sexual harassment and abuse – it’s meant to intimidate and to humiliate. Alexandra Katehakis, the clinical director of the Center for Healthy Sex, told The Cut: “A man who does this kind of thing likes to see a woman feel terror and beg him to stop…There’s a sadism and a cruelty to it.”
She’s right, it is harassment. And it is treated as such legally. Unless of course the person watching gave their consent or tacitly gave their consent by not leaving when they had time and means to do so.
The law’s an asshole that way.
As to it being sadistic. Or the “idea” that a man who does it because he wants to inflict terror…well, I can think of plenty of reasons for doing it and while terror certainly could be on the spectrum of reasons, I’m pretty certain there are any number of other motivations as well including the possibility that the person doing it wants to be humiliated and intimidated. Or is well adjusted and enjoys being watched.
So, in other words, it’s about as sadistic as the dead whore hanging in the Louvre.
Perhaps Ms. Valenti would like to get some friends together and march into the museum and take the painting down and bring it outside…and burn it.
See Ms. Valenti’s article here:
And we would draw your attention to the people calling for CK to be shunned in perpetuity and who are claiming that because they are outraged, all men are guilty, CK should not have the benefit and protection of the law, and that rumor, innuendo and gossip are sufficient for administering “justice.”
Update (emphasis added): 11/10/17
“It’s a very strange world we’ve entered,” said Michèle Burke, who has won two Oscars for makeup. She welcomed the outpouring of stories as an overdue response to the casting couch culture but expressed unease at the velocity. “It’s really great that people are speaking up. But it’s like medieval times, dragging people out and throwing rotten fruit. There has to be some due process also.”
See the article here:
Louis CK’s statement:
Here’s Tyler Coats at Esquire making the case for demanding a moral litmus test for the art that’s acceptable versus the art that he, or someone else or some panel, will decide isn’t acceptable. What we would ask are we to do then with all the work paid for by the Medicis and the Borgias? Should we destroy the Sistine Chapel?
Consider this from the sage-like Mr. Coates:
“I don’t particularly care if you can—or cannot—separate the art from the artist. Like all art, the practice of doing so is subjective. It’s a case-by-case basis, as far as I’m concerned. But what I do know is this: There’s a lot of art in the world, and most of it is expendable.”
And most of it is expandable? I’m not sure but didn’t Mao have that tattooed on his ass?
Nicely done, Mr. Coates – he’s outraged except not really and besides, there’s a lot of art that can just be eliminated. Perhaps he can make a list of the art and the people who created it can get jobs cleaning the floors at Esquire.
And we note that crucially, there are conflicting versions of the story about CK and two women in a hotel room and that in one version he prevented them from leaving which if true changes the dynamic completely. In other versions he did not prevent them from leaving. If he did not prevent them from leaving then we maintain what we have written above. Here’s an unsubstantiated version from 2015.
And here’s a Guardian piece that starts off as thoughtful analysis of the wider moral dilemma and ends up removing its own spine:
1. People like to point out that Margaret Atwood said it, except that a look into the origins of the phrase show that a man said it to her and she wrote it down. But why quibble. It’s still a telling phrase.
2. We’ve been conditioned to say CK was pathetic or some version of that to signal our moral disapproval but, is it really pathetic? In the first instance this gets back to rejecting the misandrist view that what he did is the equivalent of rape. Secondly, once you accept a spectrum of action and emotion it really doesn’t seem pathetic. Poor judgement? Certainly. Lacking self-awareness? Probably and certainly given how thoughtful he is, it suggests both a blind spot in his self-awareness that was large enough to drive a truck through and still have room to spare and a blind spot in the wider culture.
For a thoughtful discussion of Louis CK and related issues see the following:
you have to wade through a fair amount of faux journalism but it’s worth it to get to the paragraphs where Sean Penn makes several interesting points about #MeToo.
*So what do we say about this: