Louis CK has returned to performing in public. This is of course distinct from his semi-private performances which ultimately landed him in trouble.
Naturally the reaction has followed the standard template. Outrage walks hand in hand with trite expressions of forgiveness. At one end of the self-righteous spectrum a corporate hack announced that CK’s being banished was a workplace safety issue, as if a man exposing his dick to you was the equivalent of being ordered to suck down copious amounts of cancer causing particles, or to keep working for crap wages to pay for your crap apartment, and choose between rent and food.
It is in other words, the sort of comment that provokes mouth breathing, knuckle dragging reactionaries, to start screaming about left tard precious snowflakes, and bellowing, sucks to your assmar as they fight for the conch shell.
Perspective seems to be a rare commodity.
Which bring us to Dave Chappelle.*
In particular we are revisiting a brief set he did at the time of CK’s exposure (so to speak) and his subsequent (temporary) banishment from polite society – you know, the world currently defined by assorted acts of slow motion genocide, children in cages, and environmental collapse.
Chappelle made it clear that he thought CK’s behavior was wrong, but he also made it clear that a step in any one direction, and the whole picture changes.
For example, giving voice to the woman who had told the New York Times that CK had masturbated while she was on the phone with him, Chappelle asked, rhetorically: Don’t you know how to hang up a phone?
The counterargument is predictably, that the disparity in power rendered her freedom of action, limited if not terminally controlled. That is in fact, the very thing CK said about his behavior – that it caused a paralyzing moral dilemma based on the power disparity between his fame and their lack of fame. Except, as Chappelle then said, maybe you’re just weak? In other words (as we have asked repeatedly): Can’t more than one thing be true – even at the same time?
Expanding on this question, Chappelle examined the point made by another woman, that CK’s action had ended her dream of being a stand up comedian. To that Chappelle said: I dare say madam, perhaps your dream wasn’t very strong.
He then expanded the frame by mentioning the FBI’s notorious neo-fascist adventure otherwise known as COINTELPRO – the vast system of surveillance and blackmail used by America’s most famous cross dressing thug, J. Edgar Hoover, to keep the “subversives” in line or risk having their sexual habits exposed.
Chappelle connected this to Hoover’s attempts to blackmail Dr. King who was, as Chapelle says, fucking a lot of bitches.
Imagine, he says, if that had caused Dr. King to abandon his dream.
The counter argument would be, that Chappelle is exaggerating and using the vast difference in scale between an offended, would be stand up, and an icon, to make an absurd and therefore illegitimate point.
Except, he anchors the point in his personal experience.
Don’t forget, he says, who I am or what I am. If Louis CK’s dick is enough to make you abandon your ambition, then what am I, a Black man in America supposed to do in the face of the tyrannical violence I must endure? How am I supposed to navigate the brutal realities of the economic thunder dome that is show business? (Which is of course a subcategory within the economic gulag of America Incorporated).
The counter to that, one assumes, is some variation of saying that two wrongs don’t make a right, which would be a valid argument if it was in fact, a response to Chappelle’s point.
There is, he is saying, a sense of entitlement, and privilege, relative to the wider catastrophes of contemporary America, inherent in both the sense of outrage and the punishment dealt out to CK. And a corollary to entitlement is a blind disregard for the wider dilemma.
Chappelle also aims his rhetorical cannon at The New York Times as well, highlighting not just the almost rococo style of their breathless reporting, but in doing so he exposes the ways in which power is a system of interconnected and arbitrary impositions of control, that claim to be objective.
The Times is (it claims) the paper of record, and when they decide something is important a narrative is created. As a result other narratives go missing.
Chappelle’s point then becomes, where was the breathless outrage over the daily abuse he endured and, as he says when he walked away from 50 million dollars and effectively set his career on fire, there were no guarantees he would ever be able to return and be successful.
The ironic point being that he walked away from 50 million dollar so it’s not as if he was working a minimum wage gig. To which we assume he would respond – yeah and how many shit sandwiches did I have to eat to reach that point. And of course, it’s a valid point – no one handed him the cash just because he said, I’m here.
And so we close the circle.
It need not be an either or, binary situation, but it’s Chappelle who is making that argument, not The Times or the women to whom CK was rude. It’s Chappelle who is expanding the context and widening the perspective.
Through cynical and cheap sentiment, ideas like, I complained about not having shoes until I saw the man without legs, lose their power to inform and to assist in the creation of a sense of proportion, so that you can distinguish between a serious moral dilemma, and needing to just hang up the fucking phone. Or taking the phone and saying to the guy with the dick in his hand – see this phone? Zip up or I’ll shove this down your throat – and damn the consequences because sometimes, fighting for what’s right is more important than getting a deal for your own show on HBO.
For a look at CK’s return see the following:
For a look at Chappelle:
For a glimpse into the narrow precincts of The Guardian’s narrow vision, see the following:
*The Ink had committed the writerly equivalent of not realising your pants had an embarrassing tear or stain or both and had posted “Chappelle” as “Chapelle.” We regret the error. Typos, a defective motherboard, bad spelling, and worse editing, are among the banes of our existence.