Here’s a riddle for you. Say you’re a hugely successful public figure, one who has made lots of money, won shelves full of awards, and become iconic as a Voice of Your Generation. You cast a wide shadow not only for your work but for your carefully crafted persona as a Smart Man, one who is painfully aware of his faults and uses them for artistically enriching experiences. Sure, there are a few rumours going around about you but most people prize your work so much, not to mention your stridently feminist points-of-view, that they’re willing to let gossip be just that. And then all of a sudden it’s not. Your crimes are outed and the backlash is swift. You issue a pseudo-apology, one that angers people further, then go quiet as you plan your return to your stomping ground.
Do you A) take some time to seriously consider the consequences of your actions, apologize with true emotional weight and find a way to make tangible amends to those you hurt and the community at large that prized you so much, or do you B) make a pivot into Fox News friendly ‘Political Correctness Gone Mad’ jokes about pronouns and kids who survived a school shooting, placing the emphasis on everyone but you is wrong?
You don’t need me to tell you which route Louis CK chose, as evidenced by recently leaked audio from a set he did.
Louis CK, 2017: "I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen"— Mike Pearl (@MikeLeePearl) December 31, 2018
Louis CK, 2018: pic.twitter.com/2qN1RrbgPH
What was so disheartening about this sharp turn into Reddit friendly territory was how predictable it was. Writer Sady Doyle noted on Twitter that, ‘I wrote back in August that Louis CK’s only conceivable “comeback” was to become the kind of hacky, shitty, “what is UP with GENDER PRONOUNS” comic that rapists can see as “their voice” and that his previous career was built on subverting. Here he is.’ We saw something similar with Aziz Ansari this year. The jokes weren’t quite this Dennis Miller-esque but the basis intent was the same: Attack the same marginalized groups and left-wing activist mentality that dared to call out your bullsh-t. The same men who so prized being the sensible voices in the room, the ones who talked about their own complicit behaviour in patriarchy, are almost always the first ones to reject that attitude in favour of the exact opposite view when it proves beneficial for them to do so.
And it’s so easy for them to make that change. All that was required of Louis CK was getting caught. Remember, this is a man who cornered women, some of whom were colleagues or comedy contemporaries, and forced them to watch him masturbate. His continued presence on the comedy scene, aided by friends and club owners, isn’t just an issue of morality and misogyny: It’s a public health concern. It’s a matter of workplace safety. CK can talk all he wants about the responsibilities he’s had to deal with in the aftermath of his outing - a big part of that new show is him claiming he has nothing left to lose anymore - but he’s not an idiot: He knows the power that he continues to possess and the consequences of how he wields it. He was not bereft of options and still he chose to become one of those comedians.
The problem with being a male ally is that it requires work. You don’t get to adopt the mantle then do nothing about it. But when you’re an anti-PC freeze peach warrior who thinks screaming about your own edginess makes you possess such qualities, then everything is free and easy. Becoming a right-wing blowhard pandering to the worst excesses and attacking those who called you out is the easiest way to cultural martyrdom for men like Louis CK.
And the sad thing is that women are oh so very used to this shtick.
We went through it with Jian Ghomeshi. We experienced it with Hugo Schwyzer. Jamie Kilstein was a left wing hero thanks to Citizen Radio but I can’t say many of us were truly shocked when he was let go from the show because of disturbing allegations about his alleged predatory behaviour. We know this game like the back of our hand: Cultivate a progressive persona that not only makes you relatable and heroic but places you at the centre of every cultural conversation, then abandon it when the veil drops in favour of the same tired cranky old man routine that can be found in every comments section.
And people wonder why so many women don’t trust self-styled male allies anymore. Remember, even Harvey Weinstein patted himself on the back for the ‘strong female roles’ he produced for actresses he preyed on. Are you out of touch? No, it’s the women who are wrong. Why is everyone so sensitive about guys who use male ally personas to gain women’s trust to manipulate, abuse and coerce them?
Being an ally is work. It’s a constantly evolving process that requires complete dedication to educating yourself and understanding that you don’t get to be the centre of the conversation. It’s about amplifying others above yourself and knowing when best to shut up. But a lot of cishet white dudes with money can’t or won’t make that sacrifice. They see allyship as a mutually beneficial transaction. He’s nice to you so you congratulate him loudly to ensure everyone knows about his good work. When think-pieces are written on feminism in comedy, you make sure to keep CK at the centre because he’s so famous and beloved and doing the bare minimum.
For CK and men like him, allyship was merely a nice coat they could put on now and then, one they could dispose of with ease in favour of something far more incendiary and far less interesting. And the sad thing is we all knew this would happen on some level. We just expect it to. Our lives and welfare are but accessories for such men, ones that come in and out of fashion depending on their potential to make money and garner headlines. We could be here all day dissecting CK’s years of comedy and I know there are plenty of cases to be made that he was always like this, but the point is that he managed to carefully convince the masses for the longest time that he wasn’t. We bought his persona because he told us to and because we are conditioned to blindly swallow the illusion of allyship, especially when it’s wrapped up in ‘genius’.
Ultimately, Louis CK will be fine. His new persona will appeal well to misogynists and right-wingers who believe basic human decency is an affront to their beliefs. He’ll probably end up on Fox News at some point lamenting how ‘real left wingers’ are too sensitive these days, then he’ll find his way to Joe Rogan podcasts and the like with the same twisted mantra. Comedy clubs will give him plenty of outlets and there will always be people who think throwing money at a self-confessed serial sexual harasser is the best way to own the libs. Never mind that the jokes aren’t funny - and the staggering lack of imagination he possesses in that leaked audio, alongside his sloppy delivery and lack of real insight, is further proof of how low the bar is set for men like him - because now he gets to be the angry wronged man with a polemic to sell, and we’ve seen the eager audiences for such mentalities. Men like Louis CK will always be able to guzzle up the oxygen in the room. He’ll simply be another reminder of why trust has become so increasingly difficult a concept for women looking for allies.
Header Image Source: Getty Images.