There is something especially disheartening about someone being revealed as a bad person and the general response being one of complete non-surprise. That’s not to say that the impact is more or less than when such things occur in relation to people for whom their secret nature is a total shock, but over the past few months, I have become especially acquainted with the sensation of eerie calmness that has followed the news of so many major male celebrities being unmasked as harassers and abusers. Joan Didion famously talked of nobody being surprised at the news of the Tate-LaBianca murders, the frenzy of death and free love gone sour that signalled the true end of the 1960s. For me, that has been most of our post-Weinstein world, or indeed, everything since the Day Donald Trump announced his candidacy for President.
I felt this emotion with startling potency this week, as actor-comedian T.J. Miller, best known to audiences for HBO’s Silicon Valley, was accused of beating an ex-girlfriend and strangling her during sex. Later, an adult film star accused him of further sexual harassment, and Miller has denied both accusations. Some men’s abuses stunned us, some perplexed us with their unlikeliness of it, and others felt so inevitable that we were surprised it took this long. I remember every tweet sharing the story of Miller being accompanied by near identical messages, or at least variations of the phrase, of, ‘I’m not surprised’. Of course, we can never predict the private lives or scandals of people, and speculation on such things without a basis of fact can lead to darkness, but with Miller, he had already given us so many clues. For the past year, he seemed determined to let everyone know that he was a bad person.
After leaving the successful show that helped to make his name, Miller gave an interview with Vulture, wherein he seemed to delight in stirring the pot and crafting as abrasive a public persona as possible: He dismissed Aziz Ansari with a comparison to Dane Cook; says women aren’t as funny as men because ‘They’re taught to suppress their sense of humor during their formative years’, and goes on exhausting tangents about capitalism, philosophy, and Evian water. All of this followed a burn-the-bridges piece with the Hollywood Reporter, which featured some digs at his former show and a possibly self-aware understanding of how stupid it was to do a film called The Emoji Movie. All in all, the impression you get reading these pieces is that Miller is not a good guy, and that interviewing him is a thankless task.
Still, Miller’s star rose: He had a supporting role in the smash hit Deadpool, and he landed a part in a Steven Spielberg epic, the upcoming Ready Player One. This climb to the top was occasionally punctuated by stories from comedy clubs and live events where Miller was rude, hostile and aggressive toward patrons. Lena Anderson tweeted about seeing Miller at a comedy show earlier this year, alleging he was ‘completely wasted and continually picked only on women in the audience. Some got so upset they cried, and the @ComedyCellarNYC managers had to pull him off stage.’ JC Coccoli, who says she used to date him in 2009, tweeted about how she used to be afraid of him and how others had warned her about his behaviour, while Sofiya Alexandra, a writer and comedian, said he was an open secret in the comedy world akin to Louis C.K. @ShamitaJay said she had been ‘telling everyone TJ Miller is a garbage human since he hosted the Crunchies years ago and made incredibly derogatory remarks toward women in tech WHILE PRESENTING THEM AWARDS?!’
I could go on further with instances like this. Just Google them or search his name on Twitter. There are many more than I care to list in this piece. T.J. Miller is not a good man, and he’s spent an awful lot of time trying to ensure that as many people as possible understand that. The echoes of Harvey Weinstein are all over Miller’s stained past: Bad behaviour, so frequently directed at women, rudeness, aggression, entitlement, and all of it sold as a package deal with genius. To refer to the worst of these men as geniuses in any way feels like an insult. There’s no level of intellectual or creative superiority that denotes cruelty and abuse as an acceptable trait, and besides, most of these figures are mediocre at best. Nobody needs to protect the artistic sanctity of The Emoji Movie by overlooking Miller’s aggression.
So many of these men scream their awfulness from the rooftops: Weinstein’s behaviour with the biggest stars in the industry was so well known that it became Hollywood lore; Woody Allen and Louis C.K. delight in toying with critics and audiences through inserting real-life allusions into their work, the kind of things many painstakingly try to avoid for fear of not separating the art from the artist; Trump’s decades of vile behaviour and rhetoric are more extensively documented than most major world events, yet it was dismissed as bluster or an act or exciting bravado by swaths of citizens. For Miller, his nastiness was excused as part of an act, an Andy Kaufman-style comedic persona that was part douchebag, part philosopher. It was easy to overlook the hard to stomach parts because comedy is supposed to be edgy, so they say, and if you can’t take the heat then get out of the club. There will always be excuses, justifications, an endless assembly line of reasons that these dudes can’t be all that bad, even as they go out of their way to assure us that yes, that douchebag act isn’t just an act. I wish I were more astounded by how often abusers get away with their crimes by disguising themselves with the truth.
A lot of us have been chastised over the years for listening to our gut instinct when it comes to people who just set off alarm bells in our head. We’re told it’s rude to judge people and we shouldn’t assume the worst, even as the world has trained us to do so. The same goes for our frequently elaborate systems of whispers and warnings we send to one another, be it a quick email about the new guy in the office we heard bad things about, or just a tap on the shoulder in a bar to check that everything’s going okay with that uncomfortable blind date. Our good faith is never assumed, yet the worst men in the heights of power can declare their brutishness to the world and at best it will become part of their legend. Perhaps it’s time for us, when such bad men tell us they’re bad, to simply believe them.