I am saddened and disappointed by the news that my hero Louis CK forced women to watch him masturbate. And I am also put in a weird position of bargaining his crimes against the crimes of others, hoping Louis can come back from this.
What we are seeing with these news stories about powerful men abusing others, I believe, is the coupling between two phenomena: how power changes us, and how our nature definitely contains a complicated sexuality.
Power changes you. That’s the rule. It’s a rule that’s been known as long as humans have been around. All men can overcome adversity, as Abraham Lincoln put it “but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
It’s also been well studied that power robs you of empathy and the emotional skills needed to read others. So if power changes you for the better, that’s the exception to the rule.
These stories of powerful men abusing others all share the common theme that they used their power for selfish purposes. Those men are just human. It should not surprise us as much that even great people can have great flaws.
Those flaws can be a million times worse when there’s power involved. By definition their power meant they have more control to further whatever desire they wish, including selfish sexual desires, even dark ones they would have normally hid from the world, never letting it out.
But with power, they could exert influence over events and other people. Even George Takei, wholesome paragon as he is, stammered a response to Howard Stern that sounded like he was realizing in real-time that he sexually coerced a young man.
Humans are always going to have that primitive pervert ape in some form on some level within us, but we should work towards learning about all our aspects and committing to the good ones. We should work toward not being hypocrites about our nature.
That’s how I’ve approached these stories.
Why would Bill Cosby, one of the most successful comedians, risk his legacy and fame and fortune by drugging unconscious and raping women? Why would Harvey Weinstein throw his weight onto vulnerable young women whose futures he controlled?
The answer is because our DNA is older than our belief systems and if we don’t reconcile what it means to be human, flaws and all, we will continue to see the stories either in the news or, worse, not at all because this calling out of sexual predators is just another passing media fad.
Despite all that, in Louis’ case, I expected better. At first hearing the story, I thought, “even if they wanted to, why’s that hot for someone to watch you jack off?” but I’m not Louis, and I don’t have that kind of power over people.
Louis CK, unlike others, did admit own his mistakes though. Takei blamed Russia, Weinstein blamed the NRA, Spacey came out, Cosby claimed blindness, and for someone as thoughtful and seemingly decent as Louis CK was, it will be interesting to watch Louis reconcile with his behaviour. I think we can all learn from that.
Louis’ statement owning the accusations is telling:
The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly…
I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think that I was doing any of that because my position allowed me not to think about it.
Power changed Louis, and not for the better. It insulated him from having to square with himself what he did. Can this explain how Cosby and others continued their predatory behaviour time after time, knowing they were insulated from the risk of losing it all? We can learn from this.
Ultimately it is too early to speculate how it will go with Louis, but for him more than others I expected better. It also has me thinking about, with current information, what were the nature and severity of his crimes, especially stacked up against others?
Our culture has been ambivalent at best about what crimes we look down on by celebrities. Paul Walker dated teenagers and that went completely under the radar. Roman Polanski still gets standing ovations despite sodomizing a drugged 13-year old. Woody Allan would climb in bed with his daughter and get her to suck his thumb. Our culture has basically sacrificed children to Michael Jackson.
People were shocked and outraged by pictures of a bruised and cut Rihanna after being beaten by Chris Brown but there were still legions of fans willing to overlook the violence. Regardless of the reconciliation that happened between the Rihanna and Chris, ignoring things like how much influence and power they both had at such a young age, or how far likelier younger couples are to being violent toward each other, many people easily rationalized overlooking the crimes.
And we make these little bargains with other celebrities too. Roman Polanski was so long ago. Michael Jackson was never found guilty. Chris and Rihanna got back together. Louis merely masturbated in front of five women. It’s the same sort of celebrity worship that late comedian Patrice O’Neal jokingly pleaded “can I still listen to ‘Thriller’? Maybe he wasn’t doing it then.”
This is not really a forgiving attitude either, it’s that we want to sweep under the rug uncomfortable facts. It’s why priests of the Catholic Church sexually abused children for decades and why the institution covered it up and why people believed in the cover up so it could all go away. Our attitudes are broken.
There’s also a strange thing I noticed that also happened after Philip Seymour Hoffman, another hero of mine, died from a heroin overdose. It’s like they owed us more.
Both Hoffman and Louis were so talented, and impacted my life in a positive way reaping the fruits of their labour, that I feel if not cheated then disappointed I cannot reap those fruits any longer. When they fail or die early, I am robbed of future labour, and that’s a strange kind of celebrity worship.
But ultimately, I remind myself, they are human. Their flaws are not absolved or reconciled because they are famous and talented. They do not owe us, their fans, people they will never know or meet, anything. These talented people owe it to themselves to fix their flaws, and that pursuit of working on yourself is complicated by wealth, power, and fame.
Now, can any of these talented men come back?
Spacey of course can’t come back, his victims were too young. Weinstein can’t come back because his darker self was a little darker than most. On and on it goes.
But can Louis come back? He has admitted the stories are true, and because they were not out and out physical crimes (more like crimes of sight?) then his path to healing is more manageable, I want to think. Ultimately his victims should get say in this process, how much I cannot say at this point.
But I want Louis to come back from this. I just wish he hadn’t done it at all.