The big problem with Louis C.K.’s ‘apology’
THE news just kept coming after last week's New York Times report that five women had come forward to accuse Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct, specifically masturbating in front of them. Netflix has now cancelled a planned stand-up special, indie distributor The Orchard put the planned release of C.K.'s feature film I Love You, Daddy on hold, and finally, C.K. released a statement to the press saying that the accusations were true and expressing regret for his actions.
Perhaps inevitably, the merits of C.K.'s apology are being weighed publicly, and there's a good amount of dissatisfaction out there.
"i never showed a woman my dick without asking first" is included in louis c.k.'s statement. "i'm sorry" is not https://t.co/HthieBK74g— DELIA PAUNESCU (@delia_p) November 10, 2017
It's a thorny situation, dealing with the apology of someone who's done such awful things. You want to believe in people's best selves, in humanity's capacity for regret and contrition and rehabilitation and forgiveness. But you've only just been made aware of this same person's worst self. It can feel like whiplash being then asked to accept a public apology, to give the offender some modicum of credit. It doesn't help, then, when the apology seems so … "writerly," would be the word in the case of C.K.'s six-paragraph would-be mea culpa.
These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my d**k without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your d**k isn't a question. It's a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.
"These stories are true" is a good, unambiguous start, and while it's true that the words ""I'm sorry" aren't there explicitly, C.K. makes repeated statements of regret. But it's the way in which the statement (of which the above paragraph is merely the beginning) feels like a monologue in a Louie episode. It's self-eviscerating, yes, but it feels very careful to make sure certain things are said. Like "I never showed a woman my d**k without asking first," which is simultaneously distancing from the harrassment of his actions and also a gratuitously crass way of putting it.
It all feels like the performance of apology without the apology.
C.K.'s comedy has always been about bracing "truths" that elicit as many gasps as they do laughs; Louie the series was (in part) about exploring issues of masculinity that indicted the Louie character as often as they exonerated him. The bluntness of saying "showed a woman my d**k" in the apology is either genuine lack of beating around the bush or else an attempt to appear more serious about his apology by not beating around the bush. On Slate, Willa Paskin describes the TV series Louie in retrospect as "propaganda for Louis C.K.'s decency." He didn't need to make his character on that show look clean in order to make Louis C.K. the writer/creator look good, or smart, or honest.
Similarly, there are the repeated mentions of C.K. using his power as someone who was widely admired by women. There are lots of ways that Louis C.K. wielded power over these women, not the least of which is that he's a man of fairly imposing frame. His success created a power structure not simply of admiring women and admired man. His status meant he wielded influence. That influence has the power to punish or silence even by implication. But "admired" is the word C.K. used, perhaps because it paints the picture he wants painted. When we're talking about scenarios where C.K. was literally getting off at captive, subordinate audience, the implications of this insistence that he was admired are pretty unsettling.
It shouldn't be diminished that C.K.'s wholesale admission of guilt in this situation is far preferable to lies or vicim-blaming or coming out of the closet to deflect attention. But it's also not mere nitpicking to say that an extended apology that drops two "d**k"s and stresses your victims' admiration for you five times does appear like it's painting a picture. Louis C.K.'s art has never required making himself look clean to make himself look good.
This story originally appeared on Decider and is republished here with permission.