Seppuku — When Sex Offenders Want the Spotlight Back

via Wikimedia Commons

It’s my understanding that there are only two reasons for Japanese ritual suicide: to atone for your own sins and/or to restore honor to your family.

But if harakiri were a metaphor Louis C.K. doesn’t seem to realize he did it to himself. That’s kind of how suicide works. And I don’t care how quietly he’s trying to scoop up his own entrails and stuff them back in. There’s a difference between a timeout and a forfeit. You can’t un-suicide your career no matter how many remaining fans are willing to help you pick up your intestines.

Instead of someone nobly sacrificing themselves to restore family honor, this jackass just got outed. And instead of just climbing onto an ice float and shoving himself away from society, Louis C.K. is slinking back onto small stages, quietly holding his metaphorical entrails and we’re all supposed to stand here worried about how to shove the intestines back in? Hard pass.

He suicided (yes! it’s a verb!) his own career. And maybe every time an admitted sex offender steps down from their own reigns a new aspiring actor or director or comedian or writer gets their wings.

Maybe he’s an easy beta-male fan favorite to defend because his “grey-area” transgressions were non-violent. But nobody wants to see your dick at work. Chris Rosenthall puts it well: “ … you may feel like the Zack Morris of your industry, but you’re actually Mr. Belding — keep that in mind at all times. Whether you’re an accountant, television host or stand-up comedian, you’re now in a tremendous position of power, and to paraphrase the immortal saying, with great power comes great responsibility not to pull your G.D. dick out whenever you freaking feel like it.”

But focusing on the comeback of the pervert and the preoccupation with “our” need to forgive them after their “time served” implies that they’re the victims. They’re not. They’re the ones who risked everything they built and forfeited it by victimizing other people.

I didn’t live in the South long enough to claim “ain’t” as my natural vernacular. But. Please allow me to say we ain’t gotta worry about Louis C.K. or his career. None of the Career Forfeiters are so luminary that our culture is now somehow ‘less than’ without them. When the first dominoes started to fall after Harvey Weinstein, interviewers kept asking the wrong question — When can they come back?

To be clear, even geniuses can let the door hit their ass on the way out. If it comes to pass that Coppola himself was a serial sex offender I wouldn’t love The Godfather any less. But I wouldn’t be wringing my hands about his return to the director’s chair either. With seven billion people taking up space even the most illustrious among us are eminently replaceable.

When we ask how long celebrity offenders must be exiled, how much punishment must they endure before they can return to the spotlight we are presuming that they should return at all.

My question to those bemoaning the apparently excessive ostracizing of male celebrities, especially those who’ve admitted to wrongdoing, is: How many times can a woman “accidentally” falsely accuse men before she is ostracized from society? Can she apologize her way back to the same social status she occupied before her accidental transgressions?

Just for fun, and not at all to explore carbon-dated double standards, what if a woman serially makes false accusations, is “caught”, so to speak, after multiple victims finally come forward with the same creepy story. What if she admits to “not realizing” or “not fully appreciating the impact of her actions” until it was spelled out for her by her victims and a now intolerant public. How long must she sit in the corner and think about what she’s done before her career, income, reputation and relationships are fully restored to where they were before she committed offense after offense, before she ruined the lives of innocent men. We believe in rehabilitation, right? Or has she forfeited her right to participate in civilized society?

Men get to learn from their mistakes and women’s bodies, careers, time and energy are de facto “classrooms”. Which is a faulty metaphor because men with MOs are not making mistakes, they’re making choices. They apologize only when they get caught. And here we are, presupposing that of course the perverts should boomerang back. That the laws of physics dictate that wealthy white male celebrities spring back to their kingdoms if they’ve merely sat and thought about what they’ve done long enough, or, God forbid, not been earning money at the same level they were before their own transgressions became public knowledge. Because a man not earning the amount of money he’s accustomed to is a far greater punishment than whatever the women they’ve sexually harassed endured or lost.

Perhaps it’s easier to see this double standard without gendered pronouns. Let’s try it like this: If a person knowingly or otherwise commits wrongdoings against other people, particularly subordinates, if that person has a pattern of targeting vulnerable people, an MO for victimizing them and a cadre of powerful enablers, should that person’s life and career be fully restored after they’re caught?

And the silver screen isn’t the only bildungsroman where men grow at their female victims’ expense, where they “learn from” what they actually knew all along. But for the sake of their careers they must pretend like they have innocently erred, learned and grown.

I have worked as a waitress, a legal receptionist and a grant writer. I would like to say that no one has ever taken their dick out in those workplaces but I unfortunately worked for an attorney with his own Louis C.K.-esque predilections. Sometimes when he and I were working late he would walk around the office naked as a jaybird but for a pair of dress socks. I can’t speak for the women who detailed C.K.’s misconduct last year but I can say that when something astonishingly incongruous happens the frontal cortex can struggle to make sense of what your eyes are clearly seeing.

Do not be distracted by the apologists saying that women who didn’t immediately verbally protest or physically leave professional situations that became spontaneously sexualized were tacitly consenting. I speak from experience when I say they were in shock. Silence doesn’t equal consent any more than lace-front thongs do.

It’s not ok to sexualize the workplace in any industry, in any office, restaurant, hotel, orchard, field, private residence or any other place where people show up to get paid for agreed-upon work. And if some pervert does it is not the responsibility of any victim to course-correct for the pervert.

Sure, much of Hollywood cavorts like Renaissance popes, indulging their appetites with impunity, but it’s still not ok to expose yourself to aspiring actors any more than it is to a 22-year-old receptionist-ing her way through college. And because we have to spell everyfuckingthing out to avoid the “but what about the grey area” degenerates looking for plausible deniability, sexual misconduct is misconduct whether it’s Hollywood or not, whether there’s a power differential or not. What my boss did was wrong. But it would have also been wrong for a coworker too.

Unfortunately, it is no surprise that compulsive maturbateur Louis C.K. took advantage of unsuspecting audiences just the way he did unsuspecting women when he decided to return to the comedy club circuit. He didn’t announce his intentions, he didn’t ask permission and he certainly didn’t confirm consent. While he didn’t say this, I gather that his step “down” to playing small-venue circuit clubs was his apology. He felt he was demonstrating that he was willing to start at the bottom, all over again, to earn his way back up to the top. Aww.

But of course that is only about him. It is not an attempt at any kind of restorative redirect for the women he exposed himself too. It has nothing to do with the trajectory of those women’s careers. It’s still all about him. He might not have pulled his redheaded dick out this time but he did slink on stage when people had paid to see other comedians.

Ansari isn’t springing performances on audiences like a certain redheaded exhibitionist. People can pay to attend by choice.

“Men like Louis C.K. may be creators of art, but they are also destroyers of it. They have crushed the ambition of women and, in some cases, young men — boys — in the industry, robbing them of their own opportunities.” Amanda Hess says in her in-depth analysis, How the Myth of the Artistic Genius Excuses the Abuse of Women.

She offers insight that is exquisitely simple: “If a piece of art is truly spoiled by an understanding of the conditions under which it is made, then perhaps the artist was not quite as exceptional as we had thought.”

And perhaps neither is the art.

twitter @h_m_edwards unsplash @heathermedwards

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