Let’s unzip Louis CK’s NY Times baggy-pants ‘apology,’
We had grown accustomed to the exponential perp parade of creepy men who won’t acknowledge their disgusting behavior, never mind apologize for it. We didn’t buy it when they got caught with their pants down in public and blamed their egregious behavior on the culture of generational confusion. Or alcoholism. Or “I was going through a bad time in my life.” Or when they play the I’m-getting-mental-health-treatment card. That last deflection doesn’t fly any better than blaming epidemic gun violence on killers with the mental health issues. We don’t see women in the US, or mentally ill people in Australia, Canada or the United Kingdom shooting up churches, night clubs and schools.
CK’s confessional is the first full-on admission of guilt right from his opening “These stories are true” gambit. But his admission muddies the very dirty water of epidemic sexual predation by men in public and private arenas. And this time, the comment columns have been running the gamut of responses from At Least he’s apologizing, to the brutal red-pen edit of his ‘apology,’ to downright angry rants. That’s what’s different this time. A close reading might shed some light on why this is so.
CK’s essay contains many syntactical and language tricks that create cognitive dissonance. This is important to note because it was penned by a man whose entire stand-up is laced with language riffs, anchored in his preternatural understanding of the zeitgeist.
He begins his essay by breaking the current denial trend with “These stories are all true,” so we think this time a predator’s response will be different. We are set up to read it like a teacher who approaches a smart student’s paper.
But in CK’s piece, through some slight-of-hand word wrangling, he never actually apologizes to the women. “I have been remorseful of my actions,” is not the same asI’m Sorry. Nor, does he write directly 'to' the women he abused but speaks 'about' them. You know, like talking over our heads as if we’re not there.
And when he does refer to the women who came forward in the reporting by Melena Ryzik, Cara Buckley and Jodi Kantor, he fails to include his accusers’ last names. Perhaps it’s because he doesn’t seem to want us to know his. The full names of the women who have consented to have them forever inked around the globe, at great risk to themselves, are: Dana Min Goodman, Julia Wolov, Abby Schachner, and Rebecca Corry.
But he does cite his manager's full name. This juxtaposition diminishes the gravity of the situation by reducing the women to pal status – Dana, Julia, Abby and Rebecca – creating an unearned intimacy with them, while giving full formal respect to his complicit manager Dave Becky. Goodman and Wolov said Becky tried to silence them when they initially reported their encounters – “He was upset that they were talking about it openly.” CK exonerates Becky with: “he only tried to mediate a situation that I caused.”
CK further telegraphs how far from owning, if not understanding his egregious behavior he is by invoking variations of the phrase ‘taking advantage of their admiration for me.’ Five times. An apology would have read, I abused them by abusing my power with them. I won’t comment on the use of the word ‘you’ rather than I in this sentence: “The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else.”
Further, he invites us to feel sorry for FX, for the “anguish and hardship” he caused the network. Never mind that his predatory behavior has been full-throated voiced for years by comedians and others in the industry. FX knew. And, never mind that by turning a deaf ear, the company enabled his abuse. Then, there’s the clever plug of his television shows – naming each one – embedded in “the hurt that I’ve brought on people who I work with and have worked with who’s professional and personal lives have been impacted by all of this...”
In his essay, CK seems to be confused about whether he’s performing or confessing: “At the time, I said to myself that what I did was O.K. because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first.” This might be a line right out of one of his routines where he regularly talks about masturbating. The word 'dick' carries a kind of hyper-masculine informality that his whip-it-out behavior conjures up, making it more stand-up comedy than stand-up man.
His use of punctuation seems contrived. Otherwise, how do you explain the run-on sentences, punctuation omission, and his erratic first word capitalization by a man whose work depends on his deep love and use of language? “I’ve brought anguish and hardship to the people at FX who have given me so much The Orchard who took a chance on my movie. and every other entity that has bet on me through the years.” We’re left to make up our own stories about it. And him. Perhaps it was a drunk apology, or he couldn't be bothered editing his work. Or, perhaps he wants us to see that he was so remorseful, he couldn't get it together to write coherently.
By the end, I am still not sure to whom this apology is written. Or more to the point, if it qualifies as one. No wonder comments are all over the map this time. He’s got it right when he closes with, “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.”
Yeah, keep it zipped, Louis. Keep it zipped.
Linda Belans 11-12-17