Desperate Ethics Quote Of The Week: Louis C.K.

Comedian/actor Louis C.K. has taken the high road in responding to his share of the wave of accusations coming at various show business and pop culture figures following the launch of the Harvey Weinstein Ethics Train Wreck with its Kevin Spacey caboose. The New York Times recently revealed the certifiably awful stories of C.K.’s disgusting conduct toward five women, and subsequent show business sources have confirmed that “everybody knew” Louis  was abusing his influence and power to harass women. Now the often thoughtful and provocative comic is fighting for his professional life, and has evidently decided that the wisest course is to be accountable, remorseful and contrite. Here is his statement:

I want to address the stories told to the New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not.

These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick 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 dick 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.

I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And run from them. Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position.

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. There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them with.

I wish I had reacted to their admiration of me by being a good example to them as a man and given them some guidance as a comedian, including because I admired their work.

The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else. And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them. I’d be remiss to exclude the hurt that I’ve brought on people who I work with and have worked with whose professional and personal lives have been impacted by all of this, including projects currently in production: the cast and crew of Better Things, Baskets, The Cops, One Mississippi, and I Love You, Daddy. I deeply regret that this has brought negative attention to my manager Dave Becky who only tried to mediate a situation that I caused. 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.

I’ve brought pain to my family, my friends, my children and their mother.

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. Thank you for reading.

Analysis: The man is, as his fans know, very articulate and intelligent. What I do not understand is any even slightly intelligent  man doing the things he just admitted to. C.K. often reflects on ethics competently,so I know he knows what ethics are; he’s not like President Trump, who literally does not comprehend the subject. How can someone like C.K., who must have some sophisticated ethics alarms at least stored in his brain’s attic or closets, even consider behaving in the ways described by the Times? Who meets a woman for the first time, exchanges pleasantries, and then says, “I’m going to masturbate in front of you now.” What? NOW Louis realizes this was wrong?

It’s like the famous Seinfeld episode when George tries to brass his way out of being fired for having sex on his desk with his company’s cleaning woman. “Was that wrong? Should I not have done that?” he asks, as if it was a genuine moral conundrum. I confess,C.K’s kind of thinking, or absence of thinking, is alien to me. I don’t get it, and I really can’t grasp someone engaging in such conduct who can form coherent thoughts and write like the comic does. I would expect someone who thinks it,s acceptable to masturbate in front of visitors to be only able to communicate in grunts, clicks, and crude hand gestures,

At the risk of sounding naive, I must confess that I also can’t imagine any woman I have ever known in my life tolerating such a thing. Every one of them would erupt in some version of “What the HELL do you think you are doing, you disgusting freak? I’m out of here,” followed by a rapid exit  and a call to the police. I’m not blaming the victims, I just don’t understand. I also don’t understand how any man would expect a different reaction. Clearly,Louis dwells on a  planet distinct from the one I live on, and I have no intention of vacationing there.

How does his statement ranks on the Ethics Alarms Apology Scale? It’s a #1…

An apology motivated by the realization that one’s past conduct was unjust, unfair, and wrong, constituting an unequivocal admission of wrongdoing as well as regret, remorse and contrition, as part of a sincere effort to make amends and seek forgiveness.

This assumes that the statement is sincere, and is not cynical manipulation by a smart man who knows what he needs to say. I suppose that Louis’s sudden realization (that consent fueled by someone’s desire to please or cater to a more powerful or influential figure can be nothing more than capitulation to subtle coercion) is credible. It definitely is a concept a lot of people don’t grasp.

Is his apology and contrition enough to save him? Once again we have  a cognitive dissonance scale issue.

How low on the scale (above) is C.K.’s conduct, and how high was he as an entertainer? If he’s high enough for them, some people will decide that masturbation isn’t so bad as a way to entertain female guests, just as some evangelical supporters of Roy Moore are now making absurd arguments that the Bible endorses creepy old men having sex with teenieboppers. If your personal scale has to crash through the floor to properly place what Louis C.K. did, like my scale does (I’d place that conduct at about negative 763, 877, 207, 248), I’m not watching the guy, because I won’t find him funny.

Ann Althouse, again letting her contrarian nature lead her astray, argues that C.K.’s horrible conduct shouldn’t affect appreciation of his comedy act:

Why can’t we hate the sin but love the sinner?… Should we consume the intellectual work product of a mind that causes a man to behave the way Louis C.K. has done?

…By the way, if you’re thinking of reconsidering all the intellectual work product you consume — movies, TV shows, books, political arguments — here’s a great place to start: “Intellectuals” by Paul Johnson. Johnson shows why you won’t want to consume what’s been cooked up by Rousseau, Shelley, Marx, Ibsen, Tolstoy, Hemingway, Bertrand Russell, Brecht, Sartre, Norman Mailer, James Baldwin, and Noam Chomsky.

Huh? These people are writers, thinkers and philosophers, not entertainers. As with Thomas Jefferson, I don’t have to like the thinker to be able to admire the quality of his ideas. Entertainers, however, at least for me, cannot separate their persona from their art, because their person is the conveyor of their art. If the package is disgusting, I’m not going to be delighted with the contents. Ideas stand on their own. Comedy requires a likable and benign vehicle. I can’t laugh at Woody Allen or Bill Cosby any more. I’m also not going to laugh at someone who masturbates for visitors, even if he tells the funniest joke in history.

29 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Ethics Alarms Award Nominee, Ethics Quotes, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Gender and Sex, Humor and Satire, Popular Culture, Professions

29 responses to “Desperate Ethics Quote Of The Week: Louis C.K.

  1. Carl Brizzi

    Louis CK is one of my favorite comedians. His comedy, however, has become darker…but still funny. Power and fame are the ultimate aphrodisiacs and the abuse of both subtle and incremental. Jack, I agree with you on not understanding the behavior. And my wife’s repsonse was also to agree with you as to why the women didn’t just say wtf and leave. Her words. My point is that I believe in redemtion. His apology was as sincere as it could be. We should accept it at face value. I hope he gets help and returns to comedy.

    • Other Bill

      Wasn’t it some writer in Hollywood who coined the phrase “America loves a second act?” or something along those lines. He must have written that line on commission.

      • Other Bill

        Maybe it’s from Fitzgerald.

      • The quote was “There are no second acts in American lives.” It’s Fitzgerald. And he was wrong.

        • Other Bill

          Nothing more popular than comebacks in America.

          • A myth! Where’s Michael Richard’s comeback? Rosie O’Donnell? Will OJ get a comeback? F.Lee Bailey? Lindsay Lohan? Tonya Harding? Seen a Steven Segal movie lately? Dan Rather doing anything serious? Wesley Snipes?

            • Other Bill

              Tiger Woods. Denny McLain, Michael Jordan, post baseball. Charlie Sheen seems to have never really been driven off. There’s a comeback player of every sport every year. HIllary Clinton seems to have more lives than a cat.

            • Pennagain

              “I, Tonya”: she’s baaaack

              Steven Seagal: never left:
              2017: worked 2 tv series; making three films due out in 2018:
              “Attrition” (post-production) as Axe
              “Above the Law 2” (announced) as Nico Toscani
              “Cyborg Nemesis: The Dark Rift” (announced) as Colonel Strat

              Seagal has 56 acting (action?) credits, 49 as producer, and
              12 as writer
              All in all, not bad for a guy born in 1952

  2. Other Bill

    I’m thinking back to my pre-teen and teenaged years when interacting with girls in a physical way was terra incognita. There were definitely jerky guys who didn’t have much of a sense of where they ended and other people began. Awareness of this space is the absolute bedrock foundation of a civil society and civil behavior. I don’t think these Weinsteins and C.K.s and Spaceys ever really learned that fundamental lesson, or at least they never learned it well enough before they became powerful.

  3. The real question everyone has to ask themselves is; when there is an apology from a person that has done things like this many, many years after the fact and that apology is clearly a #1 on the apology scale do you accept the apology and forgive the person. I think the apology should be accepted at face value especially if there’s no evidence that the person has repeated the behavior indicating that the person matured and learned the right lessons from their “wrongs”.

    I’m having a problem with those that are publicizing these things from many, many years ago without going to the person that wronged them and having a personal conversation with them. Life is all about choices; how you make them, what you learn from them, and how you choose to live with them. Past choices, even choices that you would now consider to be bad choices, make you the person you are right now, in this exact moment in time. Did the person that wronged me learn the right lessons from the experience, this really can only be answered one-on-one. I would hope that I would give a person that wronged me this kind of consideration before being vindictive and publicizing something that could destroy their life.

    Make sure you are willing to judge yourself using the same standards that you judge others. Look back at your life and remember the things that weigh heavily on you, wrongs that you may have done to others, lessons you learned from your wrongs, and ask yourself if you would truly like forgiveness from those you’ve wronged?

    Forgiveness is a very powerful thing, try it sometime.

    Forgiveness
    By Matthew West

    It’s the hardest thing to give away
    And the last thing on your mind today
    It always goes to those that don’t deserve

    It’s the opposite of how you feel
    When the pain they caused is just too real
    It takes everything you have just to say the word…

    Forgiveness
    Forgiveness

    It flies in the face of all your pride
    It moves away the mad inside
    It’s always anger’s own worst enemy
    Even when the jury and the judge
    Say you gotta right to hold a grudge
    It’s the whisper in your ear saying ‘Set It Free’

    Forgiveness, Forgiveness
    Forgiveness, Forgiveness

    Show me how to love the unlovable
    Show me how to reach the unreachable
    Help me now to do the impossible

    Forgiveness, Forgiveness

    Help me now to do the impossible
    Forgiveness

    It’ll clear the bitterness away
    It can even set a prisoner free
    There is no end to what it’s power can do
    So, let it go and be amazed
    By what you see through eyes of grace
    The prisoner that it really frees is you

    Forgiveness, Forgiveness
    Forgiveness, Forgiveness

    Show me how to love the unlovable
    Show me how to reach the unreachable
    Help me now to do the impossible
    Forgiveness

    I want to finally set it free
    So show me how to see what Your mercy sees
    Help me now to give what You gave to me
    Forgiveness, Forgiveness

    There are videos out there of the story that inspired the words in this song.

  4. Emily

    I can understand the women just fine. He’s a comedian, first of all, so you’ve got to be wondering if there’s a punchline. And even if there’s no punchline, if this is some Andy Kaufman-esque act. They’re also in comedy, so they’re probably used to being around people who are either drunk or on all of the drugs they can find. So this is weird, but probably not by the orders of magnitude it would be in an insurance office.

    Then add in the “this guy can get me my TV show” aspect, and I’m not surprised in this particular case it took so long for anyone to speak up.

    As to him, I have some thoughts, but they’re more complex. I might try to type those up later.

    • Please do!
      But first: how would YOU react if a man did that in your presence?

      • Emily

        “But first: how would YOU react if a man did that in your presence?”

        Hi, I’m the reason this is so complicated. At this point in my life I would turn him down and try to get away because my husband wouldn’t be okay with it. But if I was single, it would depend entirely on the context.

        If it was Bill Clinton or my boss at work, my reaction would be “get away, you creep.” If it was Louis CK, backstage at a comedy show, or a guy I was acquainted with at a comic convention, my reaction would probably be. “You’re not going to touch me or anything, right? Well then… sure. Why not. Go for it.”

        As I said, context. What I was going to say about CK is that it seems to me that his thing is coming from a different place than the Allens or Weinsteins or Spaceys we’ve been hearing about.

        Retreading some of charlesgreen’s COTD, I get the feeling that this is coming from more the same place as Andy Kaufman or Bill Murray’s weird behind the scenes behavior. Neither of them were sexual about it, as far as I know, but there are stories about both being very, very weird in abusive ways to coworkers and costars.

        To go armchair psychologist on it, I think there are a lot of people in comedy who are very lonely, desperate for attention and connection, and searching for ways to be noticed by someone (even after they seem to be famous enough to be noticed by everyone.) Behavior like Kaufman… well, everything, but to pick one insisting that he was Tony Clifton (and acting like an asshole) on the set of Taxi, or Bill Murray refusing to let directors know if he’ll be in their movie until he shows up on set are (non-sexual) abuses to the people working with them, but I don’t really see as coming from feeling *entitled* to abuse them; I think they’d have totally understood if the production had thrown and fit and kicked their asses to the curb for those things. They were (and are, in Murray’s case) begging to be noticed by pushing boundaries, and if they push too far… well, huh. That didn’t work. Maybe next time I’ll wear a duck on my head.

        That’s what I think Louis CK’s thing is, tied in with a sexual fetish for it (in fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if what got him off was just asking women about it, and it was a bonus if they’d let him take care of things right there.)

        I’m not speaking for *any* other women here, they have a right to decide what they do and don’t want to participate in. And I have no particular attraction to Louis CK, I’ve probably see a half an hour of his comedy in my life, total. But I personally think I would feel that this was a guy with a weird fetish that wasn’t going to affect me that much, and if he otherwise seemed cool and non-threatening I’d be okay with helping.

        As a contrast, I think the situation La Sylphide describes below would totally creep me out, and I’d be out of there ASAP. And I think Weinstein and Spacey and Clinton felt entitled to people’s bodies because they were famous and powerful. If that’s the vibe I was getting, I’d be entirely unsympathetic.

    • La Sylphide

      Twice a summer I work as a “runner” for two huge music festivals: one country, one rock. I am often in close quarters, or in a car, with very famous people. I’m always professional. I’m always discrete. Rarely am I star struck. (O.k., driving Johnny Depp was pretty cool.) Most stars and their tour managers are kind and thoughtful. But now and then you get a blowhard, or two. One, very well known country star wanted me to share his cigar with him as I drove him to his private plane. “C’mon, sweetheart” as he held out the cigar to me, “it’s not THAT wet…” The whole car went silent. There I was, the only woman in a car with 5 men, a wet cigar, and a wink wink. I played dumb. I blew off his remark with a smile… They all laughed. Here’s the thing: he held no power over me. He couldn’t advance my career or ruin it. I had nothing at stake. And so yes, I can understand these women, in the same industry as Louis C.K., trying to make it, in a hotel room with him and wondering “wtf, do we do now ?!? How much damage will be done if we stay? How much damage will be done if we tell him to GFH? ” So very often, when you are dealing with someone who wields enormous power, it’s like navigating a mine field. For women, there are often split second decisions to be made: do I cross the street now because it’s late at night, I’m alone and he’s coming toward me, or if I cross the street will I anger him and make things worse.”

      • Chris

        Wonderful comment, La Sylphide.

      • I understand that…but there must be lines. Somewhere. What wouldn’t they tolerate? When would the thought attach, “You know, if I have to endure people like this, I’m in the wrong field. Screw this.” That’s a theme of Ethics Alarms: you share responsibility for the culture. When one tolerates unethical conduct, one enables it. That’s what the Democrats did with Clinton…that was the impetus for this blog. It’ not a stretch to believe that Bill Cinton enabled Weinstein and the rest—it was just sex! Just personal conduct!

        So when does a person say, “I’m not putting up with this!”?

        • Chris

          When they feel safe to do so. Which is what’s happening now, and why so many victims who remained silent for so long are coming forward now.

          That’s why there is nothing unethical about those victims coming forward now. They are doing so because they see the floodgates opening and are realizing that they will be believed and that their abusers will, finally, face consequences. And they will inspire others who now won’t feel so much pressure to stay silent.

          • But Chris, they should be believed if there is evidence that supports the account, not because a pro-accuser mood is rampant. There is a reason why we have statutes of limitation. Late accusations are inherently unfair, and promote injustice. There need to be fairness standards when careers and reputations are destroyed, not just when there are legal consequences.

          • Chris wrote, “That’s why there is nothing unethical about those victims coming forward now. They are doing so because they see the floodgates opening and are realizing that they will be believed and that their abusers will, finally, face consequences. And they will inspire others who now won’t feel so much pressure to stay silent.”

            Chris you’ve been around middle schoolers way too long, you’re reasoning mirrors what you’ve been immersed in.

        • La Sylphide

          Maybe that’s where heroes come into play. There is something quite powerful about fear and survival, and being faced with split second decision making when you are always the person in a position of less power; and that has been the case for women, in many ways, for a very long time. I’m not one of those heroes. I admit that up front. I have ducked and dodged and managed to survive. I have dealt with sexual assault; my first at the age of 4, my last on a beach at 15. I have dealt with sexual impropriety and just bad behavior in the workplace. I was not a hero. I was selfish. I made split second decisions for my own survival, but I did not not think long term and what it might have meant for other women if I had spoken up. I own that.

        • Pennagain

          So when does a person say, “I’m not putting up with this!”?

          When der neighborhood feminist fuhrer tells her to.

  5. Jeff

    One thing that will make it harder to separate the art from the artist in this particular case is that Louis makes a lot of sex and masturbation jokes. It’s going to be nearly impossible to hear such jokes and not be reminded, “Oh, yeah, this guy behaved like a disgusting pervert on multiple occasions. Gross.” That kind of deflates any humor that the joke may have contained.

  6. charlesgreen

    A friend said, and it rings true, “to be a comedian, you have to be afraid, confused, and conflicted; and all of them are very angry.” Indeed, it’s their confusion and anguished conflict that makes them so interesting to us.

    The best thing Louis CK said in his response was, “It’s now time for me to listen.” Contrast that with Michael Richards’ anguished attempt to continually go public with his attempts at self-analysis and self-justification – an abject failure. When “there’s something happening here, and you don’t know what it is…” – apparently the case in for Louis CK – the one smart thing for him to do is shut up and listen. Deeply.

    When you’re faced with a situation you honestly don’t understand, and your career depends on your continued inability to make sense of it, the dumbest thing you can do is to suddenly attempt public self-psychoanalysis.

    Most comedians – think Joan Rivers, or Redd Foxx, Kathy Griffin or Sarah Silverman – have crossed the line a few times, and not just in jokes falling flat. That’s why they work out material in small late-night dive joints. We depend on, thrive on, their ability to walk just up to the line, and not cross over it. And some of them cross the line in their lives off-stage as well.

    There’s no excuse for Louis CK doing what he did, and talented friends like Pamela Adlon will suffer collateral damage. He couldn’t see where the line was, and now he’ll bring down still more victims with him.

    Among other things, it’s a shame.

  7. Isaac

    He is essentially a moral relativist, and his worldview probably doesn’t acknowledge anything taboo about any sexual behavior. He probably thought, “It’s just body parts” or “It’s natural animal behavior, and I’m just a more advanced animal, after all” or some other rationalization to that effect. And he was probably surrounded by similarly “enlightened” peers who felt the same way.

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