Apparently, I can’t laugh at Louis CK anymore. Not at his standup and not at his TV shows or movies either. I can’t even listen to his Pandora channel, which really dampens my morning commute. On the upside, there will be no more nasty stares from annoyed strangers when I reflexive snort at hysterical Louis bits.
Following CK’s recent admission to exposing himself to upwards of five women, laughing at him now signals an acceptance of his worldview. At least that’s the position many opinion leaders and reporters, like the Guardian’s Jack Bernhardt. The comic's poor decisions now taint everything he ever touched…or do they?
Let me be clear, what Louis did was horrible. Using your status to corner women and masturbate in front of them is shameful, demeaning and deserves real consequences. But, does it warrant burning down Louis' entire career and reputation, along with those deemed "guilty by association"? I don’t think so. Categorically labeling Louis a “sex offender” may help dumb down peoples’ impossible complexity, but this oversimplification also contributes to some of the deepest and most harmful divisions facing our species.
So here we are, no longer simply fans and spectators but jurors, detectives and cold-case investigators. We must take strong positions in spite of standards that change with time and on incidents whose actual truth have been obscured. I’m vastly unqualified for this job, mainly because I understand that artists whose work I enjoy can also be terribly flawed human beings, behaving very badly and hurting those around them. That is why most people (I assume), don’t look at a Picasso painting and say, "I should not take this work seriously because Picasso cheated on his wives and was abusive to his son." People are flawed. All people-and you don't have to spend hours reading impassioned accounts from victims and salacious rumors to know that.
Then there’s the bloodlust. The desire to shame Louis into oblivion. This also feels misguided. Not just because people are imperfect, but because we have very little insight into why we do what we do. Whatever his motives, Louis cannot truly know why he has an impulse to masturbate in front of women. He, along with the rest of us, did not pick his parents or the time and place of his birth. He didn't choose his gender or most of his life experiences. He has no control whatsoever over his genome or the development of his brain. And now his brain makes choices on the basis of preferences and beliefs that have been hammered into it over a lifetime. As sickening as I find Louis’ behavior, I have to admit that if I were to trade places with him, atom for atom, I would be him: There is no extra part of me that could decide to resist the impulse to victimize other people. Can we put away the pitchforks just for a moment to think about this?
Put simply, being an artist has absolutely nothing to do with one's personal behavior. Great art pulls you into its own world and the creator of that world disappears.
So, I can’t forsake Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall”, I won’t renounce Polanski’s “Chinatown” and I still think being told to "suck a bag of dicks" is really funny.