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Cross Post: A Feminist Defense of Louis CK

by Amy McCarthy
July 19, 2012 10:00 AM
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This week, comedian Louis CK (of Louie fame) appeared on The Daily Show. I was actually watching The Daily Show for a change, and was excited to see Louis CK interviewed – he’s always funny and authentic.

If you’ll recall, CK stepped into the big pile of poo that is Toshgate. Sending him a tweet that read “I like your show. You have pretty eyes,” CK was apparently oblivious to the shit-show that Tosh had created in the blogosphere.

Which is easy to believe. Louis CK isn’t exactly web-savvy, and doesn’t Tweet like other comedians like Patton Oswalt or Paula Pell. He’s not a “social media guru” who’s used social media to cultivate an audience. He’s using the web for an inventive ticketing and content distribution strategy, but that’s about it.

His appearance on The Daily Show certainly didn’t have to center around the Tosh controversy, he didn’t have to explain himself to the audience. He could’ve told Stewart to stay entirely away from the subject and just talk about his new show and upcoming tour. But because Louis CK is generally a decent human being, he thought that some clarification was in order.

CK says initially that he was in vacationing in Vermont and was laughing at Tosh.0 on TV. He wasn’t “reading the Internet.” When he came back from vacation, he realized that he was in the middle of the Tosh controversy. He was being called a “rape apologist just for saying “hi” to a guy.” Rape apologism is a pretty serious accusation – but is it necessarily true?

So, in true “debate nerd” fashion, let’s go line-by-line on the interview:

1. “It was all coming from comedians and bloggers, and nothing but garbage and hyperbole comes from those two groups.”

I don’t think anyone would argue that the vast majority of blogs (and comics) are terrible (Jezebel, anyone?). There are also some amazing, incredible blogs (like Feminists For Choice, obviously). Starting a blog doesn’t mean that your opinion is valid or that everyone should listen to you and take you seriously. You hope that they do, but it’s not always the case. Fortunately, both comedians and bloggers are pretty up front with how terrible or good they are. There are terrible asshole comics, and there are terrible asshole bloggers. Nothing about what Louis CK said was inherently untrue.

2. “It’s also a fight between comedians and feminists – they’re natural enemies. Stereotypically speaking, feminists can’t take a joke, and comedians can’t take criticism – they’re big pussies.”

When CK made this remark, especially about the feminists, boos from the crowd began to drown him out. To which he replied, “see?” And he’s got a damn good point. I don’t know why I have to break this down, but the beginning of the joke is “stereotypically speaking.” Is the humorless feminist not a stereotype? Why can’t we laugh at the idea of feminists who can’t take a joke? As Serena Freewomyn said, time to “grow some ovaries and get a life.” If someone poking fun at feminism is uncomfortable for you, then you need to work on that thin skin. Especially if you’re involving yourself in an online dialogue – time to lady up and not take yourself (or your blog or stupid Twitter account) so damn seriously. That goes for comedians and bloggers.

3. “To me, all dialogue is positive.”

Well, he was wrong on this one. Not all dialogue is positive, but inherently, dialogue is positive. When we have male comedians talking about why it might not be OK to make rape jokes, we are making progress! I saw one feminist remark “If you are 44 years old and this is your first introduction to the rape culture, where have you been?”

Um, a part of it? We’re all ignorant to and participants in the rape culture until we actively make a choice to stand against it. Louis CK is someone who didn’t understand the importance of supporting rape victims – and why would he? Unless a he, a close friend or relative had been sexually assaulted, what would his frame of reference be? He’s a wealthy, straight white dude, for Chrissakes.

When would this have come up in conversation? Now that CK is a father, I think that these revelations will continue – he will see those little girls growing up and that there are a lot of really shitty guys who could try to take advantage of them. I don’t think we ever realize the levity of sexual assault until it smacks us in the face. I’ve always been an advocate for rape survivors, but recently a friend told me that she’d been raped and it almost brought me to my knees. She was just a kid. It’s those types of gut-checks that Louis CK probably hasn’t experienced too many times in his life, just based on his white dude privilege. Should he acknowledge it? Yes. Is it entirely his fault? No.

4. “If someone has the opposite opinion than mine, I want to hear it. For me, any joke about anything bad (rape, Holocaust, The Mets – ahhhh!) is a positive thing. But now, I’ve read some blogs that have enlightened me to things I didn’t know – this woman said that rape is something that polices women’s lives. That’s part of me now.”

That last sentence is the key point of this conversation. Like I said, CK has a minimal frame of reference when it comes to rape and the rape culture. Now that he’s raising two girls, he’ll learn more than he ever wanted to. He’ll worry that they’ll be in bad situations and that the threat of rape will be there for them. And that changes people. The fact that he’s even to read the dialogue instead of just dismissing the concerns of feminists is particularly telling. Feminists and comics have always clashed, so when a comic takes time to legitimately understand the concerns of women on this issue – that is progress. It may not be a revolution, but it is progress. And that’s really all we can expect. We can always demand a revolution, but we should never spit in the face of progress.

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  • Helena | August 10, 2012 4:30 PMReply

    I really enjoyed this. I disagree with you in that I have found many different kinds of rape/sexual assault jokes funny. I also have experience sexual assault so I do understand the kick to the gut when a comedian or show/movie/book make a joke that I find unfunny. But I have lots of other triggers that are non-rape related. I balance them, and that's life. I loved what CK said, and it's great to see a feminist who doesn't even find rape jokes funny ever(or not that often) get what he was doing.

    Your argument at the end of the article about not throwing the baby out with the bath water when men and women are trying to examine their relationship to rape and violence against women issues is WONDERFUL. I am one of those women who has, for most of her life, been loathe to label myself a feminist. Mostly because of the dogmatic and inflexible feminists I met while in college. I've since met wonderful, open-minded & funny feminists and am now trying to reclaim the label in the name of women's equality. Whatever that basic concept means to you-how you feel it needs to play out in our culture and social structure, with the rejoinder that you're willing to fight for/work towards getting there.

    Also, the fact that you define yourself as a feminist who's overweight & living in Texas, laughing at internet trolls makes me want to have coffee with you. What an awesome, strong lady you must be.

    A new york city feminist

  • Bom | July 19, 2012 4:35 PMReply

    It is also worth noting that one of groups that Louis CK donated some of his web-special profits (Fistula Foundation) is a pro-women, anti-rape charity.

  • Linn | July 19, 2012 1:53 PMReply

    Melissa, loved this post. Fascinating point of view. Please continue to cross post with this smart and talented person. Thank you!

  • Bes | July 19, 2012 1:15 PMReply

    Sure, not consuming the "one size fits all men" channel package is an option, it seems rather extreme. I would like to consume SOME cable channels without being forced to subsidize unhinged misogyny and I think there are many channels who would be glad to have me as a customer. And, since I make more consumer decisions than any 5 randomly selected males 18-35 I think there are any number of advertisers who would like to reach my eyes. Where does the Government control fear come from? I don't like Corporate Media selecting the channels/advertising venues I subscribe to and I don't want the Government to select the channels I subscribe to. But it isn't a choice of government or Corporate Media, WE COULD ALL SELECT OUR OWN CHANNELS. And since the Corporate Media merely reflects our culture there is no reason for them to fear Cable Choice as a consumer OPTION since everyone should want all their channels because they reflect us. Right?

  • Budmin | July 19, 2012 2:57 PM

    "WE COULD ALL SELECT OUR OWN CHANNELS" Show me a financially sustainable business model where that statement is implemented and wont force smaller networks like Current, LoGo, G4, OWN, TV1 or Hallmark into bankruptcy and I'd gladly support the idea.

  • Bes | July 19, 2012 10:56 AMReply

    Interesting post. Here is the real problem. Corporate Media does not exist in a free market. If you want cable so you can get better reception on PBS you are forced to take the "one size fits all men" cable package and subsidize Corporate Media's unhinged misogyny. Wouldn't you love to have some consumer rights? Imagine calling the cable company and saying "remove comedy central from my channel line up I am sick of their unhinged misogyny, IMO men aren't funny and I am tired of subsidizing this shit with my cable payment". Go to this link and find out how much you cable bill would be if you could pay for only the channels you want. My bill would be under $14.00 a month.
    The people who run this site are Republican. Consumer rights relative to Corporate Media is a feminist issue and I appreciate their willingness to take on the issue.

  • budmin | July 19, 2012 12:02 PM

    @BES What about those who say that the consumer has the right not to consume?

    Ironically in that very same show Jon opened with a dialog on how direct TV has dropped all Viacom networks due to an ongoing price war. Mtv, Comedy Central, VH1, BET are no longer available on dish networks and Jon ripped his own corporation by making jokes about how people could introduce themselves to the new Reading technology or even communicate with their spouses more.

    Don't ask for government intervention for actions you could easily do for yourself. That's the road to communism.

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