Manners, Please (Season 3, Episode 2)

Dear Evan, Lili, and Phil,

I’ve been thinking about the phrase “I’m not comfortable with that” this past week—about how it’s both abstract and euphemistic, and how goddamn polite it is, especially when thinking of its deployment in, say, the bedroom. Or even in sexual encounters less “polite” than a bedroom scene. When Laurie asks Louie to return her sexual favour by eating her out, his response might as well be: “I’m not comfortable with that.” The general tone of this sentiment is at least present during the scene, what with Louie trying in his most passive and apologetic Louie-like-way to say no, hoping that his posture at prudishness won’t scan as (and I agree with Evan here) laziness. Laurie doesn’t take no for an answer.

A commenter felt that Evan was being a little too polite himself in describing Laurie’s rather impolite demand-cum-threat as an act of “persuasion.” The conversation that ensued in our comments section turned to look at notions of rape, sexism, and gender double standards–all of which there already are precedents for in Louie. This one comment by Evan, I believe, deserves some mining:

One reading of the scene, then, is that if Laurie’s behavior toward Louie *is* rape, then she’s invalidated her own implicit double-standard argument by allowing herself to engage in behavior that, if the genders were switched, she would think was immoral. (This is assuming that Laurie doesn’t think of her own act as rape, which is probably the case.) The hypocrisy is not Louie’s — for receiving oral sex but refusing to reciprocate — but Laurie’s, for calling him out on immoral behavior while allowing herself to suspend the rules of sexual morality simply because she’s a woman.

By introducing a character like Laurie who refuses “the rules of sexual morality simply because she’s a woman,” C.K. seems to be (again, again!) presenting a radical form of sexual politics where the woman is the impolite one—the one who doesn’t give a fuck without getting one in return. Which is why it has been distressing that C.K.’s public response to Daniel Tosh’s devastating rape threats to a female audience member was not condemnatory, or even brashly rude (as I would hope and do expect from him now, at least based on his show), but actually complementary.

The fact that Tosh would propose (and later try to justify) an aggressive rape scenario under the guise of a “joke” is fucked up enough, but that C.K.’s response would pile on additional jocularity is more than depressing.

As Evan explains in his post, “Louie the show knows that surprise is the only formal structure it can trust.” Louie is adamant on working against classical forms of narrative television, as well as narrative jokes–and more often than not this working against is a way of moving forward. As a stand-up comedian, Louis C.K. is primarily a storyteller—both inside and outside of his show. I understood his not-so-polite on-stage criticism of sexism as something that didn’t really change, regardless of his status as Louie or Louis. As Lili noted, on stage is when Louie the character is both the most confident and has the greatest perspective; it’s when he most resembles Louis.

C.K.’s response to Tosh was a surprise, indeed, though not the one I’d wish for. As a variant on Angus’s final sentence on this subject, so what am I supposed to do with this story now?

Last episode begins and ends with scenes of begrudged acquiescence–of pushing and pulling, sucking and blowing, quite literally and physically–though to vastly different effects. It opens with Lilly’s attempts to force Jane (just noticed the name confluence with Dear TV) in responding to her knock-knock joke. Lilly’s silence rises to a vocalized resistance when Louie tells her to respond: “I doesn’t want to [open the door].” She eventually does, and they laugh at the utter silliness of Jane’s joke (it’s incomprehensible and harmless, though entirely endearing). The tussle with which the show ends, however, begins with taunts that quickly escalate to a broken car window, and then, well, rape. If the first scene spotlights a joke that falls flat, but still garners chuckles, what do we make of the final one?

As the episode ends, Louie seems stunned by the turn of events, but his face also reads as pretty blasé as he agrees to Laurie’s: “ You wanna go out again, right?” C.K., though, should know that what amounts to a public congratulations/joke toward Tosh (“your show makes me laugh every time I watch it/and you have pretty eyes”) isn’t something many fans will take with as much blaséness his Louie might. (Probably because this instance of rape wasn’t about Louie or Laurie, but a girl entirely beyond the limits of his show.) If C.K. wants to join the conversation, it’s important for him to acknowledge her presence. For him to do otherwise, as he did, is not only not at all funny, but indefensibly rude.



3 thoughts on “Manners, Please (Season 3, Episode 2)

  1. I’m not sure what to say here. Maybe: “Aren’t you Louis CK fans getting tired of tying yourselves in knots apologizing from this guy’s overrated comedy? Because it’s sure getting tiring to watch.”

    Louis CK’s response confuses and disappoints his fans despite, like with Tosh, there being plenty indicators for this “surprising” development. Why is this hard for his fans to understand? Well as I tweeted yesterday: When Paul Simon wrote the lyric “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest” apparently he was referring to Louis CK fans.

    His response to Tosh didn’t surprise me, and while it may surprise you to hear this, I don’t think it should surprise anyone, especially anyone who has managed to sit through more of his show than I have (being disabled, I frankly couldn’t stomach his supposedly self-deprecating “joke” about the old woman with a bad spine which sounded to me like “You disabled people live a life not worth living–THANK GOD I’m not one of you.” *** ) He’s a bully, and like all bullies he just tries to see what he can get away with, and when he’s under threat of getting caught, he manipulates to evade accountability. Cos you know, he’s made rape jokes too, and not just rape jokes that people seem to think are “OK”. I knwo of two example of really not-OK rape jokes he’s made, yet one was “defended” by a hipster blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates and the other about Hitler, so those don’t seem to count, even if they seek to validate the idea that using rape or the threat of rape to coerce and retaliate–not unlike what Tosh did–is acceptable.

    Let’s be honest: CK is the product of hostile, chauvinist comedy culture that is deeply invested with this stuff–in humor that builds up comedians by beating down vulnerable people. Since I work with school kids, college students and disabled people, I call that “bullying.” But in the comedy world, that’s status quo. That’s the culture. And CK’s tweet just proves he is still very dependent on that culture for his identity as a comedian. It’s CK’s “Render unto Caesar” moment. And even if he tries to rise above that through whatever reasonably decent ideas he has, unless he confronts where he came from as a comedian and how that made him what he is, he’s just not going to be able to distance himself from this vile garbage in the ways his better-minded fans hope.

    *** IRCC he was using the term “perfect” for himself, which is hilarious in itself in its irony, but the idea of implying disabled people or older people aren’t “prefect” by comparison to yourself isn’t comedy–it’s albeism and agism in spades. But since his fans don’t notice that crap, no worries. It’s good that disabled and older people are so easy to ignore. Bully culture depends on its victims being ignored, after all.

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