Opinion

Louis C.K., You Traitor

What do you do when you realize your spiritual compass has been lying all along?

Sarah Baker and Louis C.K. in the episode “So Did the Fat Lady” from season 4 of 'Louie.'
FX

The problem with a lie that’s exposed isn’t just the individual case itself, which of course is important – certainly when someone is directly hurt by it. But the consequences of falsification are far greater: They cause major damage to trust. Not only in the future, but retroactively as well; doubt is cast on everything a liar has said or written. That’s true of strong friendships and romantic ties as well as relationships with the artists we admire.

That’s exactly what’s happening to me now with Louis C.K., who holds the record for mentions, references and citations in my column in Hebrew. And rightly so: Nobody has had more influence on the look and sound of comedy in the past decade, on television and elsewhere. The artistic freedom, the daring and the ostensible honesty he brought with him has left a deep impression. Apart from my feeling of disgust at his sexual-harassing habits and the thuggish method he used to silence those hurt by them, the blind, almost religious trust I had in him and in the spirit that stemmed from his art was violated, cracked and broken within 24 hours.

The feeling is identical to betrayal: Louis was a spiritual compass, the author of the ethical code for impossible times. He taught us that it’s permitted to have the darkest thoughts, to reach the most rotten depths of the soul, to curse, to hate and to covet, as long as in the end you behave like a human being.

Jokes about pedophilia, genocide, the disabled, the elderly and the oppressed were his subject matter, always with a twist that made you laugh, identify and ponder at one and the same time. But everything was one big fraud. The formulistic claim that one must separate the artist from his art are not applicable here, since he himself repeatedly blurred this separation. Therefore, a total rejection of his huge body of work by the various media outlets, which is liable to be considered an overreaction, seems to me proportionate, rather than an act of revenge, because Louis has stopped being trustworthy in my eyes.

For example, how can one take seriously the episode in “Louie” in which he listens with empathy to a heartrending monologue by a girl whose large dimensions don’t meet the Western world’s demands regarding sexual desire? How is it possible to avoid reading such a text as artificial, an attempt to whitewash an image, when we know that its author took advantage of his power, status and influence to sexually exploit women and then activated the system to silence them.

And what about the delicate, touching and absurd love affair between Louie and his Polish neighbor, and the childless weirdo played by Parker Posey, or his pitiful attempts to woo Pamela (Pamela Adlon), the love of his life? I can’t rid myself of the thought that Louis exploited the biographical nature of the series and portrayed himself as inclusive and sensitive, far from that serial masturbator we have come to know in the past couple of weeks (and in hindsight, it’s quite clear that Episode 3 in the sixth season of “Girls” was written about him).

As for Pamela Adlon, she’s now in the most impossible position in Hollywood. She’s a close friend of Louis, cooperated with him earlier on when she played his wife in the failed sitcom “Lucky Louie,” plays his love interest in “Louie,” and is now working with him on “Better Things,” which as of last Thursday evening was one of the best series on television. Now she’s also blackened by the same cloud of credibility.

'Better Things.'
2017 FX Productions / YES

Unprecedented situation

“Better Things,” which tells the story of Sam Fox (Adlon), an aging actress in Los Angeles who is raising her three daughters alone and keeping an eye on her demented mother, is not just another comic drama with women in it. It includes a huge range of the feminine spectrum, with multiple characters and multi-layered, multi-gendered and multi-aged representation, portrayed in a nuanced way that few, if any, have done before. The three girls who in so many series would have become a single entity, are characterized meticulously and contain different worlds. There’s the wicked, demented mother with the big mouth who arouses equal measures of disgust and pity; the girlfriends, each of whom reveals another side of Sam’s personality; there’s Sam herself, who radiates a faultlessly written humanity. It’s hard to describe her as good or bad, selfish or altruistic, containing or hardhearted. She’s just a human being.

And now I have no idea what to do with all this beauty. In terms of ethics, should the series be dropped due to Louis’ presence as its producer, writer and creator? And what about the other participants? And Adlon herself? Did she or didn’t she know and cooperate? Who knows what to do in this unprecedented situation?

Another minefield is the dissonance between Louis C.K.’s statements and his acts. It’s hard to accept feminist lyricism as authentic from someone who harassed and silenced and tried to avoid criticism via his art. For me it’s a real rupture that I personally will find hard to overcome. He has extinguished me. That’s how it feels when love dies.