Sexual misconduct allegations against celebrities has received much attention in the last few years. And so, inevitably, many are now asking whether and when it is appropriate for celebrities that faced or admitted to allegations to return to the public eye.
I recently offered my opinion on what needs to happen in a piece by CNBC: How comedian Louis CK can get back on track after misconduct claims.
Louis CK has more to do.
As far as whether Louis CK is ready to make a comeback, unquestionably, there is more he needs to do.
That much is clear because in his performing his set last week, Louis CK was all too silent about his sexual misconduct.
Now, admittedly, his is a tricky line to walk—had he launched right into dismissively joking about it, we would (rightly) conclude that he was not taking it seriously enough. But, insensitive jokes are a long way from outright ignoring what happened. And on the spectrum of ways to deal with it, neither extreme is appropriate—and either approach shows he has more work to do.
I think it’s important to add here that as we collectively consider the appropriateness of Louis CK’s reentry onto the scene—as well as others who are preparing to do the same—we need to make an effort to understand that this discussion is not all about the person accused. The whole discussion should not be centered on whether the public is “punishing” or “penalizing” him. In fact, when we talk about these events, which one side experienced as abusive, we should attempt to do so with a focus on the victim—so How is the victim impacted? How can we serve the victim’s best interest? How can we prevent the creation of another victim?
If, on the other hand, we continue to examine every allegation of sexual misconduct with our lens squarely and exclusively on the accused, then we are not going to get far in terms of evolving our way of thinking. We must move beyond considering everything from the perspective of the accused.
So, in terms of what Louis CK needs to do, I would say he needs to find a way to help. And, I would add, since he has shown that he intends to return to the limelight—he should use his platform in service of that purpose.
Criminal charges matter—but they are not the only thing.
Assuming the claims against Louis CK that we already know about represent the entire universe of (or at least the worst of) the allegations against him, Louis CK is certainly, logistically, in a better position than celebrities facing criminal charges, say Weinstein. By that, I mean a looming prison sentence can certainly interfere with a person’s comeback plans.
But, I think it would be a mistake to analyze whether a person is entitled to a comeback based on the existence, degree, or quantity of criminal laws violated or whether charges were pressed.
The simple reality is that Louis CK caused harm to others. And his belated public admission of sexual misconduct did not undo it. This is what should matter in the calculus of whether he now has room for a comeback.
Whether charges are filed has no bearing on whether sexual misconduct took place. In some instances, a person’s reputation may be damaged due to an accusation, yes. But that damage may actually be warranted, even in situations where no charges were filed. The absence of a criminal charge does not necessarily mean innocence.
That being said, if a celebrity is maliciously and falsely accused of doing something—particularly if that something would make people hate or ridicule him—he/she certainly has recourse. The laws in this country recognize that a person’s reputation is a thing of immense value. This is why slander and defamation suits exist.
The focus should be on victims.
The problem with abuse like the kind alleged against Louis CK, is that a large part of what was taken away from these women is their dignity. Even their spirit. Those are not easily returned.
For example, one of Louis CK’s victims (Abby) reportedly said of her experience with Louis CK that it “left her deeply dispirited” and “was one of the things that discouraged her from pursuing comedy.”
In the law, we talk about the goal being to put victims back to the place they would have been if the wrong had never been committed. Presumably, Louis CK cannot give back what he has taken from these women.
What he can do, however, is through his work, help increase the chance that others will not find themselves having to choose between their dignity and their success or livelihood.
I would suggest that Louis CK put everything into working toward that.
This is about Power.
In trying to understand what remains to be done and whether Louis CK’s comeback comes too soon, I think it is essential to remember what made his sexual misconduct possible.
The situations involving Louis CK that these women experienced as abusive were made possible, to some extent, because Louis CK had power; whether it came from prestige, fame, or money, he had power over them.
And now we know that, for whatever reason, Louis CK did not wield his power responsibly. Instead, he abused it.
I believe everybody deserves a shot at redemption. And it is true that Louis CK admitted what he did.
But let’s not forget that not too long before Louis CK admitted it, when confronted with accusations, he denied it. With full knowledge that these women were telling the truth, Louis CK publicly dismissed these women’s claims as being just “rumors”—and refused to address them claiming it would “make it bigger and . . . make it real.” This is the kind of lie that causes great damage to victims, to their reputations, to their spirits, and to their lives. What Louis CK did was wrong, and extremely harmful.
So Louis CK had power. And with it, he harmed people.
That is what this conversation is about.
We could talk about it in terms of what he still owes, and whether he has done enough, and whether he deserves to be shunned, but that would be missing the point.
Given what we know about what Louis CK did with power, we need to be asking whether it makes sense to give it back to him.
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