We gotta do this? Fine.
Al Franken’s and Louis CK’s apologies for sexual grossness were far better than their predecessors. This is a low bar. There was no attempt at distraction (a la YEP I’M GAY) and no accompanying legal threats, so, uh, yay?
No, not yay. When Leeann Tweeden posted that now-senator then-comic Al Franken had stuck his tongue in her mouth and posed for a leering photo with her unconscious self on a USO tour in 2006, Franken’s first response was cruddy. “I certainly don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit in the same way, but I send my sincerest apologies to Leeann,” said Franken. “As to the photo, it was clearly intended to be funny but wasn’t. I shouldn’t have done it.” Mmm, yeahno, an apology shouldn’t have the word “certainly” in it: The very first clause of the apology delegitimizes Tweeden’s experience.
His second apology was better.
Opens with the apology (using BOTH “I’m sorry” and “apologize,” rather than the pallid and self-regarding “regret”), apologizes to everyone (not just “anyone who was offended”), doesn’t make excuses, talks about impact mattering more than intent. BUT BUT BUT AL: “While I don’t remember the rehearsal for the skit as Leeann does, I understand why we need to listen to and believe women’s experiences.” Nooooooo! Do you want us to believe her or not? You start off by saying “I don’t think it happened that way” and end with “but we have to believe women”? Internal not-logic!
Still, as a whole this is a good apology. It is not our place to debate whether Franken should step down, whether he should vow not to run again in 2020, whether he’s actually groping or touching Tweeden’s chest or just, y’know, hovering like a hummingbird over a succulent petunia. It is not for us to talk about the “excesses” of “#metoo culture,” whether Tweeden is a pro-Trump plant, or whether WikiLeaks or the Russians are behind this story. Why not? Because we are an apology blog. And this is a decent apology.
Does it excuse what Franken did? Well, that’s what we all — as receivers of the apology — have to decide. (Snarly’s own belief: We live in a rape culture. Very, very few women of my acquaintance have not been harassed or assaulted by men. In the past, women who have spoken up about this have been almost uniformly dismissed as feminist harpies, gold-diggers, and/or sirens who were asking for it. Today, and hopefully not just for the moment, people are actually dancing around the idea of believing women! That’s good! But alas, if we’re going to say that any man who has ever said or done anything disgusting is unfit for public life, we are going to have the real-life equivalent of the TV Show The Last Man on Earth and only, I dunno, Tom Hanks (PLEASE GOD) will be left to play the lead. (I can’t even invoke the Brian K. Vaughn comic The Last Man, because I read the first three collected volumes and while it brings up interesting ideas it is often misogynistic and gross!) Basically, we’re gonna have to assume that because we live in a toxic culture that perpetually treats women as second-class citizens in ways we’re only beginning to wrap our brains around, we’ll have to ponder every instance of misogynistic, sexist, rape-y ew on a case-by-case basis. Each time a news story like this hits, we’ll have to decide the magnitude and heinousness of the offense and determine whether the perpetuator deserves forgiveness, guarded reconciliation to public life, or to be voted off the island. (Please extinguish your dick torch. Please pack your dick and go. Auf Wienersehn.)
Meanwhile, both Snarly and Sumac were hoping to ignore the Louis CK business, because we really are in the business of looking at GOOD apologies as well as bad ones, and both of us thought we should offer a positive post after Spacey and Weinstein. (This did not occur. We were busy last week. However, we did offer a quick-n-not-so-dirty roundup of previous excellent celebrity apologies to show that THEY ARE POSSIBLE!) But hey, here we are, and since while we were being quiet the discourse continued WITHOUT US and people were gallivanting about saying that Louie’s apology was wonderful and moving, and so we weigh in to say NOPE.
To refresh your memory, his apology:
I want to address the stories told to the New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not.
These stories are true. At the time, I said to myself that what I did was okay because I never showed a woman my dick without asking first, which is also true. But what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.
I have been remorseful of my actions. And I’ve tried to learn from them. And run from them. Now I’m aware of the extent of the impact of my actions. I learned yesterday the extent to which I left these women who admired me feeling badly about themselves and cautious around other men who would never have put them in that position. I also took advantage of the fact that I was widely admired in my and their community, which disabled them from sharing their story and brought hardship to them when they tried because people who look up to me didn’t want to hear it. I didn’t think that I was doing any of that because my position allowed me not to think about it.
There is nothing about this that I forgive myself for. And I have to reconcile it with who I am. Which is nothing compared to the task I left them with.
I wish I had reacted to their admiration of me by being a good example to them as a man and given them some guidance as a comedian, including because I admired their work.
The hardest regret to live with is what you’ve done to hurt someone else. And I can hardly wrap my head around the scope of hurt I brought on them. I’d be remiss to exclude the hurt that I’ve brought on people who I work with and have worked with who’s professional and personal lives have been impacted by all of this, including projects currently in production: the cast and crew of Better Things, Baskets, The Cops, One Mississippi, and I Love You Daddy. I deeply regret that this has brought negative attention to my manager Dave Becky who only tried to mediate a situation that I caused. I’ve brought anguish and hardship to the people at FX who have given me so much The Orchard who took a chance on my movie. and every other entity that has bet on me through the years.
I’ve brought pain to my family, my friends, my children and their mother.
I have spent my long and lucky career talking and saying anything I want. I will now step back and take a long time to listen.
Thank you for reading.
People! He never says he’s sorry! So many words, and none of them are “I’m sorry” or “I apologize”! Also, this whole mishegas is disingenuous. Asking permission is not the same thing as RECEIVING permission. I can ask the checkout person at Whole Foods if I can take 2 pounds of organic Concord grapes without paying, but if she does not explicitly respond GO FOR IT, FIGHT THE MAN, DOWN WITH CAPITALISM, it is not ok for me to take the grapes! How hard is this to understand? (Also, wait, even if she says it is ok to steal the grapes, she does not have the power to say so. Sort of like the way a 14-year-old doesn’t have the power to say it’s ok to touch her vagina over her underwear — even if she ever said that, she does not have the authority to make criminal behavior ok, because, statutory rape, like stealing, IS A CRIME. How far have we sunk that we’re debating this?)
Also disingenuous: The notion that Louie “learned yesterday” that he’d hurt people. Ahem, women had been talking about his masturbatory propensities for YEARS. He and his friends and employees had been dismissing and silencing his victims for YEARS. Ugh. DO NOT EVEN. DO NOT WITH THIS. Don’t pretend you’re having a revelation here. And yes, the amount of energy Louis CK expends in talking about how he is admired (three times!) is a red flag. It’s almost as if he’s saying he was seduced by his own popularity, that he was given so much love, he forgot what was right and therefore our culture of celebrity is to blame. Weirdly self-aggrandizing. And the fact that Louis CK, like Woody Allen, has often dealt with his own ugly impulses in his art does not excuse the actual doing of the things. (But hey, speaking of art, FYI, here is an artist who edits public figures’ apologies with black marker, a la governmental redactions, to make them say what they should have said in the first place. She’s creating poetry. Raw, sad, funny, bitterly observant poetry.)
OK, we’ll be back soon with a THIS IS GOOD apology story, WE SWEAR IT.