Apparently Louis C.K. pissed off a few people with his SNL 40th season finale monologue. His comedy, while often self-effacing, is a direct dig at how we deal with each other in the world.
When my Twitter feed lit up with angry comments, I had just arrived home from a movie. Accusations of racism and making light of child molestation were abundant. I was disappointed — before I knew what he said. I concluded from others’ reactions that I would likely follow suit and be angry. Then I watched it.
It was awkward, uncomfortable, funny — nervously so — and it was shocking. However, instead of being angry, I remembered what I knew of Louis C.K. and thought, “What is the subtext?” His comedy, especially on his television show, often has a serious subtext and sometimes veers towards awkward more than funny. Most of the time he delivers strong social commentary through these awkward and sometimes inappropriate moments.
This seemed no different. I’m not claiming to be right about anything that C.K. said but when I listened to the monologue, this is what I heard.
In his routine he spoke about having “mild racism,” or what is better known as implicit bias. These are the prejudices we don’t recognize in ourselves and we all have them. Implicit bias is sneaky because it operates deep below the surface. These biases are the ones that make us lock our doors in certain neighborhoods and hold our purse straps tighter in close spaces. When C.K. illustrated the way that his biases work, he said nothing wrong. None of us are exempt.
The second piece of his monologue centered on the often peculiar and uneven relationship that the United States has with Israel and Palestine. He correctly drew the comparison between a parental relationship to one’s children with one child being favored more than the other. With Israel being the favored child, C.K. joked about giving that child gifts and liking it better. In America any discussion of Israel inevitably concludes quickly with the fact that the U.S. supports Israel unwaveringly, despite the times that Israel doesn’t reciprocate or violates agreements over land and human rights. That there should be more equity in U.S. relationships in the Middle East particularly with Israel and Palestine would seem a given.
The most uncomfortable part of C.K.’s routine was the discussion of child molestation and the “joy” a molester must reap from his crime. Listening to C.K. do this part of the monologue was particularly interesting. His nerves were apparent. His argument was framed by saying that while he’s a guy who loves a particular candy bar, if it were illegal he’d stop eating it but because of the “joy” a molester feels by damaging a child, he continues to molest, despite the threat of imprisonment. This part of his monologue was very risky and I couldn’t laugh but that seemed to be the point. Molesters likely feel no “joy” at repeating behaviors that were probably forced upon them as children.
The impulses the molester feels are rare in those who haven’t been victims of this crime. C.K. can stop eating his candy because the candy probably doesn’t have pathological implications. Child sexual abuse does.
When a person is arrested for the abuse of a child, most feel angry, horrified or both. The hurt child has been exposed to something so injurious that it will color their experiences for the rest of their lives.
Not every child that is sexually assaulted becomes predatory, probably most don’t, but the risk is such that the issue needs to be addressed early. Otherwise, every innocent child that has been assaulted will be at greater risk of turning into the villain that we revile.
Having worked with populations of children who had experienced sexual abuse, I understood the underlying message of C.K.’s monologue and found it insightful and equally disturbing. There is no satisfaction in sickness, and I believe that was the thrust of what C.K. was saying.
Why would he make jokes like these? Because he is a comedian and that is his platform. When a point needs to be made, the best way to make that point is in the place where we will be most visible or heard. Artists make art. Writers write. Social criticism comes in many forms and most of all it should be willing to shake people and make them uncomfortable. The more it makes us squirm, the likelier we are to not forget it.