Stand-up comedian Louis C.K. performed a surprise show in New York City Aug. 26 and received an ovation before he even started his routine. This performance represents C.K.’s return to the limelight after he was implicated in a sexual harassment scandal less than one year ago. It also represents an important crossroads in how the public treats celebrities guilty of sexual misconduct.
In November of last year five women publicly accused Louis C.K. of masturbating in front of them and masturbating over the phone. C.K. publicly acknowledged the stories were true. As a result, the comedian was dropped from many projects including TV shows with FX, a contract to distribute his film and a Netflix special. Now it seems that C.K. is asking the public “can I come back?”. The answer is — or at least should be — a resounding “hell no.”
“C.K. is not entitled to a wide platform, fame or public attention. Giving this to him after he has done nothing to atone for his actions sends the message that sexual misconduct is not a big deal.”
The accusations against C.K. were part of a series of sexual harassment allegations leveled against celebrities that sparked an important public dialogue. Out of this conversation came the popularization of the #MeToo movement.
The movement gained significant public attention when people who have been victimized by harassment used the “MeToo” hashtag to show solidarity on social media with those speaking out against abusive celebrities. This united front sent the message that sexual harassment is unacceptable and celebrities would suffer consequences for their behavior. As a result, C.K. was one of many celebrities banished from public view for his sexual misdeeds.
C.K. is among the first celebrities attempting a comeback in such a public way, which has caused the discussion around celebrity sexual harassment to enter a new phase. The question now being hotly debated around social media is if/when these celebrity perpetrators should be allowed to return to their previous roles.
Many people have advocated for forgiveness of C.K., saying he shouldn’t be “punished forever,” as if a ten-month reprieve from comedy has undone the harm he did. C.K. was a successful comedian who held a certain position of power over women in the comedy world. He abused this power through his sexual misconduct, and less than one year later we’re supposed to just give that power back?
It has been all too easy for people to get away with sexual harassment, but the public reaction to this behavior and the unification through the #MeToo movement are indicative of a shift. Many celebrities have been facing repercussions and are being held accountable for their behavior in a very public manner since the end of last year. This momentum could be compromised by granting easy redemption to a celebrity just because we think he’s good at telling jokes.
There is no evidence that C.K. has done anything tangible to earn forgiveness or a second chance, and yet he is receiving sympathy across social media as well as concern for his career. What about the careers of the women he impacted? Three of the women who came forward said the incidents they experienced with C.K. negatively impacted their careers.
C.K. is not entitled to a wide platform, fame or public attention. Giving this to him after he has done nothing to atone for his actions sends the message that sexual misconduct is not a big deal, and even if you’re caught you’ll be forgiven within a year anyway.
The impact of sexual harassment on someone who experiences it can be lifelong. It’s not behavior that can be waved away in a few months. It’s the job of the public to make sure this doesn’t happen — to express outrage and to make it clear to television networks and media producers that we aren’t interested in seeing these celebrities in any new projects.
C.K.’s comeback is the first test of our resolve and can set a precedent in how we deal with these situations as they inevitably arise in the future.