People are often not who they appear. It’s why being “judgmental” is typically assigned a negative connotation. If you don’t know a person’s motivations, how can you assume to be the arbiter of their actions? It’s why I’m generally disappointed with the dialogue surrounding the sexual scandals coming into the spotlight of late. Oprah was initially lauded for her speech at the Golden Globes, but then got a backlash of accusations that she knew about Harvey Weinstein’s character while all along maintaining a friendship with him. Should she be besmirched or exalted? I don’t know. I kinda like her work. Beyond that, I don’t really know her. I don’t know what she knew about Harvey Weinstein, and I don’t know much about Weight Watchers either, other than that she’s a part owner.

I was encouraged this week by a friend to write about the newest reports of Aziz Ansari and to editorialize them. Well, I aim to please! And I think it’s a topic worth responding to. Plus, I’ve been a fan of Aziz Ansari’s work for some time, and he’s got a unique perspective in the acting world. I’d like a change from the basic “Facets” posts I’ve been doing up to now, so here are some thoughts of mine regarding his recent backlash from a sexual encounter of his.

I’ll start off with an anecdote I heard from a friend mine that was the first I remember hearing about Aziz. It was something about how he was supposed to have a comedy show here in Lincoln, but he didn’t ever come on stage, and she thought that was pretty inconsiderate. She gave a reason for why she thought this, and it seemed reasonable, but I can’t remember what it was. But he’s been pretty active in his creative endeavors since and has done a good deal to win me over as a fan.

A little after I heard that story, I started watching “Parks and Recreation”, which is one of my favorite shows now. He plays an immature, but fun and outgoing Tom Haverford, who even wins over Ron Swanson by the end. So I know he’s got some acting chops, and I assume he added a ton of depth to that character. In all, Aziz gives the appearance of being a talented and funny guy, capable of maximizing the character of Tom within the parameters of network television, and to great success.

I heard some of his standup somewhere along the way, which I somewhat enjoyed. He’s a bit too raunchy for my taste but has some very clever observational humor that I like. He can be lighthearted and edge on the profound, but still shows some proclivity for mischief and immaturity. Of course, even an hour-and-a-half monologue is still a performance, but I’m a human, and I like to watch for signs of commonality and personality through even what is staged. So I found him at once, and in different ways, both disagreeable and agreeable as a fellow person.

All that led me to what I consider the most telling of his public appearances that I’ve encountered: an interview on the podcast, “Freakanomics”. In it, he talks about his book, “Modern Romance”, (which I have yet to read,) his then-upcoming show on Netflix, “Master of None”, and his childhood growing up as a second-generation American born to Indian immigrants. It was here that he won me over as a thinker. He’s willing to accept some of the hardships of the world as we know it, but posed interesting questions about other facts of life. He observed the rise of hookup culture alongside the increase in diversity of potential spouses. One of his most memorable points was the statistic that the average distance between spouses in the early part of the 20th century was several blocks, while now obviously branching out all over the globe. The sort of questions he asked and observations he made impressed me. He said at one point something along the lines of, “I realized that if I worked on s****y projects, then I’d end up with s****y fans.” His take on how he interacted with fans I found particularly compelling, as someone who didn’t just view fans as plebeian consumers, or at least did his best to fight against the temptation to view them as such. After that, I did end up watching “Master of None”, and found what confirmed, even exceeded my expectations about him.

Now, none of my admiration for his work ever led to an expectation that he would be the perfect gentleman to women in private. All of his work I felt clearly led me to believe that he likes sex, and his success and notoriety in the past few years would also lead me to believe that he could probably find many, many women who would do the things he wanted in the bedroom and would relish the opportunity. I can infer from the circumstances that these are the events that preceded the story that came out in Babe.

Since I started writing this, I’ve since read the original article on Babe, a Refinery29 piece declaring Aziz a “woke bae”, an Atlantic piece called “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari”, and a blog from a “feminist werewolf” named Katie, called “not that bad”. I’ll try to sum up my reaction to these different takes on the same night in Aziz Ansari’s public life.

Babe.com – I went on a date with Aziz Ansari. It turned into the worst night of my life

Now, the first thing I want to avoid is defending Aziz here. We’re not talking about a guy who immediately realizes he’s in the wrong and does everything to try to apologize and make up for it. I have misgivings about the way he treats this woman. However, I did want to ask, “Why am I reading this?” I have misgivings, yes. But why should Aziz care about that? Was anything he did criminal? He doesn’t rape her, which I think people point out as being the main point, but is it the point? I feel like at every turn there could be a counterpoint made that makes it seem less egregious. Even taking this account at face value, there’s no concession for rationality. What did the “flirtatious” text messages say? Had either of them been drinking or were they otherwise impaired? And mostly, why didn’t she leave? Over the course of the night, why? But I think the main ideas surrounding this whole discourse that I’d like to see better developed are: “What constitutes a victim?” and “Based on What?”

I’ll touch on these a bit in the other articles’ sections, but I want to ask: at what point does a victim mentality begin to harm potential future victims? If Grace were someone I knew and cared about, I’d be upset about the way Aziz acted, certainly. But I’d want to say, “hey – if a guy makes it that clear that he doesn’t care about you and just wants sex, then don’t give him another second of your time!” If your choices led you to a man who was famous, but also a douche, is this a cause to change your behavior at all? And as long as we carry on the narrative that she’s a victim, how does that empower women? Or maybe this tale is meant to be as cautionary to women as it is to men? I’m not sure.

The other side of the coin is, who gets to decide what Aziz gets to do or not? I think we’re mostly agreed on the fact that he seems inconsiderate and even boorish, but does that earn him an op-ed dragging him through the mud? In this case it did. But if I’m not mistaken, there’s a clear appeal to justice in this piece. How can “Grace” be so sure she’s on the right side of it? In many ways, this case is a prime opportunity to draw battle lines, if you’re so inclined. We’ve gotten to a point where it seems like the culture is evenly “divided” on whether this was an outrage on her part, or his. What does that tell us about sexual morality, and how the culture defines it? Could perhaps even rational adults disagree on this point and still live together peacefully if they decided that was all right? I’m a Christian, so I try to align my ethics to the teachings of the Bible, but can I be accepting of other views? At what point does it become wise, or even morally obligatory to intervene? The weirdest part about this whole thing is that as a Christian, I feel I need to not be so quick to judge Aziz or “Grace”, because that’s not our job. That seems backward to me. Maybe it shouldn’t.

Refinery29 – “Aziz Ansari is a WOKE BAE with Anu Valia”

My first reaction was, “I wonder what they think about all this now?” And then, almost as quickly, I wondered whether agreeing with you on political and social issues is a good enough reason to say someone is woke. Turns out you can be a feminist anti-racist, and still make headlines for not treating women with respect. This shouldn’t surprise anyone, but yet it still seems to. Even after 2017, it still somehow seems to.

I try not to be too harsh on these two just because they have different viewpoints than mine. Or on the Babe article for pointing the R29 article out as a juxtaposition. But it brings up another question: Were the R29 gals wrong for applauding him? It seems like the Babe piece implies that. But once again, it makes me wonder who gets to have authority on sexual conduct, and being woke, and Aziz Ansari’s behavior, and why.

The Atlantic – “The Humiliation of Aziz Ansari” by Caitlin Flanagan

In this article, the author paints “Grace” out to be a privileged white woman who feels important enough to deserve to have her bad night interfere with an otherwise innocent man’s career. I feel like that’s a bit much, considering that A) she wasn’t there, and B) maybe Aziz really has done worse stuff and it’s good that this happened. However, it seems to form a cohesive and highly rational reaction to the story, from the writer’s point of view. Here’s an excerpt from the article:

“The clinical detail in which the story is told is intended not to validate her account as much as it is to hurt and humiliate Ansari.” {It does seem that way, but you can’t actually know that.} “Together, the two women may have destroyed Ansari’s career, which is now the punishment for every kind of male sexual misconduct, from the grotesque to the disappointing.” {That’s a phenomenon I’ve already pointed out in this blog. I call it “Twitter Justice“.}

I find a lot of value in this point of view, but don’t want to oversell it just because it was the piece with the reaction that most matched up with my own. I did want to ask the author, again, where the lines actually are, and how does she get to decide whether his career did more good than his actions hurt at least this one woman. But I did think it offered a different perspective than some of what I’ve read, yet was still logical and complete. And I will say, the comment section on this article impressed me with its tone – more so than most.

katykatikate.com “not that bad”

This was an interesting response to the responses. “Katie”, who wrote it, really despised the Atlantic article for saying that women were “temporarily dangerous”, but didn’t actually respond to any of the points the author made about the validity of the initial story. Instead, she explains why she herself didn’t find the story very alarming, and why her own lack of alarm itself should be cause for alarm. That all came with a little insight, like whether it’s ok that that story seemed mostly innocuous. A while into it she tells a story about a professor who makes an inappropriate but fairly tame come-on to her in college, and follows that up by saying “I have no interest in turning my sexual history into social currency; exchange rates are so unpredictable.” Or could it be that yours isn’t the most fully developed viewpoint on the topic? That maybe other people have really good reasons for different “exchange rates”? I say this in agreement, partly. Her point is that she is reluctant to tell that story because the unacceptable bit of what that professor did is outweighed by the shocking tales we’re being told on TV and Twitter everyday. But shouldn’t it be? At the end of the day, if that encounter with a professor were the worst any woman had to deal with in the way of sexual misconduct, wouldn’t that be an incredible victory? What are we supposed to expect to happen? What I’m more interested in is what can we do together, as a society, that will make things better.

Conclusion, As it Were

I’m not usually one to get into clickholes like I did with this story. I don’t trust the internet to give me anything of value in return, at least not right away. I mean, if you want to, you could read editorials on this one story for the next four months! Mine included! Comments after comments on comments about comments, and tweets, and other articles. But the stories, if you look beyond the editorializations and the extreme, click-bait-y opinions, are fascinating.

I stumbled across an AV Club article that talked about Liam Neeson’s response to the MeToo movement. A snippet:

THR says he referred to Garrison Keillor specifically, saying he wasn’t as bad as “other Harvey Weinstein stuff,” and he also noted that he’s “on the fence” about the allegations that have been raised against Dustin Hoffman. THR adds that he also appeared on the Late Late Show on Friday and said that the #MeToo movement is “healthy” for every industry, though, which makes it sound like he thinks it’s good when people expose harassment and abuse, but only if it passes some arbitrary measure of ‘Harvey Weinstein-ness.’”

I admit this doesn’t make me angry. Should it? I don’t see the Liam Neeson I think the author wants me to see. Instead, I see in Neeson a guy who made some decently-begun, if incomplete, observations to a reporter, and then it came through the grapevine to this guy at the AV Club who is convinced that there is no room for nuance. NEESON WILL COMPLY WHOLLY OR NOT AT ALL. THERE IS NO WAY THAT WE THE PEOPLE OF THE INTERNET COULD GET CARRIED AWAY. And that makes the whole situation funny, because why do we pretend to care what Liam Neeson thinks anyway? Or conversely, what makes his statements so outrageous? And yet the comments flow in like rivers of literal advertising money.

Cover Photo by Mike Wilson on Unsplash

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