Louis CK on Masculinity

Image via gawker.com

When I started watching comedian Louis C.K.’s show LouisI expected to spend those 25-minute episodes laughing as Louis poked crude fun at the world around him à la his stand-up shows. And while the show does have some legitimately funny moments, I was surprised to discover that Louis’ show actually presents a more realistic comedic depiction of his life (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) that makes viewers feel equal parts awkward and uncomfortable. It’s quite brilliant, actually. The viewer spends a few minutes laughing at snippets of his stand-up, then is shown the gritty reality behind some of his jokes.

Because of this painfully honest style, Louis C.K.’s show actually hits on some interesting, often uncomfortable subjects. The show focuses on the comedian’s life as a 42-year-old single dad, resulting in many episodes featuring some of his less than successful dating experiences. Most of them are just painful to watch, but the season one episode titled “Bully” actually takes this a step further by highlighting an age-old gender role issue: the nice guy vs the bad boy.

In “Bully,” Louis is on a date that is actually going well. He and his date are at a coffee shop enjoying donuts and watery coffee when a group of teenage boys barrel in and are so rowdy that he and his date cannot hear each other talk. Louis tries to take control of the situation by telling the boys to keep it down, but his assertiveness back-fires on him when one of the boys decides to challenge Louis.

SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t seen the episode and don’t want to know what happens, then stop reading.

For those who do want to know what happens, keep reading and/or click here to see a video clip on Gawker.

The teenager saunters over to the couple’s table and menaces them with a feigned civility that is dripping with the potential for violence. After a long minute of this charade, the kid proceeds to threaten to kick Louis’ ass, showing him his cut up knuckles that he claims are the result of a recent beat down he bestowed upon some other lucky victim. Louis is forced to beg the kid not to beat him while his date watches in stunned silence. It’s humiliating for Louis.

And it gets worse.

After the kids leave, Louis tells his date he can’t go around fighting because he has to think of his daughters, but as his date asserts that she thinks he did the right thing, it’s clear she’s being insincere. Louis calls her on it, and she admits the whole situation was a turn off. She says she would’ve been upset if things had turned violent … but it was still a turn off. She says,”It’s like a primitive thing or something. I mean, you see this guy totally debase himself just to be safe. It’s a turn off.”

Louis is floored. He tells her, “I gotta ciritize you a little bit for that. That’s why there’s wars and stuff — women like you that choose stupid strong people over the weak and the gentle.”

I almost wish his date had tried to argue with him, but instead she says, “I’m a grown woman, and my mind is telling me that you are a great guy … but my chemistry is telling me that you’re a loser. I’m surprised by my own reaction, and I have no defense.”

At this Louis tells her it’s time to get her a cab, angrily batting away her attempts to pay for their meal and making a point to open and hold the door for her as they leave the cafe. I found my breath caught in my throat as the scene came to a close, a touch of shame for my gender creeping its way into my psyche.

I definitely didn’t expect to watch Louis dramatize this kind of subject matter, and I most certainly have a greater deal of respect for him because he was able to use a comedy show to force me to think about an ugly truth: like his date, most women would find Louis’ lack of “machismo” a turn off.

I considered what my reaction would have been if it had been me. Truthfully, I’m not really sure how I would feel about my boyfriend had he been the one saying in defeat, “Please don’t kick my ass.” I mean, those are pretty emasculating words. But would I really enjoy watching him fight some stranger? Would it make me feel like he was more of a man? I tried to imagine it, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t really want to. I couldn’t reconcile violence for the sake of violence, even if it meant leaving the cafe with our tails between our legs.

So do we really want our men to fight? Yes, we do … but not really. A truly “feminine” answer, right?

The crux of this issue is that we have created a lose-lose for men when it comes to “proving” their masculinity. The men who choose to abstain from fighting are weak, but the men who choose to fight are violent hotheads. We want them to be both the bad boy and the nice guy all in one — emotionally sensitive partners who have the ability to transform into a vicious Hulk if necessary. It’s just plain ridiculous.

How would you feel if this were you and your partner? Would you look down on your partner if he/she begged off a fight? If you’re able, I’d suggest watching a video clip of the episode before commenting.

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7 thoughts on “Louis CK on Masculinity

  1. Valter Viglietti says:

    Very good point, Mika.
    Human beings are often contradictory, and women even more: they often say one thing, but actually they want something else (or both).
    Like women saying they want equality AND chivalry; but chivalry is not equality. Double standards everywhere.

    In a way, I understand the woman in that episode: it’s not her fault, it’s her “animal/istinctive” part, driving her to choose an “alpha male” (that would likely cheat on her, later 😉 ).
    The animal part in us wants different things from our mind: how do we make them agree? 🙂

    • Mika Doyle says:

      Thanks, Valter. Humans certainly are contradictory, but I don’t think one gender is more contradictory than another. Women certainly are confused by the equality vs chivalry issue, but I’d argue that men are equally confused by what they want from women (like the terrible saying “lady in the street but a freak in the bed”). I think we’d all do well to realize we can’t be everything to everyone.

  2. Sadye says:

    I tried to sort out my feelings, and though this doesn’t truly answer your question, here’s what I decided: I would prefer that my hypothetical date and I agreed, without confronting/acknowledging the hoodlums, to head to a different coffee shop.

    That way, each of us shares the loss of face with each other, and that’s it. I’d probably absorb most of the embarrassment even, thinking that I let some random people ruin MY date.

    • Mika Doyle says:

      I love this solution, Sadye. I also prefer to avoid confrontation whenever possible, so I really don’t know how I would handle that situation if a confrontation did arise.

      • illijah says:

        This is a non-answer. To answer the question you have to start from AFTER the point where he has been threatened with physical violence.

        Why can’t you just say “he did the right thing”? Because you don’t believe that.

  3. Fernweher says:

    2 main thoughts:

    1. it’s really shitty to blame women for wars that are fought by men, and delcared by governments made mostly of men and voted for mostly by men through most of history. I think men have to take some of the blame here for allowing the cult of “machismo” to dictate their behavior so much.

    and

    2. its not a Lose-lose scenario where you women have to choose between seeing then men act “weak” and avoid a fight or “sexy and dangerous” while starting a fight. Starting violence for no good reason is not really that sexy, its abusive. If your man is threatening someone else, that’s not sexy unless you’re a reckless, menacing sadist. But if your man is being threatened by another man, its not your mans reaction that’s important, he is the victim here and its really the guy who’s threatening him that is the problem. Focusing on your man’s reaction in this situation instead of confronting the abuser (the one causing the problem) is like (a weaker version of) focusing on what a rape victim did to precipitate her own rape. The “Louie” is in a tough situation so you should support him, not judge him.

    I think we have problems seeing #2 because we find it hard to view men as victims. I think the cult of masculinity says men have to always be strong and leaders, or they are failures. I don’t think it allows for them to be victims without also being despised for it, which is really damaging.

  4. Carlos Torres says:

    Yes he might’ve gotten beat down but it was in a public area and people could’ve helped him. He didn’t have to fight back but he sure as hell should’ve stood up for himself. Atleast get up and convince them to leave. At his age, he should be wise enough to know which words can tone down a situation.

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