One of the first promo trailers for season four of Louie was a very beautiful looking black and white clip of Louie jumping off a bridge with a rose in his teeth. It’s very indicative of what this past season turned out to be: very beautiful to look at, and depicting something that is actually kind of horrifying. In this case: the romanticization of abusive behavior.
It started with part five of the “Elevator” arc. Louie and Amia are coming back from a date. Amia, who does not speak english, starts to head out of his apartment telling him, “bye.” But Louie has made up his mind that he wants to have sex with her to make the relationship more “serious.” Amia continues to refuse, saying, “bye,” and, “better bye,” as in, “no, goodbye, it’s better if I leave.” Louie persists and actually grabs her arm, pulls her into his apartment, closes the door, and kisses her.
This scene was very troubling to me at the time, partly because Amia could not fully communicate her true feelings. Luckily, in part six of “Elevator,” it is revealed via a translator that Amia did not want to get serious with Louie because she had a son that she had to return to overseas. Okay, so if I’m giving Louie the benefit of the doubt, then what had occurred in the troubling scene was maybe more complicated than it looked. It’s not that Amia didn’t want to have sex with Louie, we could imply, but that she had conflicting feelings about getting too close to him and feeling hurt when she had to inevitably leave the U.S. Fine.
Then part one of the “Pamela” arc happened. Louie is heartbroken over Amia leaving and has his old friend Pamela back at his apartment. He then decides he wants to “make something happen” between them and actually ends up chasing Pamela around his apartment, grabbing her, trying to pull her in, all while Pamela screams things like, “this would be rape if you weren’t so stupid!” and, “you can’t even rape well!” The scene ends with Louie demanding that Pamela let him kiss her. She relents. Pamela and Louie share a kiss, Pamela cowering in a corner and Louie looming over her. Pure physical oppression. After Pamela leaves, Louie faces the camera and gives an enthusiastic fist pump, like an athlete celebrating a victory. Truly cringe-worthy, and intentionally so.
After this scene, I was disturbed, but actually a bit more interested. Because clearly Louis CK the show writer was going somewhere with this. The Amia and Pamela scenes were so obviously meant to mirror each other, and one of the episodes including a stand-up segment about the history of violence towards women. So Louis CK must be setting up a “teachable moment” similar to the “So Did The Fat Lady” speech. Right?
Nope. The moment never came. Instead, we were treated to two episodes of Louie and Pamela engaging in one of the most unhealthy, uncomfortable relationships I’ve seen on TV. Louie takes her out to the park and wants her to look up at the stars. He asks her, “can you do that? just trust me and go with this?”
I wouldn’t. Louie attempted to force this woman into physical contact against her will (let’s call that what it is: sexual assault), and now we have to sit here and watch Louie ask her to “trust him”? Is this supposed to be romantic? A joke? As if somehow what Louie did doesn’t matter, because they’re going to live happily ever after? This is “nice guy” sexism at it’s finest.
It didn’t stop there. After the date, Louie once again pulls Pamela into his apartment, despite her saying she doesn’t want to “do things.” Louie then throws a pouting fit, goes into his room, and accuses Pamela of stringing him along. Pamela was confused about her own feelings. Louie is allowed to be frustrated by that, but to blame it on Pamela is wrong. Pamela never lies to Louie. Louie feels the same kind of entitlement to a woman’s body, and her emotions, that is the very foundation of all sorts of misogyny. She won’t have sex with him, so it’s her fault. The same feelings the UCSB shooter felt.
But the most troubling part about all this is that Louis CK the writer doesn’t seem to notice or care. This whole story climaxes with the two of them having an intimate moment together and agreeing to be in a relationship. Louie uses physical and verbal coercion to get what he wants from Pamela, regardless of what she wants. Pure 100% abusive behavior. The consequences? Louis CK gives Louie gets exactly what he wants. There’s no punishment, there’s no commentary, there’s not even a punchline. Just a story and a show that treats abusive behavior as an acceptable means to an end, just as long as you do something romantic afterwards.
It sucks to write this. I find Louis CK to be a very wise person on about 90% of whatever he’s talking about. His capitalism rant is amazing. His views on technology are thought provoking. His representation of fat people in season four of Louie was great. But I can’t get behind the romanticization of abuse, no matter how good the show is.
studentactivism on twitter posted some great points about the show that I’ll leave you with:
Mild spoilers below.
When I first saw Spike Jonze’s “Her,” it made me think a lot. It made me think about whether or not Samantha qualifies as a “real” being and a “real” relationship, about whether or not her being “real” even mattered, and about what anal sex would be like if…okay you get it.
But as Molly Lambert described in her piece for Grantland, “Her made me think a lot, but it never made me feel anything.” Well, maybe that’s not entirely true. Her made me feel some things. Like, for instance, I felt a lot of disdain for the main character. Is that not the “feeling” Spike Jonze had in mind when he made the movie? And while we’re on the subject, what exactly was Spike Jonze trying to accomplish with Her?
I found a scene that perfectly sums up my confusion about this movie. A little over a half an hour in, right before Theodore and Samantha have their first true intimate scene together, Theodore is explaining everything he is feeling to Samantha. In reference to his date-gone-wrong with Olivia Wilde’s character, Theodore says, “I wanted somebody to want me to fuck them because maybe that would have filled this tiny little hole in my heart but probably not.”
This 30-something-year-old man utters such an immature and pathetic line that I cannot for the life of me believe that Spike Jonze intended any serious movie-goer to hear it and go “awwwww” and sympathize with the guy. It’s not just that line either. He takes constant passive-aggressive swipes at his ex-wife by telling everyone that he’s “just happy to be with someone excited about life” when talking about Samantha (he even says it right to Catherine’s face). He has clear intimacy issues which he gets called out on by his ex-wife, and is later brought to the forefront when things start going south with Samantha. He idealizes the past. He generally seems to handle relationships with the tact of a 15 year old.
So if Spike Jonze isn’t trying to get me to relate to or feel bad for Theodore, then surely what Her must be is some kind of social commentary. The age of technology. If I look past the pathetic-but-not-terrible protagonist, there must be some riveting debate being presented throughout the film about whether or not technology is helping us become happy, or hurting us. And after watching the movie about two and a half times now, I can safely say that there is…no real attempt at social commentary. Now, it is possible that there is and I’m just missing it. If that’s the case, I’d like someone to make a case for it. But I’m definitely not seeing it.
So, from where I’m sitting, it seems that Her is either two kinds of movie.
It is either a romantic comedy that wants me to pat a 35-year-old manboy on the back for finally growing up, or it’s a social commentary that forgot to provide any commentary. Neither of which is a great option.
I didn’t hate Her. It’s a gorgeous looking movie. Between the Theodore nice-guy-pity-parties, there were some genuinely nice moments. When he questions whether or not he’ll feel anything as strongly as he did before, I think that’s something we can all relate to. At the end of the movie, he finally owns up to the idealizing he unfairly imposed on his ex-wife Catherine and apologizes. But then again, these scenes just serve to confuse me more. Am I supposed to be sympathizing with this guy or not? Because I really can’t bring myself to.
And I know that trying to “figure out” a piece of art is kind of a silly task. But I also think this film sends out very mixed signals when it comes to what angle I’m supposed to approach it from, and it hurts the experience for me. Is it a warts-and-all love story like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,or a “How Not To Treat People” instruction manual like Ruby Sparks? It seems like it tries to hedge between both and ultimately achieves neither.
Does anyone have any insight that could help me out?
Arcade Fire has confirmed a new album for October 29th!