Me Too: Louis C.K. Joins Hollywood’s List of Outed Sexual Predators

Yesterday afternoon, hours after the cancellation of his film, I Love You, Daddy, Louis C.K. publicly admitted that yep, he’s been a creepy wanker. I’d tell you what the shelved movie is about, but I can’t bring myself to type the words. So I invite you to read New Yorker writer Alexandra Schwartz’s account of needing a “barf bag” to endure the disgust. And oh by the way, C.K. – which is apparently an acronym for “cock” – also uses the “N” word in the movie. We really missed out, America. There’s just not enough self-involved, middle aged, white male stories of privilege being told (see: Election 2016).

C.K.’s fans have always found him edgy and – in a cruel irony – honest. The man traded on this reputation to create sometimes artistic, often funny content that also, from any angle, included plenty to make one wince. It was part of the brand. But hey, he was all in on Hillary Clinton, even if he felt the need to use the word “bitch” to describe her toughness. He has two young daughters. American audiences validated him. Unconventional feminist for sure, but we’ll take allies anywhere we can find them. Cool, I guess.

Except no. Louis C.K. and the guerilla-style perversions with which he attacked up and coming female comics were no secret to the industry. The power players – who are overwhelmingly male – enabled and uplifted a sick man who made them rich and famous by association. Let the shame hang on you now, Hollywood industrial media complex. You’ve also given us Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Mark Halperin, Brett Ratner, Charlie Sheen, Woody Allen, Billy Cosby, Roman Polanski, R. Kelly and Casey Affleck. None of these men committed their wide range of predatory acts in the shadows. Some of them, like Charlie Sheen, made TV millions after allegedly assaulting a young Corey Haim, and knowingly exposing female partners to HIV. That’s #Winning in the anything goes patriarchy.

And of course, Louis C.K., a writer on The Dana Carvey Show in 1996, has been running around with his dick in hand for over 20 years. His own work made no attempt to camouflage it, and still he kept rising (pun acknowledged, if not intended). In March 2012, now-defunct website Gawker, published a blind item entitled, Which Beloved Comedian Likes to Force Female Comics to Watch Him Jerk Off?

I’ll give you three guesses, but you only need one.

Five and a half years ago, the author wrote, “this shameless funnyman whips it out at the most inopportune moments, often at times when his female companions have expressed no interest in watching him go at it.” Yes, this checks out with what we now know. But appallingly, no one but the victims – two of whom who were intimidated by C.K.’s manager Dave Becky after one particular Aspen incident – would publicly say the emperor of American comedy was wearing no pants.

Well there were a few folks who decried the star’s penchant for pud pulling, but they’re women, lesbians or both. Why listen to them? Funny lady Tig Nataro, the deadpanned creator and star of Amazon’s One Mississippi, publicly distanced herself from her former collaborator long before the story broke this week. Jen Kirkman, Roseanne Barr and others have talked about Louie C.K.’s reputation as a glorified subway creep in an expensive trench coat. Nataro wisely advised the comedian to “handle that.”

As we know, after the quick flight of C.K.’s many entertainment partners this week, his weird, traumatizing business has been handled for him. No longer will the wildly successful comedian have access to talented, ambitious women he degrades by pleasuring himself. Louis C.K. belongs in intensive therapy, not on our screens. The victims deserve to be heard, if they wish. They must be believed regardless. And if the timing were not so totally cynical, while still lacking in honesty, the comedian’s Friday afternoon admission of guilt might have offered a chance to begin healing. The too little, too late, empathy is almost touching, nearly enlightened:

“I want to address the stories told to The New York Times by five women named Abby, Rebecca, Dana, Julia who felt able to name themselves and one who did not…. what I learned later in life, too late, is that when you have power over another person, asking them to look at your dick isn’t a question. It’s a predicament for them. The power I had over these women is that they admired me. And I wielded that power irresponsibly.”

We know there are more than five brave women who’ve endured the full Louis. C.K. experience. And we know that there are more predators hiding in Hollywood’s sunshine-filled plain sight. And that should make us all angry, mad enough to finally start calling these pigs back to the trough (I’m looking especially hard at you, male allies). There’s no excuse for Louis C.K.’s behavior. But the celebration and inner-circle secrecy that allows powerful men to illiberally victimize women and young boys is what’s truly inexcusable.

Handle that.

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A Foggy Feminist’s Clarity

A couple of weeks ago, on Saturday, October 21, I delivered an address at the Fall Conference of the American Association of University Women’s (AAUW) Wheaton-Glen Ellen, IL Branch. Or as Bob characterized it while watching a video replay of the speech, “Beckytime at the Apollo.” The clip betrays awareness of speaking to an audience comprised of my supportive, social justice-minded mother-in-law, a gaggle of former students and an army of elderly, pissed off academic women. If ever there existed a friendly crowd for the subject I was invited to engage…

Comfortable showmanship aside, my passion for the material was real as it gets. Because October 21 was an important day in recent feminist history. Exactly nine months after the international Women’s Marches of late January 2017, local AAUW leader Danielle Byron asked me to speak about the impact from a female journalist’s perspective. The group had two questions about the largest protests in U.S. history: “What has happened in the last nine months? And what is being ‘birthed’ for the future?”

So many ways to respond to these questions as an objective observer of a cultural moment, and I did use research and statistics to point to positive trends such as the 17,000 women and counting since Election Day who are looking to run for office. I discussed the ignominious downfalls of a growing list of bipartisan pigs who have built powerful careers on the abuse of women and children. The encouraging, growing social awareness that predators do not deserve our celebration and silence.

Yet I’m not an impartial observer of my gender, of the battles it has fought and must continue to fight, am I? By virtue of my anatomy, experiences and growing activism, I am both participant and recorder of this moment in history. Thus my AAUW address was sprinkled with quotes from my writing and started where any larger narrative offered with individual interpretation must – with my own story.

As longtime readers of this blog are well aware, I had a distressed childhood, raised by two mentally ill parents. Our home was one of addiction – substance abuse, compulsive gambling and my father’s obsessive compulsive disorder which manifested itself in hoarding rituals. These were the physical challenges, which were rivaled only by complicated psychological ones – pervasive, often counterproductive dishonesty, simmering rage and tribal divisions where the sides were always subject to change.

These formative experiences taught me a few important lessons that were perversely empowering as I grew into an adult:

  • Resilience: fall constantly, get right back up, regroup and charge forward again
  • An admiration for honesty and order versus cynicism and lies
  • A curious lack of awareness regarding traditional gender roles

I’ve reflected on the third lesson more and more often from the position of a 39 year-old woman growing in enlightenment (or trying her damnedest).

My father was the more ill parent and my mother, a registered nurse, was the family breadwinner. Neither parent taught me to sit pretty and wait for the proverbial knight to come along. I was encouraged to apply myself to, and excel at everything – studies, sports, music, fist fighting. My father in particular, was just as proud if I came home with an “A’ grade, a trophy, or a swollen lip from scrapping with a neighborhood bully of any gender identification. I knew intuitively and from my parent’s example that I was going to have to fend for myself in every sense of word. Everything would be a fight.

Frequently the fights occurred between myself and my mother, who established a competitive and adversarial relationship with her eldest daughter. Ritual shame came early and often as I worked to avail myself of opportunities Gloria never perceived herself as having. My rapport, such as it was with mom, was marked by a curious and painful Catch-22. I was driven to excel at everything I took on, yet if I shone too brightly at any effort, it was somehow an affront, evidence of arrogance. I was a source of bragging rights, or a cypher for my mother’s own bitter sense of wasted potential.

Well into my 20s, if you’d asked me which gender suited me better, I would have proudly and unselfconsciously replied that I was a “guy’s girl,” a tomboy who enjoyed sports and verbal sparring more than the color pink and making myself pleasant to everyone else. I never had more than two close girlfriends at a time. Like the young fool lacking in self-awareness that I was, I convinced myself I was more comfortable with men than women. It would be years before hard knocks, therapy, and an adulthood free of the bizarre, warping influence of my mother exposed a programmed traitor to my gender and its systemic inequality. I did nothing because I felt nothing. Because I was convinced all doors were open to us if we were ready to walk through them alone.

How awesomely, pitifully naïve. How sadly ignorant.

We will kick the unopened doors alright, but we won’t do so it solo. With each passing year, I embrace the “feminist” label attributed to my work in terms both derisive and admiring. I continue working to synthesize the shame and gender isolation I once felt, with gratitude for the opportunity to discover pride in my womanhood. The chance to continuously learn and grow, the privilege of being able to use my words and physical presence to agitate for change.

Toward the end of my AAUW remarks, I said this regarding the immediate future of our gender. But I was also painfully aware of personal challenges that lie ahead:

“We have so much work to do. So much in fact that it can be demoralizing. It can cause anger, paralysis, fear and plain old fatigue. It’s normal and it’s ok to give into it now and then. We need our rest, our quiet time, our emotional releases. It’s ok to ask why in the hell we still have to fight these fights.”

Yasmina’s Necklace

One part romantic dramedy, one part recent world history lesson and an all-encompassing story of human resilience and possibility, “Yasmina’s Necklace” is a substantial addition to Goodman Theatre’s 2017/2018 season slate.

Chicago-based playwright Rohina Malik and director Ann Filmer collaborate to bring this excellent production to life with familiarity and respect. The two female artists developed a successful rhythm in 2016, working together on the play’s premiere at 16th Street Theater in Berwyn, Illinois. Their comfort with the material — and each other — is evident in the faultless fluidity with which thought, word and action roll across Goodman’s Owen Theatre stage.

Per the press material synopsis, “Yasmina’s Necklace… explores two disparate Muslim families coming together as their children embark on a relationship.” This simple plot description is accurate as well as discreet, for the story transcends continental, cultural, racial and social divisions to yield a piece of art that is uniquely American. And uniquely appropriate viewing for this particular moment in history.

Nearly 15 years after our country’s spurious post-9/11 invasion of Iraq, more than six years after the commencement of the Syrian civil war and as President Trump’s nativist positions yield ideological and legal clashes over immigration and refugee policies, “Yasmina’s Necklace” forces audiences to take a look at the human costs of these events in totality. Blowing across the stage in gorgeous, intense gusts of pain, emotion and love, Malik’s script is a moving realization of the titular character’s paintings in all their complexity.

Sussan Jamshidi brings a formidable combination of strength and vulnerability to the role of Yasmina, “a young Iraqi artist who has hardened herself against the possibility of finding happiness after fleeing to Chicago from her war-torn homeland.” The refugee is tough and weary, however her personal trials have not diminished a will to help others escape terror.

Nor has Yasmina lost the ability to dream and create in inverse proportions to the limited emotional range on exterior display. Jamshidi, who also brought life to the character in 16th Street Theater’s 2016 production, treats her alter ego like the uncommon, modern social justice warrior she is. The actress’ performance fully exhibits the dignity Yasmina deserves.

The storyline stretches a full year between Yasmina’s initial meeting with Sam (Michael Perez), an American-born “salad” Muslim, born to an Iraqi father and Puerto Rican mother. Sam’s confusion about marriage, corporate marketability and social mobility is reflected by a struggle with his given name, and stands in contrast to Yasmina’s wounded self-assurance. The duo’s initial dislike for one another is as organic as the attraction that develops over time.

Though the cast turns in lovely work without exception, it is no accident that the two women who grace the stage completely own the material. As Sam’s socially anxious but doting mother Sara, Laura Crotte is a marvel gifted with equal portions of comedic timing and dramatic presence. A theoretical distaste for aligning her family with blue collar refugees is quickly cast aside as Sara grows in love and appreciation for Yasmina and her father Musa (a completely winning Rom Barkhordar). Crotte gives audiences the biggest laughs as well as aching moments of quiet tenderness. She is astounding.

Allen Gilmore, a Jeff Award-nominee who impressed me in last spring’s “Objects in the Mirror,” is back on the Goodman stage as Imam Kareem, the spiritual advisor who helps Yasmina, Sam and their respective families navigate the challenges of uniting varied experiences into a cohesive, healthy present and future. My companion for the evening, never accused of possessing a strong memory, identified Gilmore from “Objects” without a need to open his program. In response to a quizzical look, he responded, “It’s that voice. I’d recognize it anywhere.” Fitting then that Glimore is cast as an authority, one happily lacking in condemnation and open to change. This forward-thinking imam even follows the Paleo diet.

“Yasmina’s Necklace” is full of wonderful surprises, heartrending emotion and excellent dramatic and technical work. A must see.

“Yasmina’s Necklace” runs through November 19 at Goodman Theatre, 170 N Dearborn, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-443-3820 or visit the Goodman Theatre website.

 

Cubs October Coaching Liquidation Leaves Mark on Joe Maddon’s Image

“The Chicago Cubs 2017 season may have ended on October 19 with an 11-1 loss against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 5 of the NLCS, but for many of us, disappointment in the team’s performance during that run lingers. The bullpen struggles, the anemic hitting, 2016 National League MVP Kris Bryant’s admission that the team was “tired” after a no more than usually grueling season. Writer Steve Greenberg of The Chicago Sun-Times wrote on October 18, “Sadly, the whole world can tell…It’s almost like this team is out of gas, wheezing to the finish line, already half in bed and going to sleep.”

Cub fans of all philosophies agreed that changes need to be made in advance of the 2018 season. However we didn’t get much time to consider what those changes could and should look like before the organization embarked on its own version of “Black Monday,” the “Savage Last Full Week of October.”

Perhaps the purge was unavoidable. But what’s especially jarring – and has become the central storyline as opposed to a narrative about the team refining and retuning – is Joe Maddon’s long-running and very recent insistence that all was well in the clubhouse.”

Read the full post at Wrigleyville Nation.

Learning to Listen

America has a hard time listening. We can watch the news and see what’s going on, but there’s a difference between looking and listening, especially when there’s so much noise to filter. Learning to listen requires us to go beyond the words, to hear and appreciate what’s also being communicated in moments of silence.

Over the past week, we’ve seen our listening problems rise to the surface, unfolding via the growing reports of harassment and misconduct by Harvey Weinstein. News coverage prompted numerous celebrities and victims to emerge from the shadows years, or even decades later. What caused the delays? A familiar set of problems – hostile work environments, fear of retaliation, a power imbalance and good old fashioned fear.

Actress Rose McGowan’s Twitter account was suspended after sharing her own abusive experience with Harvey Weinstein. Her initial accusation was shushed out of court for $100,000. The deluge of accusers that have supported McGowan’s account reflects another dark chapter for male accountability in Hollywood. It’s clear that Weinstein’s actions were well-known, and textbook bystander silence was the rule until the accusers generated enough media coverage to make it safe for other powerful men to come out against Weinstein.

Consider this situation in the context of the recent repeal of campus sexual investigation standards promoted by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos. The repeal means that the burden of proof shifts even further toward victims, while protecting rapists like Brock Turner.  The result? Offenders are receiving the communication that they can abuse with minimal (if any) repercussions.

In the short and long term, victims are facing ever steeper battles to be heard while waiting for (historically) ineffective campus police/security to take action, under rules which mandate that rape kits and tests be performed within 72 hours of an attack. Additional roadblocks placed in front of people who deserve support.

Remember that the man-child in the Oval Office stands in the company of Weinstein and Turner for his own aggressive and unwelcome behavior towards women. There was outrage a year ago when the infamous Access Hollywood footage came to light, but not enough to derail his campaign. Is that predictive of Weinstein’s fate? Some time in the pop cultural penalty box  before business resumes as usual?

We cannot afford silence any longer. There isn’t space to devalue the traumatizing experiences others. A nation recovering from several natural disasters (with a notable lack of action and coverage in Puerto Rico), a President speaking to hate groups while cancelling necessary healthcare subsidies for lower-income citizens….we need a multitude of loud voices against these atrocities, but we must also learn to listen. The cynically powerful and repressive are muffling voices that should be heard. 

The Crucible

Most of us who paid attention and did our reading in high school English Literature classes have come across “The Crucible.” I went on to earn a B.A. in the discipline in 2000, followed by an M.A. from Northeastern Illinois University in 2007.

Throughout the years of study and into my tenure as a Chicago theater critic with EDGE Media Network, the work of playwright Arthur Miller, and in particular, this allegory of 1950s era McCarthyism in the United States, has been a ubiquitous creative presence.

This past weekend as I took my seat for Director Jonathan Berry’s production of “The Crucible,” the kickoff to Steppenwolf Theatre’s 2017-2018 Steppenwolf for Young Adults (SYA) season, I thought there was nothing new to learn about Miller’s oft-produced work. I was wrong.

The story, per press materials, is well known: “The people of Salem are whipped into a bloodthirsty frenzy by a series of misinterpretations after a group of teenage girls are accused of dancing devilishly in the woods. Fearing retribution, the girls begin a chain of finger-pointing until neighbor turns against neighbor, whispers become testimony, fabrications become facts, and a once powerless teenage girl suddenly has the ability to decide the fate of all those around her.”

The synopsis is familiar, but Berry’s execution is all new. Arnel Sanciano’s spartan set design conveys the barren, cold, passionless external excesses of early American Protestant communities, while leaving literal room to demonstrate the complicated natures of Arthur Miller’s human subjects.

It’s a drab catwalk runway setup surrounded by chairs in which cast members rotate through the scenes as both subject and spectator. The device is spectacularly effective in delivering an ecosystem in which eyes are always watching, in which characters are present even when they’re not involved in a particular dialogue exchange.

Naima Hebrail Kidjo, a Steppenwolf Theatre Company newcomer, also brings fresh perspective to Abigail Williams, the lovestruck, scorned minister’s niece whom community members of all genders, age and religious devotion learn to fear. Her performance is well matched by Travis A. Knight, another Steppenwolf rookie, who conveys a flawed John Proctor’s moral conflict and steadfast determination to save his community from itself. Kidjo and Knight display an electric chemistry that does more than hint at the fleeting, mutual passion that once existed between the characters.

And this is a must if an audience is to believe to the lengths to which both Abigail and John will go to achieve their ends. Abigail is nakedly ambitious to become the second Mrs. Proctor, and manipulates the weaknesses of Salem residents into furthering her goal. These weaknesses are personified by supporting characters who could be accused of existing in one-dimension without the nuanced performances of the talented cast.

Cynical greed, thy name is Reverend Parris (Peter Moore). Ann Putnam (Stephanie Shum) is desperate to find a reason for the death and illness of eight consecutive children, and witchcraft will do. The saintly Rebecca Nurse (Millie Hurley) is willing to die for her conviction that Abigail’s accusations are the real evil at work.

In previous encounters with “The Crucible” text, the relationship between John Proctor and his betrayed wife Elizabeth (Kristina Valada-Viars) is an incidental bore. In the text as written, Elizabeth is merely a cipher for her spouse’s guilt and self-recrimination, a virtuous, suffering foil to Abigail’s id-driven Jezebel.

In Berry’s production, and animated by Valada-Viars prodigious gifts, this Abigail is afraid, angry, resigned, hopeful, loving and bitter in equal portions — exactly what an audience would expect from a woman forced pay for her husband’s transgressions publicly and privately. Because of this authenticity, the audience can more easily accept Proctor’s about-face rejection of Abigail and subsequent risk of his own life to restore Elizabeth’s honor.

The production runs two hours and 45 minutes, with a short intermission, a worthwhile investment of time. From the vantage point of late 2017, “The Crucible” may remind audience members of events more current than the 1950s congressional communist witch hunt. Berry’s interpretation is a civics lesson — past and present — in addition to engaging entertainment.

“The Crucible” runs through October 21 at the Steppenwolf Downstairs Theatre, 1650 N Halsted Street, Chicago, IL. For information or tickets, call 312-335-1650 or visit www.steppenwolf.org

Beyond the Helpers

There’s a popular Facebook meme circulating that quotes the late, esteemed Fred Rogers advising us to “look for the helpers” during times of tragedy.

This well-meaning trend re-emerges just when Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has admitted to a lack of transparency for the social network’s advertising policies and display algorithms. Specifically, the ads allowed foreign (Russian) companies to funnel hundreds of thousands dollars into circulating divisive, often false information. These ads were paid for in Russian rubles, from an unclear source that Facebook has not been required to disclose…yet.

In addition to the negative political sway Facebook has exhibited through ad sales, there has been a barrage of content relative to kneeling NFL players and interpretations of Trump’s (in)actions in Puerto Rico. This is the backdrop against which the “look for the helpers” philosophy has re-emerged. 

With these events, the construct of “helpers” is considered in different ways.  With the NFL protests, we need help clearing the misinterpretations of protests against police brutality, as well as an understanding of First Amendment rights. In Puerto Rico, significant humanitarian efforts from celebrities and everyday people have taken the place of significant government action. Helpers seem to be in short supply with too many challenges across the nation and the globe to attend to at once.  The aid needed is varied as well: hearts and minds (NFL) versus a physical requirement to rescue and rebuild infrastructure (Puerto Rico). 

The renaissance of the Mr. Rogers meme, however, is overwhelming applied to the  mass-shooting that took place in Las Vegas weekend. While there are ways to help our fellow Americans  through every crisis (and there is abundant evidence of Good Samaritanism in Vegas), now more than ever, we need action from our duly elected government representatives.

I’m looking for the helpers to address our many challenges on Capitol Hill, and across the board, I’m finding them lacking. The obvious leader in failure is Mr. Trump, who benefited from the Russian attack ads, greatly exacerbated the NFL protest’s momentum, made a mockery of assistance in Puerto Rico (he wanted to throw cans of chicken a.k.a. metal projectiles into a crowd of people without water or power) and has already deflated efforts for gun control reform, because white male “lone-wolves” are his people. The President of the United States, rather than being our central helper is instead the Instigator in Chief.

Sure, there’s a select few representatives pushing for changes in gun laws, but the political gridlock turns it all into lip service. An insufficient proposed regulation of gun stocks rather than gun sales. Over 500 injured and 58 dead demands more than compassion and partisan time wasting. It demands positive action across the aisle that will actually save lives.

I offer up a new meme: Guns don’t kill people. Cynicism does.