Friday, May 25, 2012

Television - Louis CK on Masculinity

I haven't seen this show, but after reading this column I am inclined to see if it is on Netflix or some other streaming service (we are a cable-free home). This is a good post on the issues of masculinity the show raises, and it comes from Mike Doyle's blog. Some comments below.

Louis CK on Masculinity

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.
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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 criticize 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.
There is more to the article - Doyle offers some explication and good questions for consideration. 

This is a very realistic version of how this would play out if people were honest about how they feel, but few if any women would admit that it had been a turn-off and few if any men would have called her on it as did Louis.

Men live with a double standard - be strong, powerful, and show no fear, but do not be violent or overly aggressive. These qualities can all co-exist in the same man, but few men are capable of holding the paradox of power and non-violence in a way that honors both qualities.

What would you do? What would have been the "correct" way to handle the confrontation? Watch the video and decide for yourself - then come back here to share your thoughts.

Louis is bigger, maybe even stronger, but the kid has youth and the bravado that comes with a group of buddies to back him up. Do you confront the punk, stand up and call his bluff?

Do you take Louis's approach and just try to make it go away, seeing no good outcome from a confrontation, but then face the emasculation and humiliation and being made to beg by a high school punk?

I'm a different situation than Louis - I'm bigger and more menacing, despite not needing to hit anyone in more than 20 years. A kid like that would not pick me as a target. I could easily just stand up, dwarf the punk kid (who is not that big), and he'd back down. I can look intimidating.

I would not - personally - have taken the route Louis did, although I do not blame him at all for doing so - I have no children, and I am sure my mind would work differently if I did.

So what would I do?

I would stand up, and I'd ask the kid who hurt him so badly that he needs to pick on other people to feel like a man? I would tell him I can see the frightened child looking out through those angry eyes. I would reach out a hand and ask him how I can help? What does he need to feel safe? Whose love and approval does he crave and is not getting? I would tell him he is exactly okay right now, as he is, and beating me up will not make him feel any more safe or any more loved.

Maybe he would swing at me anyway, which I would deflect. Or maybe he would feel ashamed that someone exposed his secrets in front of his peers and be even more belligerent. And if it were a Steven Spielberg move he would start crying and give me a hug.

Whatever - my response in that situation would be to look past the bluster and bravado and to see the wounded child inside. In my experience, this is surest way to defuse a situation like the one on the show.

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