twilight of the idols

I don’t understand personality cults and celebrity culture, at least not on an emotional level. I was sort of baffled by the premise of this article at The Week: how hard it is to hear that Louis CK did bad things to people. But he played such a good character on TV!

I’ve been thinking about this a lot — this place we, the outsiders, the fans, duck into, hoping our idols will hold. Louis C.K. has mattered to me. Forget comedy; he’s one of the creators I’ve most admired in my life, even as I’ve watched in concerned perplexity as his often excellent, thoughtful work took stranger and more disturbing turns. For a while, I’ve suspected the rumors about Louis C.K. might be true, but there were no accusers (yet) and there was just enough smoke to hope that someone had garbled the story. I was operating from a place of spiraling optimism caught mid-dwindle. I’ve even tried to explain some of the more disturbing content away, to fold it into an artistic project that absolved Louis C.K. from the predatory material he himself wrote.

It all seems to have been a lot simpler than I was making it: Some people get off on victimizing folks and getting away with it. What better way to multiply that frisson than by making your show (or film) about the stuff you know you’ve done?

Even last month, as I was writing a pointed examination of how perniciously our culture enables us to “not know” about sexual assault no matter how the charges are made or by whom, I — a feminist, a writer, someone who thinks a lot about the obstacles female artists face — clung to my ability to not know about the allegations against Louis C.K. “IF TRUE,” I said to myself, fingers crossed tight.

That wishful thinking is over. Louis C.K.’s alleged misconduct is corroborated, and there will likely be more revelations. I’m reeling — from the colossal disappointment in someone whose artistic vision I blindly trusted, and from a loss so much greater that it’s hard to take its full measure.

Just this afternoon, I became aware of similar accusations of creepiness against Guy McPherson, whose ideas about near-term human extinction were very convincing to me. For those who don’t know, his thing was to run a blog called “Nature Bats Last,” in which he cherry-picked all the worst-case scenarios he could find and stitched them together into a case that we’re going to die very soon. He made true observations about how climate scientists downplay the severity of their findings, how things have been getting worse consistently faster than projections, there are records of very fast climate change in the geologic record, etc. Positive feedbacks. Then considering the impact of drought on food production, the further loss of food production due to oil/phosphorous supply, political instability.

I was primed to entertain such ideas because I grew up in an apocalyptic cult. The amazing thing was that McPherson seemed to be describing reality. In broad outline, what he’s saying is true. What made him different was that he put his neck out on specific dates by which all of this was supposed to happen. It seemed well thought out to me because he considered things like non-greenhouse pollutants we’re releasing that have a cooling effect. Once industrial civilization collapses, the warming will speed up even faster.

My point is that Guy McPherson influenced my thinking more than Louis CK influenced Lili Loofbourow’s thinking.

Guy McPherson stands accused of abusing his position of trust as a grief counselor and general guru by mentoring women and then starting conversations about how they’re “cum-gargling whores” and other dominant guy stuff. This didn’t fly with Deep Green Resistance, which is a bunch of radical feminists.

It’s not very hard at all for me to believe that he did stuff like that. I don’t understand the need for someone’s behavior to be unimpeachable before I can get something out of their intellectual positions. Now, the interpretation of Louis CK stuff changes. It represents something much darker, now.


The betrayal is greater with McPherson, since he presented himself as decent. The whole point of Louis CK (and a lot of comedy) is dickishness. Isn’t it funny that people will die alone?! Hahaha! Nobody accused Louis CK of being a grief counselor.

It seems to me that Louis CK is exactly what he said he was. The real scandal is that everybody thought it was cool as long as they didn’t have to hear from the victims. The real problem is to work through the gross part of ourselves that laughs along with Louis CK.

Essentially, his “humor” consists of telling the audience it’s OK when they click away from my OkCupid profile when they see words like “black” or “autistic.” We’re all a little bigoted LOL!

The problem isn’t only that people in the entertainment industry knew but didn’t say anything. The problem is that the public liked what he was saying.

It’s really hard for people to wrap their hands around “he knew better and did it anyway.” Or “the harm it caused was the whole point.”

Guy McPherson should lose his guru privileges. It’s not complicated. He has a conflict of interest by creating negative feelings that he offers a cure for, by letting him call you names while he jerks off.

His sexual issues have no bearing on his earlier climate stuff, and it’s not somehow negated that I got something out of reading what he had to say. In high school I remember understanding that MLK’s Christian homophobia was unacceptable. Principles before people.

For that matter, I got a lot out of reading Ralph Waldo Emerson when I was younger: Nature, Self-Reliance, etc. I loved this shit:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said to-day. — ‘Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood.’ — Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.

This is what I learned about him much later in The History of White People:

Neither, by the mid-1850s, did it perturb Emerson that black people and Indians might become extinct; on the contrary, their eventual disappearance would improve the human race by widening the gap between “man & beast!” The black man “is created on a lower plane than the white, & eats men & kidnaps & tortures, if he can. The Negro is reactionary imitative, secondary, in short, reactionary merely in his successes, & there is no origination with him in mental & moral sphere.

Well, that sucks. The man’s ideas have both helped and hurt me.

This sort of thing is just part of being a mature reader, or learning how to read critically. Very few people are suggesting we banish Thomas Jefferson’s influence because he’s a confirmed rapist. The reason people are upset about Louis CK is that they could tell what kind of person he was and liked it, but now they’re upset at being forced to look too closely at the reality. It’s like being in favor of war and then not looking at war photos. So many people are upset because they already supported Louis CK’s barbarism and can’t retroactively erase it.

They were identified with Louis CK in his capacity as an asshole. Our society only works when it doesn’t have to look at its own actions.