There’s a great literary tradition built around ironic suspense. You tell a story with an key fact hidden, only to reveal it at the end in a twist that changes how you view the preceding events. This year’s winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature, Kazuo Ishiguro, built his oeuvre around the unreliable narrator. The Remains of the Day stars a butler (portrayed famously in film by Anthony Hopkins) who, among other things, is oblivious to whom he serves. My favorite Ishiguro novel, The Unconsoled, follows a tour-weary concert pianist as he sleepwalks through an important gig. In his novels, the reader slowly realizes there’s more to the story than the narrator is letting on.

This technique shows up in plenty of popular movies. The Usual Suspects is a famous example of an intricately-plotted ensemble drama with a surprise twist at the end. I won’t spoil the story—it’s a classic, at least for kids of my generation who saw it fresh as teenagers—but here are enough tidbits to give you an idea: Bryan Singer directs an ensemble crime thriller headlined by Kevin Spacey, with costars ranging from Benicio del Toro to a Random Baldwin Brother. They portray a pupu platter of underworld lowlifes who have been rounded up in the investigation of a major crime. The point of the story, obviously, is to figure out who’s behind the big caper—the mythical mastermind Keyser Soze, the one who always gets away.

The existence of the “spoiler warning” is proof enough that the hidden twist is an eternal storytelling trope. Depending on who you ask, art imitates life or life imitates art. The point is that the chicken and the egg are the same species. And sometimes we live through story tropes in real life.

This has been quite a year for plot twists—the year in which we learn who the werewolves were and who was in the mafia. We have an unabashed sexual predator in the Oval Office, so it makes sense that now is the time that the levee would break. Our society has tacitly accepted sexual assault as part of the package that comes with powerful men. It’s always been there, and sometimes women try to talk about it. But we really, really don’t want to talk about it; because we don’t want to know the depths of depravity we license to powerful men.

The masquerade has gone too far. The truth will out, or so we like to think. Not all hidden facts become known, but it’s hard to keep atrocities secret forever. And in the case of systemic sexual oppression of women, the “secret” is hardly unknown. It’s just been been suppressed by force.

Watching random celebrities be revealed as predators sucks. I’m mostly oblivious to the high levels of pop culture, so I didn’t even know who Harvey Weinstein was before his perdition commenced. But sometimes the villian is a person in whom you had bestowed your trust.

I was a big fan of Louis C.K. He was the smart comic, the next Carlin, the new television comedy pioneer, blah blah blah. His show Louie was one of the few that I’d watched as it aired—I tend to curate my television intake and wait to see what’s worth my time—and I watched it while living the thirty-something single life in New York City as a younger version of the archetype C.K. portrays in the show. I was moved by so many of that show’s episodes. They lived on my DVR for years. I deleted the last of them about a month ago, as the rumors picked up and I had a sense of what might be coming.

One of the articles I read commenting on this topic, titled “Louis C.K. is Done,” really delves into the unreliable narrator that led Louie. The show wore the mantle of brutal honesty. How many scenes were in fact brutality? Here’s a paragraph that’s real:

A well-crafted, intelligent story about the impact of rape, domestic violence, pederasty, and so forth is already tough to watch. It becomes a horrendous experience once you add the possibility that the writer or director actually did what they’re depicting, and might be getting off on making the audience squirm by representing it while not fessing up to their relationship with it. It’s a power move, rooted in the thrill of subterfuge and shock: an artist’s version of indecent exposure.

The article goes on to discuss one celebrated episode that embodies this. There are countless more examples, both in the show and his wider comedy routines, of C.K. building nuanced jokes around the reality of male sexual predation against women. He became known as a comendian who could “go there” and joke about rape, or racial slurs, becase he was serious and aware and on our side or what-the-fuck-ever.

But I think of another memorable scene from Louie, the one where he apologizes to Marc Maron. I won’t spoil the twist, at least not the one C.K. keeps aboveboard. But it’s an episode where Louie the character apologizes for something awful he did in the past, but he forgets some important details that get revealed at the end of the scene. Go watch if you feel so inclined, and avoid it if you do not. But then read this paragraph from the article:

One of the most disquieting parts of the Times piece finds C.K. privately apologizing to a woman for a 2003 incident and getting the details wrong, which suggests he’d done this sort of thing frequently enough that he can’t keep track of the particulars.


In those innocent days when I watched Louie as it aired, I would often pause the show when I could feel a particularly awkward bit of humor approaching. (Ricky Gervais giving shirtless C.K. a physical examination, for example.) I’d see it coming and take a moment to brace myself—I can’t help but empathize with the “victim” in that sort of humor situation. But it was sincere humor in good fun, right? That’s what we thought at the time. “How daring!” “He’s really exploring some deep human flaws!” “I can’t believe he went there!” Indeed.

Now imagine you’re a woman who C.K. has assaulted and then apologized to in an obviously insincere way. Imagine you are that woman, and you are also watching that apology episode. Not so funny, is it? Then you go to work and hear that scene being praised around the office. What if someone asks you about it. “Have you been watching Louie? Oh you just have to catch up!” You wouldn’t want to be left out of the joke, would you?

The secret’s out now. We were all on the wrong side of C.K.’s joke. He mocked his secret victims through a critically-acclaimed television show. Not only did he exploit them sexually, he then became rich and famous joking about it, and then conned us into applauding a putrid rite. That’s fucked up.

Carrie O’Hara is Editor-in-Chief of Hipsters of the Coast.

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