As the list of famous men who fall somewhere on the creep-to-rapist spectrum grows longer, we’ve looked not just to their actions, but the ways in which they were protected. Reporters who tried, but were unable to break the Harvey Weinstein and Louis C.K. stories have written about the power structures in Hollywood that kept these men safe. But the question of how, and even if, we should separate art from the morals of the artist pre-dates allegations against, say, Woody Allen and Roman Polanski—see: Ezra Pound, anti-semitism (paywall).
So what about our own complicity as fans and viewers?
Before you get annoyed by the idea of audience culpability, stop and consider the fact that while Hannibal Buress has largely been credited with bringing down Bill Cosby’s reputation, the pudding-pop pusher had been accused of sexual assault—on the record—many times before Buress pointed out the double-standard of a man accused of rape trying to shame young black men into pulling up their pants. People Magazine even ran an in-depth account of the allegations against Cosby, drawn from on-the-record interviews with five different women. People had a circulation of 3.75 million readers that year, yet the narrative of Cosby as an abuser failed to take hold.
Cosby and Louis C.K. were both protected by more than just industry power. Our collective attachment to their dad personas made it much harder for fans to take the whispers—and articles—to heart. Cliff Huxtable, the goofy OB/GYN with five kids, a Brooklyn brownstone and a wholesome, yet distinctly sexual, appreciation for his lawyer wife was the defining dad of the 1980s. This persona was only amplified by the tragic death of his real-life son in a carjacking in 1997 (paywall). On stage and on Louie, Louis C.K. plays a divorced dad bumbling through parenting, but clearly trying really hard to get it right. We like these narratives about earnest dads who are flawed but caring, and we guard them.
Louis C.K. served as a sort of spokesdad for modern American life, in which parents are harried, stretched thin, and often out of their depths. He also personifies the double standard that suggests any kind of effort from dads is laudable and noble, while any hint of frazzle in moms is a personal failing. The notion that women are perfect and long-suffering, and men are disgusting beasts has long been a a cornerstone of his comedy, and we accept this as truth because we allow dads to be imperfect.
Look at the rise of the dad bod (which, it should be noted, is not the direct result of gestating and nourishing a human child). Yes, the mom bod is a thing, but it took #dadbod to forward a much more complex discussion about the effects of pregnancy and birth on the body.
The dad bod is also the physical manifestation of Louis C.K.’s “I’m a man and men are hideous” routine. Ever since “dad bods” came to signify men who are cuddly, responsible, and dependable, any rumors or actual allegations we hear have to compete with the depressingly low-bar fantasy of a dad who “tries.” Even if the lovable schlub might not know how to buy lice shampoo, we seemed to have long ago decided that he deserves the benefit of the doubt.