Maybe it’s because we’ve used to it.
Two of the three most influential comedians in our life are Bill Cosby and Woody Allen, which doesn’t say much for our track record. And although their falls from grace came long after we had grown creatively disappointed with each, the fact remains that our pleasure in Cosby’s early storytelling and Allen’s early movies has long since been darkly tinged.
But we can’t walk away from what shaped us. They is what they is.
And by now, we’ve also long since known the drill: When the news breaks, deal with it. You don’t want to defend the indefensible.
At least, we thought you didn’t.
In any event, the news broke again Thursday, and emergency procedures were implemented: Read the account. Await the response. Prepare for disappointment.
The account, in our reading, seemed honest: It wasn’t a newspaper story with thirty sources, but a woman was putting her name to it, putting her own credibility on the line. And the detail that caught our attention was that Al Franken wasn’t just using a bawdy USO sketch as an excuse to cop a rehearsal kiss, but putting some tongue into it. That’s where we blew the whistle and threw the flag. That was a violation.
Sorry, Al. Loved your latest book, made a point of reading one of your earlier books after that, love what you’re doing in the Senate, but you set off the alarm. You’re a dude who abused his power. You contributed to the shit that half the population deals with daily. Shame on you. We thought you were better than that. Especially that.
And, as we came to that judgment — which wasn’t difficult — we thought that’s how the rest of the day would play out. We gave no thought to consequences — we still don’t have an opinion whether he should resign — but, short of new details coming to light, we thought the fact of his transgression was settled. The only question was what to do about it.
And then we noticed the pushback.
The news came to us via a Sam Stein tweet, and the responses were embarrassing. She had agreed to the script. He wasn’t really groping her. He wasn’t like Roy Moore. Roger Stone knew in advance. She’s posed for Playboy. And why did she wait so long to bring it up? That happened years ago.
It was hard not to compare the defensiveness of Franken supporters with the defensiveness of Roy Moore supporters. It was hard not to see those responses as examples of victim-blaming and slut-shaming that are sad hallmarks of the genre. It was hard not to see Franken supporters circling the wagons because this time it was a Good Guy under attack, and let’s just throw everything about Believing the Woman out the window.
Shame on them, too.
And then we hit Facebook, where our Nice Liberal Friends hang out, and it was even worse. Groping Analysis was in full force, as if there was a substantial difference between a close hover and a meaty grab. (For our purposes, Personal Space applies when you’re sleeping. Especially when you’re sleeping.) Some folks had only seen the photo and hadn’t heard about the Deep Tongue, so disarming the evidence of the photo was even more important. And who among us hasn’t drawn a dick on the face of a sleeping dude?
Here we should mention that Al Franken was 55 at the time.
The worst of it was when folks started saying the photo was a setup, that she was in on the joke, because the photographer said so. And, were that the case, that certainly would provide some missing context. So, who was the photographer? What was the source of the account?
Nobody knew. But they had heard it.
As it turns out, the claim was a hoax — tweeted from an account with a track record of lying to support liberals. The hoax had spread quickly because it seemed to exonerate Franken, playing to the inclinations of all those nice people who were desperate to think well of him, and for whom shady sourcing wasn’t an obstacle.
Didn’t explain the tongue, however.
Even Franken’s second apology — his first was a dud — was put to defensive use. We had withheld judgment on that, after seeing how well Louis CK’s apology had played among fellow dudes, at least until women found the holes on it. And while Franken’s longform apology seemed sincere and thorough, it wasn’t until the victim accepted it that we were comfortable considering it appropriate.
Not that it settled things. For us, anyway. Others found it sufficient to move on, but this isn’t simply a private matter between two people. It’s an example of the very thing everyone’s been talking about the past month: Men who abuse their power to take sexual advantage of situations.
No, Al Franken isn’t Louis CK. He’s not Kevin Spacey. He’s not Harvey Weinstein. He’s not Roy Moore. He’s not Donald Trump. But if we’re going to use the worst transgressors to let lighter miscreants off the hook, we have a major fucking problem here:
Anyone who abuses their power to pull that shit is an asshole.
And power is relative to the context: Whether you’re the President of the United States or a Famous Comedian or a Night Manager, if you’re using your power to fuck up someone of lesser position, you’re part of the problem. And it’s a very real problem for the majority of the population.
Not just women. And not just sex. As a White Male American, we’re constantly amazed at the shit we don’t have to put up with. We can walk down the street. We can drive a car. We can step into an office. All without hassle. All without the thought of hassle. Hassle doesn’t exist in our life.
But it does for others, and from all directions. And that pisses us off. We want our fellow citizens to enjoy the same hassle-free life that we do. And while Al Franken is no Roy Moore, he violated the trust of his fellow performer. He crossed a line, even if by a few steps rather than hundreds.
She may have forgiven him, but we’re not yet ready to. And we’re not feeling all that great about folks blindly rushing to his defense, either.