Louie, Season 3
Louie isn’t gay, but he’s not not gay.
Courtesy FX Network.
Anderson Cooper, Frank Ocean, Louie. It’s a happy coincidence that last night’s episode aired within the same extended news cycle as Cooper’s “The fact is, I’m gay” statement and Frank Ocean’s Tumblr-posted story about his first love, a man. The CNN personality and the R&B star took different tacks in their public affirmations of homosexuality: Namely, Cooper publicly affirmed his homosexuality, straight-up, whereas Ocean told a story that involved falling in love with a man, which is not the same as defining oneself as gay. Ocean may be gay, he may be bisexual, but it is notable that he does not label himself one way or the other so much as share some meaningful autobiography. This is what Louie did last night, too: Illustrate a case where romantic-sexual desire does not fall neatly on the spectrum. Louie is not going to say “I’m gay” to Ramon because this would be inaccurate; but he’s not going to say “I’m not gay,” because that would be inaccurate, too. (Given some time to ruminate, maybe he will find it most satisfying to post a diaristic entry to Tumblr about his confused feelings.)
Point being, it’s avoidance of a pat declaration of identity, not embarrassment about “purely” heterosexual desires that outwardly come off homosexual, that drives the final scene and gives it its dramatic force. Allison broke the tie in our TV Club disagreement on this score. Zach Dionne, agreeing with David’s read, restored the tie over at Vulture. But then Willa Paskin over at Salon broke it again: The Louie Wants to Bone Ramon partisans are back in the lead!
Another thing that occurred to me on this subject is that it would be un-C.K.-ishly lame to devote that much huffing and puffing and dramatic awkwardness to a simple issue of embarrassed heterosexual intimacy. This series is all about pushing further, getting deeper. (Homo.) As I said, Seinfeld did the bit you’re imagining two decades ago, David!
Related point: Louie has plenty of male comic friends in NYC, with whom he is much more intimately acquainted, and with whom he spends tons of time. What is the basis for his sudden, spazzy flustering, in the face of this Cuban sex god, if not homosexual desire?
What do our readers think?
I won’t go deep into the Tosh-inspired rape-joke debate, partially because plenty people have said plenty smart things about it already, and in part because the terms of the debate themselves seem to be a matter of some debate: i.e., it’s in dispute exactly what Tosh said on stage—how faithful, that is, the aggrieved blogger’s recounting was. In adjudicating the quality or moral valence of something as twisty as a comedic performance, knowing the precise delivery and word choice is everything.
I will say, on the topic of C.K.’s tweet of admiration sent to Tosh, that C.K.’s stance is blanket on these issues: A comedian is allowed to say whatever he wants on a stage—it’s as protected and complex a site of cultural production as any other artistic venue. He insists on this as an absolute protection, one that extends even to other (white/male) comedians who seem to think much less thoroughly and sensitively about the ethics and power dynamics of what they’re saying than he does. Upon reflection, this strikes me as so unimpeachable as to be banal.
One risk inherent here, of course, is interpreting that (banal?) insistence on an absolute right to joke as an insistence that comedians can’t even be criticized, that any criticism will occasion a chilling effect, etc., and that comedian’s attitudes can’t be linked, thoughtfully or otherwise, to conversations about broader nasty attitudes (about women, race, etc). The annoyingly lazy phrasing of this is a trite, anti-intellectual, “Jeez you people, lighten up, it’s just a JOKE.” If comedians are producing art, not only can it withstand criticism—it deserves it.
But it’s C.K.’s prerogative to err on the side of advocating this sort of comedic immunity (i.e., “take the good with the bad in the name of free artistic speech”), even if he actually sees the issue—and the functioning of humor itself—as more complex.
David, even though we disagree, you are still my hermano. Do you want to ride bikes to Fort Tilden this weekend and lay out?