Why does Israel welcome ‘canceled’ Louis C.K.?

SOCIAL AFFAIRS: Following Louis C.K.'s sexual misconduct scandal, his career took a nosedive, but the question remains if he was actually “canceled” – and whether anyone else truly has been.

 BETTER TIMES – Louis C.K. introduces the nominees for Best Documentary Short Film at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, in 2016.  (photo credit: MARIO ANZUONI/REUTERS)
BETTER TIMES – Louis C.K. introduces the nominees for Best Documentary Short Film at the 88th Academy Awards in Hollywood, in 2016.

When comedian Louis C.K.’s three upcoming Tel Aviv appearances sold out as soon as they were announced, some wondered how it was that an American who was supposedly “canceled” after a sexual misconduct scandal could be welcomed so warmly back to Israel.

But the truth is that, although his career has been scaled down since the accusations against him were made by several women in the wake of the #MeToo movement that emerged in 2017 – and which he admitted were correct – he seems to have rebounded nicely. He performed in multiple cities around the US and Europe over the last two years, and now – for his third visit to Israel – he will again appear in a large venue, as he did in 2019, when his Tel Aviv performance drew some protesters. This time around, tickets sold for about NIS 300 or $100 apiece, and on the resale sites they are going for upward of NIS 4,000 or about $1,250.

He no longer has his series, Louie, on FX, but he has a digital video streaming special, called “Sorry,” that costs $10 to view. The title is a reference to the fact that many criticized his apology for his misconduct – he masturbated in front of several women – as insufficiently contrite. The usually outrageous, often politically incorrect comic has poked fun at his critics by selling “Sorry” merchandise on his website, including apparel, a key chain and stickers, all of which say, “Sorry,” indicating that any remorse he expressed was never terribly genuine.

But while, following the allegations, his career took a nosedive, the question remains as to whether he was actually “canceled” – and whether anyone else truly has been. Criminal sexual predators such as Harvey Weinstein and Bill Cosby were not merely canceled, but arrested and convicted on multiple charges. But for all those whose breaches of what is considered decent conduct in the digital era falls short of criminality, does cancel culture actually exist? And should it?

Benji Lovitt, an American/Israeli comedian, educator and writer thinks that it’s time to reexamine the concept.

 Louis CK's notepad, Bell House, September 30,2011. (credit: FLICKR) Louis CK's notepad, Bell House, September 30,2011. (credit: FLICKR)

“‘Canceled’ has become one of the hot words in recent years, but it doesn’t actually mean anything. We talk about it as if it means that when someone is canceled, they have lost whatever status or income they had doing whatever they did. Some people, represented by angry Twitter mobs, would like that to be the case, but unless someone is in jail and unable to work, like Bill Cosby or Harvey Weinstein, it’s hard to come up with examples of someone who is ‘canceled.’ Even Mel Gibson is working, years after his scandals.”

He questioned the logic of bowing down to angry Twitter mobs. “Do we want to live in a world where Gal Gadot is canceled for being a Zionist if enough people scream loud enough? Do we want the entertainment industry barring her from working, because they were influenced by, say, 1,000 angry people? It doesn’t matter that we love and support Gal Gadot; in the world of ‘canceling,’ the mob rules.”

In the case of Louis C.K., he noted that the comedian continues to perform around the world, and that presumably his audience includes some who do not approve of his conduct but have chosen to disregard or forgive it.

“It’s fair to talk about someone’s scandal, how bad it was, that person’s repentance and whether or not it was adequate, and whether that person suffered enough in a world we wish were fair. But as long as we’re living in democratic societies, it’s not actually possible to ‘cancel’ someone.”

The question that needs to be asked, he suggested, is, “Who gets to decide what the consequences should be? How long should somebody have to repent? Most people don’t have these tough conversations. It’s easy to go to our corners and be polarized. It’s harder to decide what punishment fits the crime. He did what he did. Should he never perform again?”

Gail Hareven, a Sapir Prize-winning novelist and nonfiction author, echoed Lovitt’s sentiments. “I find that the [#MeToo] movement lacks two essential components of doing justice: a mechanism for clarifying the truth, and proportional punishment in accordance with the seriousness of the offense. Glancing at a woman’s cleavage is not the same as rape. I worry about the ease with which people can now be crushed.... I don’t like it that people are being sent to the Gulag without an end date for their sentence.”

Given how rapidly C.K.’s shows sold out here, it’s fair to say that more than a few people agree with her.

ISRAEL HAS had its own #MeToo reckoning, and it seems to be following the pattern of the US in that some men have been held criminally accountable, while others have been publicly excoriated, but have largely been able to continue their public lives.

Two cases in point illustrate this. Actor Moshe Ivgy was convicted of sexual assault and is currently serving an 11-month prison sentence, while actor/screenwriter Erez Drigues, who was accused of sexual harassment in 2021, including sending sexually charged text messages to a teenage girl when he was in his 20s, was publicly scolded, but still won a prize of the Israel Academy for Film and Television, the Israeli equivalent of the Emmys, for his script for Rehearsals, aka Stage Crush, a popular series that he also starred in. The series dominated the awards, winning eight awards. Drigues expressed contrition on social media and in interviews and did not attend the awards ceremony, but his costar and writing partner, Noa Koler, has voiced support for him, and it seems likely he will be welcomed back by audiences. The two are reportedly working on a new series.

Alex Gekker, a senior lecturer in the Tel Aviv University department of communication studies, said that maybe in the case of C.K., “There’s an element of, ‘Look, an American star is coming; no matter what they’ve done, hey, an American star is gracing our little country.’ At the same time, BDS is pressuring various performers not to come. So the star who comes here is welcomed.”

He also noted that “social justice is effectively baked into DNA of platforms used today.” Content creators tend to “speak a language of social justice.... No matter what you do, even if it’s beauty blogging or cooking, people say they are committed to using celebrity to making the world a better place, and part of that means making sure people who do bad things don’t get away from it.”

This creates “an insatiable appetite for conflict and controversy.... It’s not a secret that negative feelings are a better driver of engagement.”

In spite of Internet chatter, he said that the impact of cancel culture “has been greatly exaggerated by conservative pundits.” Established stars, such as C.K., who were supposedly canceled tend to come back quickly, he said. “It’s marginal ones who have been targeted” and truly suffer from being ostracized.

This sense that some stars have suffered unfairly can create a kind of backlash, he noted. “The saddest thing is people take it almost like a perverse political stance, like ‘I’m going to watch Louis C.K. because he’s censored by the liberals.’”

In the end, it seems that the scandals fade, and Gekker argued for nuance in viewing them. “I’m sympathetic to the view that we should let people apologize and change and rebuild themselves.”