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Louis C.K. and the Friend Zone Conundrum

Louis C.K. is perhaps one of the most popular and famous comedians in the country right now. Like George Carlin, C.K. is prolific, unafraid to be raunchy or offensive, but also remarkably sensitive to humanity’s serious issues. His work has received almost universal praise, until recently. In Emily Nussbaum’s latest television column for The New Yorker, she writes that we “knew it was coming, and, finally, it has arrived: the Louis C.K. backlash.”

Nussbaum is referring to the internet criticism of C.K.’s show on FX: that it’s too preachy, not funny enough, and she also calls it “downright weird about women.” Which, of course it is, because for guys like C.K.’s character – passive, sensitive, and not traditionally handsome – anything having to do with relationships is “weird.”

We are living in a pretty remarkable time for women (Hobby Lobby SCOTUS decision notwithstanding) because the world is waking up to the idea of rape culture. One of the areas rightfully getting the most attention is how often women experience sexual violence at the hands of someone they know and trust. Dispelling the myths surrounding “date rape” (i.e. rape) is incredibly important.

Lumped in with that argument is the idea of the “friend zone,” and how it suggests that men feel they are owed sex because of their friendships with women. And while some rapists’ violent acts may begin from this place, that does not adequately capture the whole picture. At the center of that discussion is a scene from the first part of the season four finale in which C.K.’s character tries to kiss his love interest Pamela (played by the brilliant Pamela Adlon). A scene which to some viewers played as sexual assault.

During a press tour for the series finale of Californication, another series on which Adlon is a regular, she addressed this accusation and dismissed it out-of-hand. In the context of the show the relationship between these two characters is well-defined, and Adlon’s character had recently asked Louie’s character to be in relationship with her, then immediately relented. The character was hoping Louie would make the first moves, and Louie was in love enough to keep trying until she was ready.

This shows the flaw in the feminist reading of the “friend zone” idea. Again, the concerns raised about men who feel owed sex are both valid and should be heard by everyone. Yet that is not the only side of this particular story. Many of the men stuck in the “friend zone” are simply guys who have feelings for someone that they either haven’t or are afraid to express.

At the end of the infamous kissing scene, Louie celebrates, as Jezebel puts it, by “pumping his fists in victory like a teenage boy who has just gotten his first kiss from the girl he likes.” They see this as misogynistic, as if Louie is celebrating what he “took” from Pamela. For those men who are in love with friends of theirs, they see it for what it was: relief that (for better or worse) his honest feelings were finally out in the open. It seems juvenile, because new love is almost always awkward and juvenile.

Personally, all of the great loves of my life started as friendships. It would have been delightful to have said, “I have very strong feelings for you but am content to be friends until such time that you evaluate my worthiness as a romantic partner.” Of course, real life doesn’t work like that.

Not all men who don’t immediately fall into romantic relationships with those they have feelings for are potential sexual predators. It is incredibly important for men to realize that their love, unrequited or otherwise, does not mean they are “owed” anything from anyone. Still, it is also good to remember that just because some poor schlub isn’t able to perfectly execute a romantic play, it doesn’t mean he’s a rapist-in-waiting.


Image via screengrab

About the author

Joshua M. Patton is a father, veteran, and writer living in Pittsburgh, PA. Along with news and current events, he writes about parenting, art, and personal stories. His serial fiction story "The Prophet Hustle" is available at JukePop.com and a forthcoming independent ebook about the cam-modeling industry "Dirty Little Windows" will be available later this summer.