Comedian, actor, trending worldwide on Twitter, newest to be exposed for sexual assault. Aziz Ansari, star of Parks and Recreation and Master of None has seemingly had his ‘good-guy’ branding tarnished by an interview on babe.net of a ‘bad date’. The article’s title is misleading: a bad date implies an awkward moment over dinner or tripping on the curb. Rather, the woman, called Grace in her interview with babe.net, describes repeated painful attempts at sex and oral sex despite “clear non-verbal cues” to stop. It begs the question: is it time to fire up another canon in the consent debate – or can we discuss instead that these are competent, intelligent individuals deciding to brush over or blatantly ignore a cue to stop?
As with recent allegations of Kevin Spacey, fans’ reactions are of hurt and all too often, plain disbelief. Particularly with stars like Ansari, who is known for skits and comments on feminism and equality, and even a best-selling book on modern romance, exposure of behaviour like this feels like betrayal, with a brand and reputation built as “the good guy” that the public trusts. It subverts everything we know about him, as if he’s a friend. Such is celebrity culture; you’d feel the same hurt and disbelief, I’d wager, if you found out a close friend had assaulted someone, and thus there is certainly a temptation to ignore or disbelieve the allegation. Grace says in the exposé, “I’d seen some of his shows and read excerpts from his book and I was not expecting a bad night at all, much less a violating night and a painful one.” Sadder than ever is that we do, clearly, expect such behaviour from some men – just exclusively not the feminist, good guys like Ansari?
Grace described it as “absolutely cringeworthy that he was wearing the Time’s Up pin” when Ansari won a Golden Globe on January 7th – and rightly so. It’s more than cringeworthy, it’s ironic in the worst of ways, and it’s throwing the entire debate into realms of difficulty over and over again. A clever use of self-branding means a protective coating when it comes to accusations exactly like this: he’s politically woke, plays endearing characters, and wore a TIME’S UP pin to the Golden Globes. It can be a knee-jerk to ask: is he is innocent? Or maybe the girl is not telling the truth or perhaps it happened differently…
It’s a reflex to consider these things, but regardless: the point is that we are, as consumers of his comedy, his acting, his writing, being forced to question and confront the unflinching potential power of anyone in Ansari’s position, despite attributes of a “good guy”.
I have come to feel that: yes, it is incredibly important to call Ansari out for his behaviour, individually and specifically, because it is a violation of Grace’s human rights. But it is also important to go through, and let all fans or members of the public feel, the betrayal, anguish, anger or upset when a trusted ‘one-of-the-good-guys’ guy is exposed as capable of sexual assault as much as anyone else. It is so ingrained in the film, TV, performance industry, and every other industry that is not in the public eye, that any man like or unlike Ansari can commit a sexual crime, wear a Time’s Up pin supporting the victim’s cause, and win a Golden Globe doing it.
It’s important to feel betrayal and to feel a tug at your heart, asking to disbelieve Grace because Ansari seems a genuine lad. Sexual inequality is so subversive that he can be, and still commit the same crime. The chasm of untold and suppressed tales of inequality and assault is being chipped open: he was capable of it, others are, and they must be called out until it is no longer acceptable for these things to happen at all (pipe dream, eh? Someone realising it’s not all that moral in the first place…).
Comment or email. What’s your wavelength?