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Call It A Comeback

by Laura Alcalá Baker

I made a fun discovery. Scrolling through a Chicago comedy venue’s upcoming shows, I found myself face to face with a thumbnail of Louis C.K. Three thumbnails actually. On a calendar. SOLD OUT. SOLD OUT. SOLD OUT. My stomach sank. 

As Americans are emerging from the pandemic, I find there are two camps. The ‘let’s get back to normal” people and the “I’m never going back to the way it was” people. The cancelled (*insert eye roll here*) are part of the “let’s get back to normal” club. They just mean “let’s get back to before the people knew I did the bad things.” They are not remorseful nor redeemed but indignant that this could and did happen to them. That they could lose their good standing under any circumstances and not find their way back. That they got caught. 

But the pandemic offered a welcomed reset. With everyone traumatized, exhausted, and ready for some sense of normalcy, disgraced men squeaked by as if to say, “Well that was weird!” 

Not two days after I discovered the undercover return of a creep, Bill Cosby was released from prison on a technicality. Friends were quick to point out that civil cases were still in process but watching him smugly smile while his lawyer proclaim justice had been served, made my stomach churn. His victims must be devastated, especially after coming forward so publicly and en masse. This is a man who drugged and raped dozens of women – he said as much in a deposition so I’m not making assumptions here. Even openly admitting your crimes won’t mean consequences.

In an absolute cosmic coincidence, a piece came out around the same time on Kevin Spacey trying to make a comeback. He was/is filming in Europe where they seemingly care less about hiring entertainment pariahs (see Roman Polanski and Woody Allen for evidence of that). The article posed the question “Is Hollywood ready to take Kevin Spacey back?” And basically came to the conclusion: only if he is deemed viable. Spacey has made his career playing reprehensible characters while being a man of reprehensible character. So far, he’s slipped out of prosecutorial hands multiple times and has utilized his talent and sexual identity as a shield successfully. What has he lost in the meantime? Well, a house of cards, costars, and a few roles I presume. But here we are, talking about a potential comeback only a few years after the public outcry and far too soon for a man who preyed on preteens with impunity for decades. 

Meanwhile, another piece emerged regarding Ryan Adam’s social media pleas to the public on the woes of not being able to release his music. I won’t quote him, but needless to say the man is very distressed that he can’t get anyone to produce him at the moment. He’s damaged goods. A fitting punishment as his whole thing, if you recall, was dangling opportunities in front of femme musical hopefuls while emotionally manipulating them into controlling relationships. Then yanking those opportunities away from them to maintain power. Yet, even with all his woe-is-me-isms on full display, I can’t help the feeling that someone will run to his aid. Just given the time. 

Back to my encounter with Louis C.K.’s showing. The thumbnails of sorry-not-sorry’s face were unassuming. An action shot of him with the mic, no branding, no big tour announcement, nothing. All the other shows had been stamped with the venue’s logo and given blurbs to boot. Not this series. It was almost like they didn’t want you to know it was happening at all. I clicked the dates and again no details except the big bold SOLD OUT. It seems that a struggling venue, emerging from 18-months of halted live performances had deemed Louis C.K. a necessary risk, just not enough to advertise it. And to their credit, it didn’t need advertising because the people were willing to be entertained and bought in. 

Now, how does this all feel? Boringly and infuriatingly expected. There have been and will be no consequences for repulsive men. How does this all feel? Anxiety inducing. Full on panic attacks, flashbacks, and therapy sessions. How does this all feel? Personal. And utterly hopeless. 

I say all this because even from the catalyst of the #metoo movement, I didn’t trust it. I wanted to. But deep in the thick of a collective reckoning, my former boss called in the middle of the day after years of silence. What do you want? To check-in, catch-up, exchange pleasantries. My palms were clammy. My heart was drumming in my ears. I didn’t hang up. I just listened, waiting for him to get to the point. He never did and we ended the call. But I know he wanted to make sure that we were still cool and I wasn’t getting any ideas from all this talk of outting predators and bullies. How does the quiet reemergence of the disgraced men of #metoo feel? Well, it feels like an unwelcome comeback, exchanging pleasantries then leaving my heart lodged in my stomach. 

Cancelling these men was always a false promise. We forgot that even cancelled shows get streaming platforms and we can be lulled into watching reruns. People love what is familiar, which is why we are so often doomed to repeat the mistakes of the past. But that’s the thing, we have to actively and proactively push back at that complacency.  Deny these people our clicks, eyeballs, and dollars. Deny them their collaborators, funding, studios, and microphones. Only then will they feel the pinch, even if it makes them feel justified in their anger. It doesn’t matter. Read that again. Their need to be relevant, doesn’t matter. They do not have the right to our time and attention. 

Leave them with blank stages and empty houses. Don’t give them the comeback they so desperately desire. And to the venues, production companies, and people taking these guys back with open arms: Good luck. Looks like you sold out.