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While catching up on “Stranger Things” season three a couple of days ago, my heart skipped a beat when I saw Netflix’s banner promoting Aziz Ansari’s new comedy special, “Aziz Ansari: Right Now.”
I, of course, had read the babe.net story about his alleged sexual misconduct in January of 2018, but it felt like so many #MeToos ago, and the details were a bit foggy in my mind. It couldn’t have been that bad, I reasoned, or else Netflix wouldn’t have a) bought the rights to the special and b) promoted it as its main attraction.
So, I clicked.
I was a big fan of “Master of None” and “Modern Romance,” and, the truth was, I missed Ansari. I looked forward to having him fully allay any misgivings so I could again champion him as a modern male icon, maybe even more so now that he had professed his mistakes.
He addressed “that whole thing,” as he called it, right off the bat.
“There are times I felt scared. There are times I felt humiliated. There are times I felt embarrassed. And ultimately, I just felt terrible that this person felt this way,” he said in a hushed tone unusual for the comedian. “And, after a year or so, I just hope it was a step forward. It moved things forward for me and made me think about a lot. I hope I’ve become a better person.”
A friend had told Ansari that it made him replay every date he’d ever been on. “Wow. Well, that’s pretty incredible,” Ansari admitted to the audience. “This has made not just me, but other people more thoughtful, and that’s a good thing.”
As the special wore on, I laughed, cringed at some questionable jokes, and mostly tried to forget what I had read one and a half years earlier about the comedian.
After all, he did apologize, and that was much more than most other #MeToo-stamped celebs could say. Plus, Ansari did so much good before that incident. It seemed like he really understood women’s struggles with everything from walking home at night alone to dealing with a creepy boss.
When the special ended, I re-read the babe.net story to clear up my memory. I then was upset and confused.
Part of me felt like I had given Ansari a pass because I liked his contribution to modern media. In fact, Ansari specifically addressed this in his special. Through a clapping poll, he found that people in the audience were more likely to be “done” with R. Kelly than with Michael Jackson.
Because they liked Jackson’s music more? Because he had fewer known alleged victims? In other words, people can irrationally give moral licenses to figures they like.
Ansari brought up another important point during the sketch. Most of us don’t have a detailed online record of everything we’ve done, so there is no way to publicly shame our past selves.
Sure, we have social media, but we don’t usually have people parsing through our tweets from 2012, and we have relative control over what is broadcast on the internet about us.
Honestly, who isn’t a little ashamed of who they once were? I know that I have done things that I didn’t even categorize as morally wrong or feel remorse about until years later. These revelations were due, in part, to growing maturity and, in general, to the maturation of public discussion that helped put these events into perspective. I can’t imagine working out some kind of internal turmoil while millions watch to see if I come out the other end saying the right thing.
So, I’m torn.
I read the babe.net story, and I want to dismiss Ansari as a #fakefeminist narcissist who assumes that a date means automatic sex, regardless of what his date actually wants.
Then, I listen to his apology again.
I can’t help but think about the time and exploration that has passed between the September 2017 Aziz and the mid-2019 Aziz.
Sure, one could argue that he is saying what he has to in order to get his career back on track, but, unless he’s a complete sociopath, he must have had a serious self-reckoning. The world’s ire was upon him when that article came out, and all he could do at that point was look inward for answers.
I am not saying that Ansari is scot-free. That woman in no way deserved what happened to her, and there is a real possibility that she is still hurting from it. Nonetheless, I do think people can change. Everyone makes mistakes, and sometimes their consequences are unalterable. Feeling a proportional amount of guilt for those actions and taking serious steps to change a behavior or pattern should at least count for something.
Overall, I am glad the special is being promoted, and that I watched it. I think it is an important first step toward healing in a #MeToo environment, and the beginning of the reintegration of people like Ansari, who may have made serious missteps, but who seems to have done the emotional work and are genuinely eager to change their old ways.