Sooner or later some prominent celebrity was going to be accused of sexually inappropriate behavior and the charges would be a bit too ambiguous to stick. For now it seems that prominent celebrity is Aziz Ansari.
If you’re not fully au courant about all the current celebrities, Ansari is a popular standup comedian who had a notable supporting role on the long running “Parks and Recreation” television series and now writes and stars in a popular and well-reviewed Netflix series called “Master of None.” He’s also an impeccably and slightly preachy liberal who wrote a very feminist book about dating, but nonetheless comes across as a likable fellow and is often quite funny. All the more surprising, then, that he’s the latest in the long list of accused celebrities.
The accusations, though, don’t rise to the level of misconduct recently alleged. Ansari’s anonymous accuser recalls meeting him at the Emmy awards, where he was wearing a pin to signal his support for the anti-sexual harassment “me too” movement, and admits being charmed by his celebrity and well compensated wit, having an enjoyable conversation about their mutual interest in photography and shared fondness for a certain ’80s-era camera, and exchanging several mutually flirtatious texts before excitedly accepting his invitation for a date. The date began at his swank apartment in a swank part of Manhattan, where she was slightly annoyed he served a glass of white wine rather than her preferred red, and then proceeded to a swank oyster bar on an historic boat just a few blocks away, where she snapped a cell phone picture of the lobster rolls that is included in the babe.net news site’s tell-all account of the evening. She alleges that what happened when they walked the few blocks back to Ansari’s swank apartment resulted in “the worst night of my life,” but even if you believe the worst of it we’d guess that most women have had many worse nights,
As she tells it he quickly had her sitting on the marble countertops she had complimented, and then began kissing her and fondling her breast, and although she recalls feeling uncomfortable she does not report that she protested or otherwise resisted the advances. When he shortly announced he was going to get a condom she said “Whoa, let’s relax for a sec, let’s chill,” then allowed him to continue kissing her and briefly perform oral sex, then voluntarily if unenthusiastically briefly returned the favor, and within ten minutes it ended without what the accuser calls “actual sex,” but was followed by some prolonged finger-in-mouth business and some clumsy attempts to guide her hand toward his crotch, repeated requests for “actual sex” that she put off by saying “next time,” some more brief oral sex, another “aggressive kiss,” and then a tearful Uber ride home.
Which is all quite tawdry, to be sure, but even the most stridently puritanical or feminist district attorney would be unlikely to regard it as sexual assault by any jurisdiction’s legal definition, and by the standards of recent celebrity scandals it’s merely tawdry. The anonymous accuser acknowledges that when Ansari texted her about the date, and she texted back that “You ignored clear non-verbal cues; you kept advancing,” and “I want to make sure you’re aware so maybe the next girl doesn’t have to cry on the ride home,” Ansari texted back that “I’m so sorry to hear this. Clearly I misread things in the moment, and I am truly sorry.” Ansari repeated the apology in his statement about the babe.net story, which didn’t deny any detail of the accuser’s account, and we think that speaks well of his character.
The whole account is undeniably tawdry, though, and we can’t help finding Ansari a little less likable and his comedy a little less funny after reading it. As much as we’d hate to be accused of “slut-shaming” we think his accuser could have handled things a bit better, and expect that most stridently puritanical feminists would have preferred a more forceful response on her part, but we do sympathize with what she and few other women have had to put up with over the years. By now we’ve heard pretty much the same tale countless times, albeit without the fancy lobster rolls and swank apartments, from both tearful women friends and genuinely regretful men friends, and it’s always sounded just as tawdry.
We try not to judge, lest we be judged, but the same Sunday-school-inculcated Christian instincts leave us nostalgically yearning for those long-fogotten cultural norms that used to preclude such unpleasantness. Not for everybody, of course, as men’s obviously instinctive aggressiveness and women’s seemingly instinctive passivity have resulted in rape and sexual assault since long before the Bible was written, but at least for those well-trained men and women who conformed to those old-fashioned cultural norms.
Those old-fashioned notions were long ago laughed away by Hollywood and academia and the rest of the popular culture, with the feminists now leading the “me too” movement piling on, and the puritans of the religious right are momentarily busy defending a Republican president who had bragged on tape of doing far worse things than Ansari stands accused of, but right now the entire sexual revolution seems at a moment of reckoning, along with the fact of obnoxious male sexual aggressiveness and female vulnerability that it previously overlooked.
There were always moral and legal reasons for men and women to proceed slowly and deliberately with sexual relationships, and to put off any sort of sexual contact until a romantic relationship was more firmly established, and if the current trends offer more pragmatic reasons that’s fine by us. Given the rules people have been playing since the ’60s we’ll not pass judgment on Ansari or his accuser, or any of our male and female friends who have the same story to tell, but we hope that all of them will agree the rules need to be changed.