The “rapey” scene in one of this week’s two Louie episodes, entitled “Pamela (Part 1),” has sparked a legion of questions and theories. He cast the bait — Pamela’s “You can’t even rape well!” — and we took it. And it’s not just Louie’s relationship with Pamela that’s being called into question, but also Louie’s relationship with Amia in light of his rapey contretemps with Pamela. Many are arguing that these scenes are just a few of the many side-effects that come with his inherent misogyny, and that Amia and Louie’s language barrier was just another way for Louie to silence a strong woman. But maybe that’s not it at all.
To me, at least, the Louie-Amia liaison was beautiful. Stripped of the complexities of ordinary relationships and the potential for pain, their relationship felt purer, less tainted, beyond the confines of Facebook. Without language, their feelings for one another were heightened, stronger, and more visceral — and even more so for being on screen. In other words…all the feels.
The world could use a bit more of this — the feels. We crave it and don’t even know it. And yet, “trigger warnings” will soon be instated in some schools, for potentially startling (yet crucial) pieces of work that schools are teaching. The decision was inspired by a student who became deeply disturbed after her teacher played a movie in class with a rape scene in it. The scene, the student said, sparked memories of her own history with sexual abuse and, as a result, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder symptoms too. The “trigger warnings” are meant to prevent this type of thing from happening again. So for example, as Rebecca Mead explains, “Huckleberry Finn would come with a warning for those who have experienced racism; The Merchant of Venice would have an anti-Semitism warning attached.”
Surely it’s a safe decision, but is it a right one? Cushioning and protecting students from the world’s potential ugliness won’t prevent these bad things from happening. It’ll only leave the students less prepared for the real world when they leave school. Jessica Valenti made a good point: “There is no trigger warning for living your life.”
Practically the same debate was had between Louie and his ex-wife Janet in episode 7, “Elevator Part 4,” of this season. The issue in this case is Jane — Louie and Janet’s daughter, around preschool age — who’s been acting up at school. The time has come for Janet and Louie to start making some real, pivotal decisions for their daughter, and here’s where it comes to a head. Janet wants Jane to go to private school, while Louie wants Jane to stay in public school. Because, he argues, “Public school is the real world and they have real problems and they learn how to deal with them. Putting them in private school is like sequestering them.” And then he adds, “You know, Janet, people — sometimes you’re supposed to be sad. It’s okay. It’s the flip side, and it’s actually good.”
Yet if we fast forward a couple episodes, Louie’s words for Janet are flung right back at him. Sad and alone after Amia left, Louie spots the Dr. Bigelow — his now resident, kooky, Upper West Side guru — and runs outside to him to seek help. He catches up to the doctor and pours forth his misery and longing for Amia, but the doctor is literally having none of it. Doc tells him that his despair is despicable. “You’re so lucky,” he says, “You’re like a walking poem.” The bad part, he says, “is when you forget her, when you don’t care about her, when you don’t care about anything…So enjoy the heartbreak while you can.”
There’s another concern with the “trigger warning” that Rebecca points out: that they would inevitably meddle with fiction and its ability to depict things like nothing else. She writes,
The hope that safety might be found, as in a therapist’s office, in a classroom where literature is being taught is in direct contradiction to one purpose of literature, which is to give expression through art to difficult and discomfiting ideas, and thereby to enlarge the reader’s experience and comprehension.
In the 1970s and 1980s, dirty realism emerged as an aesthetic movement in literature that focused heavily on feelings. In dirty realism there are no heroic characters (one wonders if there will be a trigger warning for this? Warning: the couple does not live happily ever after). Instead, the movement illuminates the fact that we’re just minor characters in our own lives. And while this does sound slightly negative, it really shouldn’t. Being a hero is a very pressure-filled task, with lots of responsibilities. A dirty realist story inspires a distinct humanity in the reader; teaching only the romanticized stories of heroism would disillusion students into thinking they’re each the center of his or her universe.
Doctor Bigelow’s words in the most recent episode of Louie felt particularly relevant. As always, we need to remember the significance of feeling — of wallowing in hurt and letting our emotions run its course. But it feels even more urgent now as many try desperately to run away from it. These trigger warnings are just one minor example of a much larger movement going on that’s repressing and denying feelings. It’s evident in the conservative tendency to deny global warming — to outright reject a fear that haunts numerous people. We see it abroad, too, in oppressive regimes; the blood and tears of Egypt’s revolutionaries being mercilessly stepped on and then imprisoned by authorities. And it runs through our government’s treatment of the U.S. military; soldiers come home pained, ruined, and entirely different from who they once were and, in return, the government tries to silence and appease them with prescription pills.
The irony in all of this is that the attempts at repressing feelings won’t keep them away. It will only embolden the oppressed to retaliate even stronger.