Since it aired, the scene now known as the “Fat Girl Monologue” from FX’s Louie has been praised as memorable, remarkable, epic and mesmerizing, brutally honest, brilliant and of course “a must watch.” It also sparked some debate of course, but that’s not surprising given its powerful statement on marginalization. But I’m not here to add to the chorus of praise or discuss the monologue’s merits. Instead, I’d like to discuss something that I noticed while watching the scene, something that no one else seemed to pay much attention to; the reaction of Louis CK’s character (a fictionalized version of the real man) during the monologue.
It’s understandable that no one payed attention to CK’s response since most people focused on the words of Vanessa (played by Sarah Baker). But you’ll find extra value in the scene if you go back and pay attention to both characters. Watch the scene again, this time paying attention to CK’s response and you’ll witness a great demonstration of how to respond as an ally/friend/partner/generally caring person when being directly confronted about one’s privilege and someone else’s marginalization. I’ll explain what I mean, but first, here’s the scene again:
To be clear, the scene represents one moment in these characters lives. So it didn’t, nor could it, depict all aspects of good allyship. But there is still much in it to learn from:
Step 1: Care
Obviously the first step to being an ally is caring about the perspective of the person confronting you. While this may seem trite, it’s important. One only needs to read some of the responses left on YouTube and various blogs for a reminder of this. Without fail you’ll find many commenters either blaming Vanessa (the actress playing her more precisely) for being fat or lash out at her for a perceived attack on men… even though the monologue was written by CK, not Baker. These are the people who choose not to care about the emotions and experience of another, who choose to focus instead on themselves and live in their defensiveness. Louis CK’s character on the other hand spent time developing a relationship with Vanessa and when confronted, found that he cared about her perspective. He cared enough in fact, that he chose to move to the next step;
Step 2: Shut up and listen
Except for a few fumbling attempts at correcting his initial misstep (hey nobody’s perfect), CK shut up and payed attention when Vanessa delivered her monologue. He didn’t interrupt her, he didn’t attempt to talk over her or shout her down and he didn’t try to mansplain away the experiences Vanessa shared. He also didn’t try to force a debate out of the un-debatable… Vanessa’s feelings and experiences. CK chose to respectfully give Vanessa space and time to say what she wanted/needed to say. Sadly a lot of people, no matter how caring, have a hard time with this step. But not only did CK shut up and listen, he also followed the next crucial step;
Step 3: Don’t take it personal or get defensive
Defensiveness is a pretty standard response to direct confrontation so it’s crucial to check that defensiveness if you truly care. Typically, when a person who’s been marginalized vents about ____ people doing ____ to them or others like them, it’s usually because they feel you are a safe person to vent with. As a person of color for example, I’m not going to walk into a Klan meeting and start venting about white people. If I vent about white people it’ll be either with fellow people of color who’ve usually had similar experiences, or with the white friends I feel safe venting with (unless I’m just fed up and ready for a fight).
Vanessa is explicit about this when she says to CK; “Look, I really like you, you’re truly a good guy, I think. I’m so sorry. I’m picking you. On behalf of all the fat girls, I’m making you represent all the guys.” In short, if she thought CK was a dick, or unsafe in any way she wouldn’t have gone off like she did. It may sound backwards, but to bear the brunt of such a monologue is an honor, not an attack (and like most honors, it’s a hard one to earn). In this case it meant that Vanessa valued the relationship and trusted CK enough to tell him not only how his behavior hurt her, but how it fit into a larger context of experiences she (and other fat women) have had with men.
We all get a bit defensive in these situations but again, we should deal with that struggle internally, otherwise you won’t follow this next step;
Step 4: Don’t do this…
Everyone who uses their brain knows that not all men/white people/straight people/etc do _______ and trust me when I say the person venting knows this. It would have ruined everything if CK had ignored this fact and became Mr. “Not All Men” instead. Sadly, far too many alleged allies follow their defensive feelings right into this trap. CK not only avoids the trap, but then follows up nicely with the last step;
Step 5: If within your power, do what’s asked of you as an ally/friend/partner/generally caring person
Sometimes there’s not much you can do beyond committing to become a better ally and contemplating the steps needed to fulfill that commitment. Being a true ally requires one to increase their awareness and challenge privilege in a larger social context, so it takes time and extended effort.
Sometimes, the request is straightforward and immediate; like challenging a third-party in the room because they’re more likely to listen to you as a member of that community than to me, the marginalized other. In the case of this scene, Vanessa explicitly laid out what she needed/wanted from an ally in that moment; “All I want is to hold hands with a nice guy, and walk and talk…” she said. Thankfully CK listened and made the choice to respond accordingly which resulted in a sweet ending to their day.
Louis CK, who wrote the scene and Sarah Baker, who played Vanessa to perfection, did an amazing job of giving a voice to the millions of women who’s shared experience has left them feeling undervalued, overlooked and ignored. They deserve all the accolades they’ve received for this accomplishment. But if you watch the entire episode, you’ll see that this scene completes a larger story arc in which CK’s character has to confront his own hypocrisy and (white) male privilege. Moments like this ( if you watch the show regularly, you know moments like this are relatively frequent) in a TV landscape full of white male anti-heroes who never even begin to unpack their privilege, make Louie a refreshing change of pace.
Sadly, something just as rare on TV… a display of allyship this spot-on good, is not getting the attention it deserves. So do me a favor faithful readers and talk about it! Use it as a teachable moment in classes/presentations. Mention it when exclaiming to people “you gotta see this!” However it happens, I just hope people start adding CK’s display of allyship to the list of reasons to watch the brilliant “Fat Girl Monologue.”