Louis C.K., Roy Moore, and Hollywood's Sexualization of Girls
On Thursday, as The New York Times published a report in which five women accused Louis C.K. of sexual misconduct, the distributor of C.K.’s new film, I Love You, Daddy—a film about a 17-year-old girl dating a 68-year-old man—canceled the premiere event that had been set to take place on Thursday evening. On the same day, The Washington Post published a story in which several different women accused Roy Moore, the GOP nominee in Alabama for a U.S. Senate seat, of sexually pursuing them when he was in his 30s and they were in their teens. The women’s age was central to the horror of the story: Moore, then an assistant district attorney, met one of the women, Leigh Corfman, when she was 14 years old, outside a custody hearing; he told her mother that he would, essentially, babysit her; her mother accepted. “I thought, how nice for him to want to take care of my little girl,” Nancy Wells, now 71, told the Post, of Moore’s offer. Moore is now 70.
So: Two stories, both alike in indignity. One involves a man who is in many ways an emblem of (powerful, coastal, progressive) Hollywood. The other involves a conservative politician from Alabama who has literally toted a gun to a rally. That the two would be so tangled together, though, is not terribly surprising: Both emerged within a culture that claims to see relationships between teenage girls and older men as wrong—Lolita, 62 years later, remains controversial for a reason—but that at the same time, again and again, teasingly romanticizes them. I Love You, Daddy, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and has been dubbed “brazen” and a “cringe comedy” and “a deliberately provocative minefield,” was set to hit American theaters this weekend in all its breezy brazenness—until the accusations against C.K., the person, emerged. The allegations against Moore, similarly, have been met in some corners by horror—resign if true, some have said—but in some others by complacency. Fake news. Moore, actually, is the real victim here. Anyway, Mary was a teenager when she met Joseph, soooooo.
It’s a jumbled set of reactions that is reflective of a culture that is itself extremely jumbled about matters of sex and power and age. In the world that Hollywood and Washington help to shape—the actual world, the world that cannot be breezily dismissed as fake news—sex with a minor is illegal, pure and simple. The crime is classified, rightly, as a form of sexual violence: “statutory rape.”
In the broader sense, though—the more psychic spaces, the places where “culture” exerts itself—the sexualization of minors, precisely the kind on display in I Love You, Daddy, is repeatedly romanticized. “Daddy” itself, the word, adopting erotic overtones. The American president, making repeated comments about his daughter’s sexual desirability. Billy Ray Cyrus, posing with a 15-year-old Miley in a way that summons the more salacious sense of “daddy.” Hugh Hefner, swathed in silken loungewear, surrounded by women young enough to be his great-granddaughters.
They are suggesting versions of an old trope: that of of the (revealingly euphemized) “May-December” pairing. Fred Astaire was commonly coupled with women who were decades his junior—he was 12 years older than Ginger Rogers, 23 years older than Judy Garland, and 30 years older than Audrey Hepburn. Cary Grant was 25 years older than Hepburn when they filmed Charade. And the tradition continues, of course, today. Jay Pritchett, of Modern Family, is in his 60s; Gloria, his wife, is now in her 40s. The two, in the show’s universe, are deeply in love and, per the age-old sitcomic mold, delightfully—unquestionably—wacky together.
Again and again, in the pop culture that expends its exhaust all around us, May meets December, to romantic results: Professors date students; Richard Gere, 48 in the film, falls for Winona Ryder, 22; Bill, of Kill Bill—a film produced by, yes, Harvey Weinstein—is repeatedly suggested to be a Flirty Old Man. None of thi...