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Aziz Ansari ignores his own hypocrisy in ‘Right Now’

In 2019, as the most profound waves of #metoo have settled and inspired feminist rhetoric that remains at the forefront of popular culture, starting a comedy special with previous sexual misconduct allegations as a punchline is, for whatever reason, more palatable than just making a 140-character apology. 

The first five minutes of Aziz Ansari’s Netflix special released on July 9 was met with harsh criticism. Publications like Vox mentioned that the quip about his allegations, which was followed by a brief statement of genuine remorse, failed to actually apologize to the victim of the reported assault. Whether or not Ansari’s opening statements of “Right Now” are a genuine attempt at accepting accountability is unclear. Most people would agree the setting for this type of statement is egregiously inappropriate, but the fact that it’s happening at all indicates a paradigm shift. Gone are the days when accusations are brushed under the rug, and the perpetrators of sexual violence can step up onto a podium with no repercussions. What is still unclear, though, even after the continuous spectacles of Twitter backlash and subsequent “cancellation” of problematic comedians, is where we draw the line for people who have done slimy things and want to get back into public favor. 

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“RIGHT NOW” can be streamed on Netflix. 

If all it takes is a five-minute public statement to be forgiven, Louis CK likely would have done this months ago. Now, the comedian, who was outed last year for gross sexual coercion, can hardly land smaller gigs, much less a Netflix deal (although his previous specials remain on Netflix). What the stark difference between Louis CK and Ansari indicates, if anything, is that there are levels of offenses in which people are willing to forgive, but ultimately, the only opinions that matter are the ones of media conglomerate CEOs. Ansari doesn’t address his ability to move forward in a culture that cares more about rehabilitating the public image of abusers than victims. Instead, he moves forward and begins his crusade against “woke” culture. 

Ansari’s raid against “wokeness,” or the ways in which people display performative guilt or awareness of their privilege, might come as a surprise if his dirty laundry wasn’t aired out less than a year ago. Now that he must publicly come to terms with his own problematic tendencies, he can no longer claim feminist allyship and point the finger at others for perpetuating toxic behaviors. The realization that virtue signaling does not necessarily amount to good behavior is a major point that “Right Now” gets right about the current moment we’re living in. Public figures are quick to call themselves bleeding liberals but privately mimic the behaviors of powerful white men, who they purportedly aim to take down. While Ansari seems to grapple with this reality, however, he doesn’t actually place himself in it. It’s hard to believe, with Ansari’s notable talent for delivering sharp takes, that he couldn’t see his past hypocrisy for using feminism as a comedic device but failing to respect women in his personal life. When joking about how popular shows a few years ago couldn’t have reached the same success in today’s politically correct society, he says “If they rebooted ‘The Office’ now, it would end with Pam winning a landmark sexual harassment case.” These observations are sprinkled throughout the special and seem a bit dense considering the past year has been one of apparent self-reflection for the comedian. Unfortunately, Ansari’s newfound self-awareness isn’t very apparent in “Right Now.” 

Elena Waldman can be reached at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @WaldmanElena. 

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