At first, the public details of Aziz Ansari’s awful first date with an anonymous young photographer sound like a bizarre parody of his effortlessly hip sitcom Master of None. After all, Ansari’s work, whether in MON or his New York Times bestselling book titled Modern Romance are nothing if not sleek (and perhaps slightly smug) explorations of race and gender nuances.
Acknowledging his status as a “bozo comedian”, Ansari even teamed up with a sociologist, Eric Klineberg, when writing Modern Romance, to describe how sexuality and loneliness play out in a new digital generation. So, it’s hard to imagine how this smooth celebrity-creator in his mid-30s can end up this morning on everyone’s Twitter news feeds as the latest in an illustrious line of media-assorted artists and producers who’re guilty of blatant sexual misconduct.
Babe published a full report of an incident involving a young woman in her early twenties identified only as “Grace”. She vividly describes Ansari’s utter failure to read her subtle and not-so-subtle cues that she wasn’t "in the moment" and that his sexual advances were unwelcome.
What followed, and she reports it in great detail, (Babe even did a cringe-worthy photo shoot recreation of the meal they ordered) was the worst experience she’d ever had with a man.
Public responses have been pouring in and opinions are firmly divided between those that think the incident with Ansari represents everything that’s wrong with a culture of entitled, powerful men, and those who think that this is a kind of reverse witchhunt, where men are being punished for something as innocuous as a "bad date". There is a strong case to be made for either perspective.
While the details of Grace’s evening sound appalling and have the hallmarks of a repetitive nightmare, she was free to leave at any time, and Ansari’s verbal handling of the event during, after, in private texts, and now in a public apology have displayed exactly the customary smoothness associated with him.
In fact, the build-up to their disastrous date is as finely nuanced as an episode on MON.
In fact, the build-up to their disastrous date is as finely nuanced as an episode on MON. They connected because Grace called Ansari’s attention to how they’d both brought an old '80s camera to a public event. They flirted, took photographs of each other, hit the dance floor, texted flirtatiously over a few days – and ended up on a date on Monday, September 25 last year.
The dinner ended quickly with his obvious urgency to take her back to his apartment. What followed was move after move as he kept making increasingly unwelcome sexual advances. Until at last, as she reports in her interview with Babe, she was saying “next time”. To which he said, “Oh you mean second date?’ To which she said, "yeah, sure". He said, "Well, if I poured you another glass of wine now, would it count as our second date?” And he poured her a glass of wine. When she returned from the bathroom, saying, she didn’t want to feel forced and end up hating him, he responded sweetly saying, "Oh, of course, it’s only fun if we’re both having fun... Let’s just chill over here on the couch.”
What followed, unfortunately, was much of the same. When she finally expressed her lack of consent in unmistakable words saying, “I really don’t think I’m going to do this,” he responded with, “How about we just chill, but this time with our clothes on?”
Apparently, they got dressed and watched an episode of Seinfeld, and again, she received “gross, forceful kisses”. The evening ended with him giving her a goodbye hug, an “aggressive” kiss goodbye, and her riding home in an Uber in tears. Again, in the mood of that bizarre carry-over to something that might’ve happened in Ansari’s fictional creation, the award-winning MON, Ansari suggested she give the Uber driver the name “Essence”, a name he joked about using as a pseudonym in his sitcom. She rode home as “Essence”, and in tears.
Grace’s description of the evening is detailed enough to suggest that Ansari’s words and actions were at odds. Their exchange of texts after the event in which she expresses her discomfort has him issuing a private apology, “I am so sad to hear this. Clearly, I misread things in the moment and I’m truly sorry.”
This is the text Grace* sent Aziz Ansari after their date which left her feeling “violated”. She tells Ansari how uncomfortable he made her feel, saying “you ignored clear non-verbal cues” and “kept going with advances.” Read the full story on https://t.co/FyMMG6uO1j. pic.twitter.com/lPOvW6tFTr— babe (@babedotnet) January 14, 2018
His public statement, out, 31 hours after Babe ran a report on the incident states, he “took her words to heart and responded privately after taking the time to process what she said. I continue to support the movement that is happening in our culture. It is necessary and long overdue”.
What Ansari is referring to by "movement", is his own apparent support of the #MeToo movement, that he demonstrated at the Golden Globes by wearing a Time’s Up pin.
Time's up. Yes. Photo: AP
Interestingly enough, it was seeing him up there that lit a “fire” for Grace and encouraged her to speak out. It’s worth pointing out that just like Ansari, many other male celebrities wore a Time’s Up pin – and as an article in Harper’s Bazaar points out – none of them had more than a perfunctory and token response – if at all – to the recent allegations about sexual misconduct that have sent shock waves through the industry they are all part of.
Ansari isn’t an old institution yet, and cannot resort to blatant misdirection as some have that he grew up in "different times", where the “culture” was such.
In fact, the old guard certainly hasn’t shown him how to handle topping off a pedestal with grace. Harry Weinstein’s reception to public statements about his sexual predation went from denials, of “patently false” accusations to apologies about “different recollection(s)”. Ben Affleck was quick to both “absolutely” apologise for his actions and then shrug off his self-professed desire to be “part of the solution” saying “I’m not a superhero”. Kevin Spacey has managed to drag in the entire LGBT community into his argument for molesting teenage boys by talking about choosing to prioritise his “romantic encounters with men”.
Ansari’s words and apologies have been consistently in line with his reputation of speaking for the woke, self-aware modern man’s relatable struggles with modern relationships. The confusion there lies in his alleged inability to actually act the part. If we are to take the unidentified Grace at her word – and there is no reason not to – then it might seem that for all his smoothness Ansari has a long way to go before actually mastering his own sense of entitlement.