As one bad celebrity apology after another has filled the daily news cycle, we’ve had to learn to decipher the PR-plated language. Was it sincere? Is this just another script to read? Louis C.K.’s limp apology was one that, at first, many friends and colleagues labeled “good,” as if there’s a table of virtual judges holding up scorecards. A closer read revealed the narcissism at its core.
Poet Isobel O’Hare experimented with C.K.’s statement via erasure poetry, presenting a revised version that reads: “My dick is a question I run from.” They (O’Hare uses they/their pronouns, and identifies as queer) experimented with 17 different erasures of C.K.’s statement. “My dick” showed up a lot. O’Hare has a theory about it.
“The Louis C.K. statement in particular, to me, seemed like it was Louis C.K.’s last chance to make everyone look at his dick one more time,” O’Hare tells the Daily Dot. “Really, dude? Did you have to say ‘my dick’ in your statement about what you did?”
Erasure poetry, long considered an art form, is experiencing a resurgence. Last month in a New Republic article, Rachel Stone explored its revival under a Trump presidency and as a form of political protest: “The poems’ authors reassert power over language that has typically been used to determine who does and does not belong.”
In these revisions, O’Hare found common words that underline the deeply embedded sexism and narcissism of so many of these statements: “I,” “these women,” and in C.K.’s case, “my dick.” The rework of Harvey Weinstein’s terrible statement is especially striking.
These statements are clumsy and weak and that might be because men have never really been held accountable on this scale. But O’Hare says it’s important to remember that celebrities you idolize or admire aren’t really your “friends,” as George Takei implied in his statement.
“A lot of people don’t want to admit that George Takei could have done something,” O’Hare says. “Because he’s been such an advocate. What I was trying to say with my erasure of his statement was it’s not right for anyone in a position of power to ask to be trusted completely. I know from inhabiting activist spaces and feminist spaces and literary communities that you’ve got people who claim to be all kinds of things and claim to be an ally, and it turns out they’re abusing people. So it doesn’t surprise me, and though I’m a huge Star Trek fan and grew up watching him and really admiring him as a queer person… it’s painful to think he could have hurt someone in that way. But it’s also really painful being the person who’s being hurt.”
O’Hare, a survivor of sexual abuse, wrote on Instagram that the Jesse Lacey statement was difficult to work through. “You don’t stop thinking about it,” O’Hare says. “You don’t ever forget about those experiences. They change you.”
View this post on Instagram
“ignoring the truth” – I blacked out Jesse Lacey’s statement. This one was difficult for me because the context of his abuse is close to home (he targeted underage girls, but makes no mention of that in his statement, instead framing this as an issue of marital infidelity and sex addiction). I did three iterations of this before settling on this one, and the first one has droplets of my own blood on it because I was biting my thumb so hard while blacking it out). #erasure #erasurepoetry #blackout #jesselacey #brandnew #metoo
O’Hare says they initially made these poems to share with friends but weren’t anticipating this level of engagement. They’ve received messages from fellow survivors, many with a common theme: “I haven’t felt this good in weeks.” Now others are creating erasures, like this one on the statement of support for Roy Moore. Elsewhere, O’Hare has seen erasure being used to edit and revise shitty comments from men online.
It’s an extension of the internet’s “fixed it for you” culture, and there is a power in getting to reclaim language, word by word. While it’s just one part of changing the narrative, O’Hare says the power is shared: “If I have in some way provided survivors with a tool of empowerment that they can bring into their art and their conversations, then I think that’s fantastic.”