Year-End Book Picks: 'I Like To Watch' By TV Critic Emily Nussbaum

Dec 23, 2019
Originally published on December 23, 2019 9:14 am

NOEL KING, HOST:

What should we do with all of the art made by terrible men? That's one of the questions New Yorker TV critic Emily Nussbaum tries to answer in "I Like To Watch." It's an essay collection that NPR's Elizabeth Blair picked for this year's Book Concierge. And a quick warning - this story has a description of sexual misconduct.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: I'm a huge Louis C.K. fan - or was. I'm not sure which verb tense to use and whether I should even admit it. So I feel a kinship with Emily Nussbaum even though we've never met.

EMILY NUSSBAUM: Louis C.K. was a hero to me.

BLAIR: That's Nussbaum reading from the Audible version of "I Like To Watch." In case you're not familiar, a little more than two years ago, Louis C.K. was one of the most powerful figures in comedy - a revered writer, producer, actor and director. Nussbaum writes that she likes his work because of her own desire to, quote, "see things in an ambiguous light, to dwell in gray areas." That is Louis C.K.'s specialty.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "OH MY GOD")

LOUIS C K: Everybody has a competition in their brain of good thoughts and bad thoughts. Hopefully, the good thoughts win.

BLAIR: This is from one of his HBO specials.

C K: For me, I always have both. I have, like, the thing I believe - the good thing, that's the thing I believe. And then there's this thing.

(LAUGHTER)

C K: And I don't believe it. But it is there.

BLAIR: In November 2017, Louis C.K. admitted in The New York Times that he'd masturbated in front of women without their consent. His career screeched to a halt. So do we cancel Louis C.K.'s work altogether? In her search for answers, Emily Nussbaum brings up another one of my favorite comedians - Hannah Gadsby from Australia.

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "NANETTE")

HANNAH GADSBY: Pablo Picasso, I hate him. But you're not allowed to.

BLAIR: Gadsby has a degree in art history. She does not separate the art from the artist. In her Netflix special "Nanette," Gadsby says Picasso was a misogynist who had sex with an underage girl. He said things like, quote, "every time I change wives, I should burn the last one. That way, I'd be rid of them."

(SOUNDBITE OF COMEDY SPECIAL, "NANETTE")

GADSBY: I hate him. But you can't - cubism. And if you ruin...

(LAUGHTER)

GADSBY: If you ruin cubism, then civilization as we know it will crumble.

BLAIR: Gadsby, writes Nussbaum, punctured every excuse that I made for the male artists who had fascinated me. That leaves Nussbaum - and me - in that gray area, wrestling with what to do with the art of bad men. Sometimes there's no easy answer - nor should there be.

Elizabeth Blair, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF THE MERCURY PROGRAM'S "ARRIVED-DEPARTED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.