Thursday , December 7 2023

Aziz Ansari’s Sexual Missteps Are Not Everybody’s Business

Since a conveniently anonymous “Grace” and trash-news site published a piece this past week exposing Grace’s “awful” date with actor/author Aziz Ansari, much of the media world has been comfortable exploiting the lurid details of the story as a way to blast the reputation of a South Asian man who has made great strides for positive representation of brown-skinned Americans thriving in an all-too-often racist and nationalist landscape.

I’ve read many opinion pieces on the matter suggesting that any backlash against the exposé is uncalled for, as Ansari’s alleged sexually aggressive actions during the course of his date with Grace are proof that it’s time for a better public discourse about sexual values in the dating world. Three important factors of this “story,” however, are being continually overlooked in the at-large discourse on what Grace and did: accountability; responsible journalism; and privacy.

Let’s start with privacy, as Grace is enjoying quite a lot of that while Ansari is being subjected to public humiliation for something that occured in the “privacy” of his own bedroom and was, by all accounts (read: Grace’s) consensual.

Grace made the private decision to pursue Ansari, and her persistence paid off a few months ago in the way of a date with the actor. But according to her, she wasn’t happy with the way things were headed when he seemed in a rush to leave the restaurant they were patronizing and head back to his apartment.

Here’s where accountability starts to enter the picture. There is absolutely nothing in Grace’s account suggesting that she had any lack of power to end her date right then and there if she had no desire to go back to Ansari’s pad, but she chose not to end it. Well, we all have mixed emotions about dates at one time or another, so I can’t say at this point in the timeline of events that she was absolutely wrong to do so. Perhaps, though, it would’ve been a wiser choice.

What proceeded to go down at Ansari’s after he and Grace arrived, she says, was a series of back-and-forth, mixed-signals trails of sexual foreplay on the part of both parties. Those explicit actions can be read about fully in Babe’s article. To sum it up, though, Ansari made a series of sexually solicitous faux pas, beginning with serving Grace a type of wine she didn’t prefer, then moving on to physical advances which ranged from intimate to aggressive to fetishistic.

In her retelling of these apparently very unenjoyable moments for her, she veered back and forth between expressing uncertainty about proceeding, and actually engaging in sexual activities. In addition to verbal insinuations that she had mixed feelings about going to a certain level, she says that she also gave “non-verbal cues” that she was uncomfortable moving ahead at a fast pace. Subsequently, Ansari acquiesced temporarily before trying out additional maneuvers aimed at going all the way. Ultimately, it was clear to him that she did not want to partake, and she left before the evening was over without intercourse taking place.

Ansari did nothing to stop Grace from leaving, and Grace didn’t decide to leave his apartment until much later in what she describes as the “worst night” of her life. While I know neither one of these parties personally, it’s pretty clear to me that both were acting foolishly. I’ve witnessed Ansari’s rise to fame over the last decade as a purveyor of keen awareness of dating do’s and dont’s in the digital world (see his book, Modern Romance) and as an “everyday” guy trying to weather the complexities of complicated relationships in his characterization of Dev on the Netflix series, Master of None, for which he serves as an executive producer and primary writer. Here is a man who takes his art seriously, having built his career from the ground up against prevailing stereotypes of Indian actors in America. In interviews and other public appearances he’s made, I’ve observed a forward-thinking individual who doesn’t take himself too seriously.

I will take a detour here and insert that when I first saw Ansari’s cover and spread in a special GQ magazine issue last year, an alarm went off in my head, telling me that maybe now the seemingly down-to-earth actor and observer of human nature was treading into dangerous territory for the ego. After all, for the past 10 years, he’d been building his credibility through stand-up shows, series, and movies in which he usually embodied relatable human qualities which didn’t impose suggestions of the superiority on which many Hollywood-fashioned stars thrive. Although some of the shots in the GQ spread could be viewed in a slightly comedic way, I got the sense that this was a new Ansari: one whose persona might be evolving beyond the ego-checking foundation on which his success had been built.

That said, if Ansari did, in fact, act in all the ways that Grace claims, it is indeed a strongly disappointing contradiction of so much of what he stands for and represents to millennials—and even Gen-X’ers—of South Asian descent or otherwise, male and female. It’s true that I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt when I say that I don’t believe him to be the type of person who would act in such a selfish and distasteful way on a regular basis. I feel that if that were the case, more would have come to light in one way or another before the jarring and sensationalized account published by the deeply questionable (more on that a bit later).

I don’t doubt, however, the possibility that Ansari has let his recent success go to his head and in the process, perhaps lost track of the authenticity around which his work centers. That’s, sadly, a celebrity epidemic almost as old as the entertainment industry itself. If it is the case for him, I sincerely hope—if good can come of this whole incident—that he can learn from the damage that has inevitably been done to his reputation by this story and use it to steer his professional and personal life forward in a manner consistent with the compassion and sensitivity that he has displayed in the public eye up to this point.

As for Grace, very few of us know much about her on a personal level. Most of us know very little about, for that matter—which brings all three points of accountability, responsible journalism, and privacy into play.

Prior to its scathing report on Ansari, Babe thrived on stories bearing headlines such as “Here’s just a list of ways you can scam money out of idiot men online” and “Here’s what your go-to drunk food says about what kind of hoe you are.” As for how these types of “articles” somehow fit into the #MeToo movement any more than Ansari’s alleged inconsistencies don’t is a whole separate realm of conversation. But as for responsible journalism, do these types of features really suggest to any thoughtful readers that the website is concerned with responsibility and credibility?

The fact that the site published Grace’s account with no researchable sources and with no reasonable opportunity for Aziz to respond screams “no.” Co-founder Amanda Ross blatantly told media company Mashable, “We all spent our Saturday on laptops fact-checking, redrafting, discussing the story with our lawyer verifying texts, trying to get a statement from [Ansari’s] people and then finally publishing at about 7 PM.”

Excuse me? You allowed less than one holiday weekend day for a lawyer to “verify texts” and try to get a statement from Aziz’s “people”? Specifics, please. I see no evidence in that feeble-attempt-to-cover-up statement supporting any effort to give Ansari a real chance to tell his side of the story. And exactly what kind of “fact-checking” was employed? Whom else did you contact? Just how is “Grace” a reliable enough source to paint a portrait of a man who has been working in the entertainment industry for over 10 years based on one evening that she found disappointing?

The answer to all that, Babe, is that you don’t have the credibility to do any of the above, and that’s what makes your reporting so irresponsible.

Given the utter lack of responsibility you’ve shown in granting this comfortably anonymous person a platform to destroy the career of a man who has done great good for society at large, it’s no surprise that you didn’t bother to question the clear lack of accountability displayed by Grace in her version of events, and in her decision to let you publish it as such. Man or woman, it is every individual’s personal responsibility to speak up if a date is bothering him or her so much as to not want to be on it.

And yes, if that’s really the case, get the hell out of there! Don’t decide (yes, decide) against your own will to continue with something that doesn’t feel right; then proceed to make allegedly requested sexual advances if you don’t feel confident and comfortable doing so; and then take it upon yourself to proclaim to the world that you’ve “decided” your disappointing date “assaulted” you by not responding to a confusing swarm of “non-verbal cues” and conflicting actions on your part.

How dare you instead lump all the blame on Ansari and shout it to the world via a baseless article on a site that sets a terrible example for our youth, while you hide behind a secure veil of anonymity and claim victimhood for choosing not to exercise your right as a woman to do as you please with your own body—with your own actions?

I’m a man, a gay man. While I can’t claim to know what it’s like to be a woman in Grace’s shoes, I’ve been in a number of uncomfortable situations with men whom I thought I’d like to date, only to find out very shortly into our nights out that they were after only one thing—something that I was not after. Depending on the other guy, my approach was different in each of these situations; but in almost every instance, I chose to remove myself from the encounter if things progressed to the point where I felt I would regret complying with the other’s wishes. The few times I didn’t, I accepted that I had made a mistake in “going all the way” with someone because my physical desire was telling me that I wanted to, even though my mind was sounding out, “no!”

Sure, my feelings were hurt when these guys stopped calling me afterwards; and sure, they weren’t famous. But I didn’t seek revenge by trying to humiliate them in front of their friends. I realized that I had subjected myself to intimate situations that I wasn’t ready for, because I hoped that I could win over the guys whom I admired with my willingness to go along.

But wait, Grace. Aziz didn’t even disappear from your view after this “worst night” of your life. He actually contacted you. And you were honest with him that you weren’t happy. Did he ignore you then? No. He responded tactfully with an apology and noted that he had a different perception of how things had gone than you did.

So now, months later, because in your mind his wearing a “Time’s Up” pin at the Golden Globe Awards is inconsistent with his continuing to try to engage in sexual activities after you had pursued him, returned to his apartment, and stayed around to partake in foreplay on a private date between the two of you, you feel entitled to pronounce to the world that he “assaulted” you? I’m truly sorry that your values system is so skewed. And it’s very sad to me that a despicable site like Babe is reinforcing the notion that scapegoating and victimizing is somehow an ethically sound way of reporting and raising discussion of important issues.

While you privately bask in the glow of some personal vendetta, Aziz and his family are now subject to public ridicule and shame because of a few shortcomings and alleged distasteful choices on a date he went on with you after you pursued him and chose to go back to his place for a private rendezvous. Should he be ashamed? That’s debatable, especially until we hear more of his side of the story—should he choose to make that public. Should you feel ashamed? Not for feeling uncomfortable and expressing that to him (though apparently more clearly after the fact, rather than in the moment). But for making claims of his every move in the bedroom on a private date with no regard for his reputation at large (no, you haven’t known him for any extended period of time) and subjecting teenagers who are part of Babe’s target audience to such a careless display of unaccountability, pettiness, and lack of concern for another’s wellbeing? Yes, you should feel ashamed.

And so should Babe, for turning such a private matter into a global embarrassment for a man who is imperfect like all of us, a man who wasn’t given a chance to tell his side of the story before being lambasted in the one-click world of online media. Is Grace so perfect that she wouldn’t feel slighted were the shoe on the other foot and it was her name being scorned the world over? I guess we won’t know, unless she decides to own up and admit to her own mistakes.

About Justin Kantor

Justin Kantor is a music journalist with a passion for in-depth artist interviews and reviews. Most of his interviews for Blogcritics can be heard on his Blog Talk Radio program, "Rhythmic Talk." Justin's work has been published in Wax Poetics, The All-Music Guide, and A graduate of Berklee College of Music's Music Business and Management program, he honed his writing chops as a teenager—publishing "The Hip Key" magazine from 1992-1996. The publication, which was created out of his childhood home in Virginia Beach, reached a circulation of 10,000 by the time he was 16. At Berklee, Justin continued to perfect his craft with a series of 'Underrated Soul' features for The Groove from 1997-2003. This led to a companion TV show on Manhattan Neighborhood Network in 2002, as well as writing for the national Dance Music Authority (DMA). A self-described "obscure pop, dance, and R&B junkie," Justin also has penned liner notes for reissue labels such as Edsel Records and FunkyTownGrooves. He's excited to be a part of the BlogCritics team and indulge his musical fancies even further. Connect with him at his Facebook page, or via [email protected].

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