Bryan Callen’s Response to the Chris D’Elia Allegations is Problematic

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When the news broke that five young women had accused actor and comedian Chris D’Elia of sexual misconduct and harassment, the internet was flooded with statements from celebrities, his friends, and former co-stars. As D’Elia’s close friend and comedy partner, Bryan Callen seemingly felt a sense of duty to talk about the allegations on his podcast The Fighter and The Kid with co-host Brendon Schaub. However, this conversation proved to be anything but helpful.

In fact, Callen’s response was overtly problematic, mostly because it was all about him. He also failed to address any concerns about sexual assault in the comedy industry or include a response which criticised this type of predatory behaviour. Callen began the conversation with Schaub by saying that they had to “talk about [their] friend Chris” which set a more supportive, rather than disapproving, tone for the statement. He also boasted: “I’m a man and I define myself on how I respond to these situations in real-time when the pressure is really on,” though, ironically, his following statements seemed to fall short of showing concern for the seriousness of the allegations D’Elia faces.

Denying all prior knowledge of any predatory behaviour on D’Elia’s part, Callen said: “I always knew Chris as a ladies’ man. I have never – and imma say this – I have never seen or heard of him doing anything illegal, ever.” Callen added: “This is as shocking to me as I’m watching this happen. I don’t know what to think and I don’t know what to say.”

He repeated multiples times that he never saw anything, saying he just doesn’t know the truth. He called it “an impossible situation” and then added “I’m praying that what I’m hearing isn’t true”. However, all his response really said is ‘I didn’t see it, so it can’t be true’ which does nothing but continue to reinforce a predatory culture that protects abusers. Callen’s statements in the podcast ultimately send the message that if you respond to these kind of allegations saying that you didn’t know anything about it then that’s enough and you are somehow absolved of any guilt.

“I’m praying that what I’m hearing isn’t true.”

Callen especially focused on his feeling of loss at the end of his statement when he said: “It’s the weirdest thing because I said to Brendon, I said it’s like watching someone die or something.” This is a problematic statement in itself because many women who have spoken out after being the victim of a sexual assault talk about how they lost a part of themselves in the attack, often likening this feeling to a death within themselves. Therefore, it comes across as the height of hubris that Callen would liken the way he feels or what D’Elia is going through to a death.

While trying to hold back tears, Schaub added that he felt hurt and mad about the whole situation, though my only thought as the video came to an end was ‘what about the victims?’ Callen and Schaub’s conversation lacked any consideration for the young women who their friend allegedly targeted. The way Callen continuously reinforced the notion that all he, Schaub and their listeners could do was to pray nothing is true essentially comes across as victim blaming.

Overall our society takes a hard stance against victim-blaming, however, there are plenty of people who throw around comments like fake rape claims are common. They’re not – only a tiny percentage (between 2-8% in the US, NSVRC) of reported rapes and sexual assaults are proven to be false out of hundreds of thousands of sexual attacks each year. Our society should be at a place where we undoubtedly believe women first, but these comments instead fortify the notion that something has been unjustly taken away from these men without any regard for the young women D’Elia allegedly abused. All forms of sexual attacks, from harassment and misconduct to rape, are a gross violation of a woman’s human rights, yet they are happening all too often. But, because of statements by men like Callen who tell their fans to pray allegations aren’t true, victims feel they can’t come forward and abusers continue to blame the victim and act like they’ve done nothing wrong.

Even in the age of #MeToo and fourth wave feminism, our society still has a fundamental flaw that reinforces rape culture, with Callen’s statement contributing to this faulty system. As five young women came forward publicly with evidence and corroborated stories (fact-checked by the LA Times) their allegations already have more weight than unsubstantiated rumours, so why is Callen not calling out D’Elia? Or at least making a statement against this kind of predatory behaviour? Just saying you had no knowledge of it isn’t enough, helpful and impactful responses are ones that call out predatory actions and condemn abusive behaviour. Whitney Cummings who starred in the TV series Whitney with D’Elia from 2011 to 2013 did exactly that when she made a statement calling out her former co-star’s “pattern of predatory behaviour” on social media.

Penn Badgley who worked with D’Elia on the second season of YOU also responded to the allegations in an interview with the LA Times, saying, “I am very troubled by it. I know that, if there’s anything we need to do in this age, it’s to believe women”. He added: “There needs to be a change in culture and attitude so that that kind of behaviour is so clearly reprehensible, it’s so clearly, like, anti-human.” The only acceptable response to these kinds of allegations should be to state outright that any kind of abusive behaviour will never be tolerated in our society. Callen’s comments are heard by millions of people and he could be using his platform to call out rape culture and condemn predatory behaviour within the comedy industry. By not contributing to this conversation in his response Callen, knowingly or unknowingly, continued to perpetuate this flawed system that fails to protect victims first.

The enabling of rape culture by those in power who fail to call out inappropriate and predatory behaviour is not just a problem in Hollywood, it’s happening closer to home within our UK government too. As a Conservative ex-minister was accused of rape earlier this summer we have seen the government take a controversial stance on the issue. The government not only failed to suspend the former minister who is currently facing legal charges, but The Times have also reported that concerns about the MP’s abusive behaviour had been known within the party since 2010.

The Conservative government have failed to temporarily dismiss the MP from the party and he is free to return to the House of Commons at the start of September. By failing to suspend the former minister right away the government are overlooking a serious issue and sending the message that they do not prioritise safeguarding the rights of victims. With official figures showing that over 400,00 women are sexually assaulted each year in England and Wales alone (MoJ, Home Office, ONS) the government’s lack of an authoritative response to the allegations completely undermines its previously stated commitment to rooting out sexual harassment and any progress with domestic abuse legislation.

“Failure to suspend is yet another example of minimising violence against women…”

The TUC, Women’s Aid, the Fawcett Society, the Centenary Action Group and the largest trade unions representing staff in parliament — Prospect, Unite, PCS and the FDA — issued a joint statement condemning the government’s decision not to suspend the former minister: “Given the seriousness of the allegations we’re calling for the MP to be suspended pending a full investigation. The House of Commons should be no different from any other workplace. Safety and the safeguarding of staff must be paramount. Failure to suspend is yet another example of minimising violence against women and girls and failure to believe victims and survivors when they bravely speak out.”

It is past time we dismantle this culture of protecting predators. We need a cultural shift that begins with changing how the media and people in society respond to sexual assault allegations. It is essential that people who are involved or in power use their platforms to broadcast a unified message: sexual assault will never be tolerated in our society. Only when society works collectively to call out rape culture can we disassemble this flawed cultural model that protects predators first and victims second. Since talking about the allegations against D’Elia on his podcast with Schaub, Callen has also been accused of sexual assault. This problematic enabling of rape culture and protecting predators allows abusive behaviour to continue, that’s why it is absolutely essential to call out and condemn this kind of behaviour, no matter what industry it is in.

Words by Catriona Mactaggart

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