I’ll save you the click if you’ve been there already, but it’s Chloe Dykstra’s essay on her abusive relationship with Chris Hardwick. It’s spread like wildfire through online nerd and comedy communities. Naturally there’s been a ton of support and aggressively defensive male neckbeards. It really is an awful depiction of how the insecurities of a partner can twist into overarching controlling and abusive behaviour. How an obsession with protecting an image can so violate the rights of another. Brutal stuff.
This isn’t about me whatsoever, but I want to mention something in the hopes that it gives some insight into how many might be taking this news. I’ve consumed an incredible amount of Chris Hardwick content. I’ve easily listened to hundreds of hours of the Nerdist Podcast. I’ve checked out other podcasts where Hardwick was guesting. I was most definitely a fan. I met the two of them at the 2013 Just For Laughs in Montreal and they were both really nice. I hadn’t realised they were a surprise midnight show and couldn’t get tickets. Hardwick was like “that’s no good. Meet me here 20 minutes before showtime and I’ll let you in backstage”. Chloe remarked that she owned the same Threadless shirt I did. We chatted about some of our favourite designs. It was a nice moment, especially as a fan. I wouldn’t have had the foggiest idea that anything was less than ideal. They just seemed like a lovely couple.
Given the amount of image-mongering Hardwick seemed to do, I’m sure this was most people’s impression. For all the staunch white cis male dudes out there who’ve immediately jumped in to defend their idol and aim to discredit Dykstra, I really want to impress one thing. There was a phenomenal power imbalance. In cases like this, so many people tend not to understand how difficult it is to leave an abusive relationship. Not speaking from personal experiences, but what I’ve often heard related is how the push and pull affects your worldview. The lows become so normalised that the highs make them all seem worth it. When the behaviour does something kind, it has an extra resonance beyond the norm. Then you feel guilty for thinking ill of them. In Dykstra’s case, this was a man 20 years her senior with an influential position in her chosen profession. She was in her early 20s. Not to negate her agency whatsoever, but how many of us knew what was best for ourselves when we were barely out of university? Can’t you empathise with not knowing how to deal with a situation that seemed so much larger than yourself? Would it be better to suffer through the relationship than to suffer the results of ending it?
There’s no excuse for stripping your partner’s autonomy, for using them as an object. That’s not a partnership by any definition. Outlining who your partner can spend time with, how they spend their time? That’s not seeing someone as an equal. Demanding that they’re always available for sex irrespective of their desires? That’s not consent. It’s abuse. All of it. I understand that for many, the meaning of consent seems to be rapidly changing. This is a good thing. It’s progress. We’re moving closer to a Fuck Yes or No mentality, which can only be a good thing. Yes, there’s nuance across the spectrum of desire. That doesn’t mean for a second that if someone’s not into it, going full steam ahead is acceptable. If you feel like putting your desires ahead of another’s needs is okay behaviour, that’s something you should take a closer look at.
I don’t have a great desire to broadcast Hardwick’s response, ’cause it rings a little hollow. That being said, it’s worth pointing out why it’s not a good apology (or even an apology at all for that matter). Look how quick he is to distance himself from the allegations. He’s not admitting fault for anything. A proper apology has three parts: Acknowledgement (he’s failed already), empathy/remorse and restitution. He’s taken no responsibility for his actions, acknowledgement of why she would’ve felt this way and no effort to do shit about it. He’s owned up to nothing and, worse yet, tried to use her as a scapegoat. He jumps immediately to discredit her as an unreliable witness. She cheated on me and then tried to get back with me, but I was so noble and said no. He tries to set up a moral dichotomy (but I’m a husband, a son, and future father. I have good social capital) as a way to dig in further (how could I be the one in the wrong). It’s an attempt to wash his hands clean of the whole thing. I know that I wanted better out of him, but I didn’t expect better. I have enough faith in how society is progressing that it’ll know better. Nerdist have already scrubbed his name from the company. They don’t want the association.
Who knows how this’ll affect the comedy community? So far it’s been suspiciously silent. So many prominent comics have directly benefited from the systems Hardwick put in place. I don’t think anyone wants to put a foot wrong, but their absence of input is pretty devastating.
Most of all, I hope Chloe is doing okay. It’s a massive deal to unearth so much of the toxic shit she had to deal with. Whether or not people “know” Hardwick, he’s a huge figure within certain industries. Fingers crossed she has good support networks to help her handle the fallout. She’s not helpless by any means, but there are a lot of eyes pointed at her right now.
I hope this all gets better. I may be waiting some time.