Sunday, February 02, 2014

Do you know where your art comes from?

Should we continue to watch and enjoy (some) Woody Allen movies? Dylan Farrow and Nicholas Kristof say no, and Robert B. Weide says yes. This is a tricky art-vs.-artist question because the relevant parties are very much alive and very much continuing the conversation, in public, in forums where comments from the public are solicited. This isn't like such-and-such a writer having been a racist, but back when everyone was an open racist, and if we're going to read books from a long time ago, that's something we just have to confront. Woody's still making movies, and his estranged relatives are still - not unreasonably - complaining about him.

The best I can sort this out, using first names for clarity's sake:

-There seems to be a consensus that because Dylan's op-ed rings true to many, including some abuse survivors, Woody did what she claims. This seems potentially problematic, not because Woody is, as a Great Artist, above criticism, or because we must agree that a lack of a guilty verdict means, in the world of what actually happened, case closed. No, it's a problem because both child molestation and inaccurate accusations of child molestation are tragic, and there's a plausible case that he didn't do it. We may reasonably conclude that the former's worse than the latter, and that the balance of power makes it likely that the accused - especially when they're Woody-level famous - are getting away with something, as vs. unfairly accused. This is nevertheless different than the Roman Polanski case, where the only question, as I understand it, is whether in the 1970s, a 'mature' 13-year-old girl could consent to sex with an adult man (and not to even get into the drugs) - an evil, nonsense assertion from the get-go. Not whether he had sex with that child.

-Dylan's certainly the victim of something. One of two horrible things happened to her. Either she was abused by Woody, or she's repeating a horrible story she was encouraged to tell when she was seven. Either way, she's been through the ringer to the point that one can safely say she's been abused. (Ack, that family!) The appropriate response, regardless, isn't to blame her. In other words, there really isn't a choice between accusing Woody of molestation and accusing Dylan of lying. "Lying" implies an adult - or at least someone closer to the age of reason than seven - deciding to say something untrue. If this is something she's believed since childhood and is now repeating, that's something quite different from what false accusation normally implies.

-Mia was understandably angry and disgusted when her partner ran off with her daughter. She would have had a motive to make a story like this up. Such cases are not unheard-of, and remember that if we're talking about what people in power can get away with, Mia's not nobody. But even if we're giving Mia and Woody the benefit of the doubt, it's entirely possible that Mia would have been sufficiently shaken-up by her partner's sexual involvement with one of her children (!!!!!) that she'd start asking the others if he'd ever tried anything with them, and in doing so, might have accidentally planted the idea in their very young daughter's head.

-Weide's much-linked-to Daily Beast contrarian version has its problems as well. Most obviously, Weide retroactively rounds down the Mia-Woody relationship and the Mia-Soon-Yi one, when he emphasizes that a) Woody wasn't married to or living with Mia, and b) Soon-Yi isn't Mia's biological child. These things seem a bit beside the point. Woody and Mia were not just casually dating - Woody had adopted two of her other kids! - and an adopted daughter is still a daughter. And while I'd take Weide at his word that Woody didn't tell him to write this article, he clearly - by his own admission - has a career largely based on promoting Woody, and benefits from his good favor. And as a Jezebel commenter (!) correctly notes, there's a whole lot of "slut-shaming" of Mia, as if her cheating on Woody and getting involved with married men somehow matters to this case. If the Soon-Yi relationship can't be rounded up to the child molestation (Weide's argument), nor can dalliances between consenting adults be rounded up to making up a story of child molestation.

-Dylan opens and closes her op-ed with the provocative question, "What’s your favorite Woody Allen movie?" Many of the comments are from people who proudly never watched/liked Woody's movies, because they always knew there was something up (one uses the word "deviant") about that guy. Which, eh. Unless they could spell out which of these stories they were reacting to (i.e. the abuse allegations, or at least the Soon-Yi episode), what are they going on? it seems as if what they're saying is, his sensibility was too New York Jew. I mean, one commenter even writes, "Let's be real about this; the *ONLY* reason Woody Allen is not in a jail cell it because he is Jewish." Another, responding to a comment about Allen's global appeal: "Elites 'celebrate' people like him. Those of us in fly over country never have."

Basically, I get suspicious when people's objections to Woody aren't to Woody-the-accused-child-molester (which is reasonable) but to Woody-the-purveyor-of-humor-that-never-did-anything-for-me-so-to-hell-with-him. And if much of the anti-Woody sentiment is coming from people's preexisting sense that Jews control the media, or are above the law, I'm inclined... not to be any less upset by the accusations, but to be less quick to assume he's guilty.

-Ultimately, I don't know what to think about this. I do on some level end up leaning towards thinking child molestation - among celebrities and non-celebrities alike - is more often covered up than made up. And because there's no likely ulterior motive for Dylan to have discussed this with the NYT now, because in all the intervening years, she continued to believe this happened, I'm inclined to believe it did. I'm not convinced it did, but if it did, the art-artist distinction would be awfully tough to make.

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