Considering how long and how often it has happened, Western culture should find it easy to separate art from artist — to judge a particular work of art apart from the behavior, even reprehensible behavior, of its creator.
The ongoing tragedy of filmmaker Woody Allen and his family suggests maybe it’s not so easy anymore, especially not when everyone and their wacky brother can weigh in on social media. That in turn could affect how Allen’s peers judge his latest Oscar-nominated film, Blue Jasmine, and its Oscar-nominated stars.
the women, especially, are out in full force. read The Dylan Farrow case and the power of internet
Yes, you do have the usual clueless old white dudes who are content to recycle the same old sexist slurs. The nuts-and-sluts defense lives! … though in this case it’s being used against Mia rather than Dylan.
But what’s wonderful is that we’ve also heard from women like Ann Friedman,Amanda Marcotte, Katie McDonough, Jessica Winter, Emily McCombs andNatalie Shure. They address the case from different angles, but the one the thing they all have in common is that their writing is grounded in their experience as women, their utilization of feminism as a tool of analysis, and their commitment to challenging rape culture myths.
Back in the 1990s, you never saw very many female opinion columnists writing about these issues — not in most mainstream media outlets, at least. In liberal magazines like The Nation or Mother Jones you could enjoy Katha Pollitt or Molly Ivins, but even in those places, women’s voices were badly outnumbered by men’s. That so many vibrant feminist writers now have platforms on web outlets is a wonderful thing.
woody sure is getting a beating. barbara walters tried to vouch for him in The View as a loving and caring father, but wow was she was pounced on. like joyce carol oates twitted after: One might as readily step into the spinning propellors of an airplane as to engage in publicly ‘discussing’ Dylan Farrow/ Woody Allen issue. oates herself got flak for tweeting : Though Woody Allen has been much denounced, very likely many of his denouncers greatly admire Nabokov’s “Lolita.” No contradiction? and In the Woody Allen case, as in cases of sexual abuse by Catholic priests, the remedy is for the victim to bring suit against the abuser.
to my surprise, even dissident feminist and art scholar camille paglia, who is known to take up the cudgels for men on certain issues, says she is inclined to believe dylan’s letter. just the same this essay she wrote for Newsday back in 1992, published in Vamps and Tramps (1994), resonates.
Two weeks ago, the discreet twelve-year relationship between Woody Allen and Mia Farrow exploded into public attention in a media firestorm of charges and countercharges. Day after day, screaming headlines documented the revelations: Allen had filed for custody of the couple’s three small children; he had been accused of molestation of one of them in Connecticut; he admitted a sexual liason with Farrow’s adopted Korean daughter, Soon-Yi Previn, whose age has been variously reported as nineteen or twenty-one.
After an initial period of confusion, most sensible people seemed willing ot suspend judgment for the moment on the child abuse charge, in the absence of hard evidence. But on talk shows and in the print media, there was a thunderous chorus of condemnation of Allen for his relationship with Soon-Yi. Family therapists, feminists, and church-going conservatives called it callous, lecherous, incestuous, decadent. Woody Allen, one of feminism’s great white hopes for the ideal “sensitive male,” had flunked out. The lovable nerd was just another leering Nero.
This controversy is a perfect thermometer for taking the temperature of the American psyche. Twenty-five years after the sexual revolution, what have we learned about ourselves? Practically nothing. Contrary to feminist propaganda, we have not found the answer to any important sexual issue. In fact, as the century ends, we have barely begin to pose the questions correctly.
At his press conference two weeks ago, Woody Allen said there is “no logic” to falling in love. This ancient wisdom about the Dionysian irrationality of our emotional lives is documented in the earliest Greek and Roman love poetry. It is a great spiritual truth sadly missing from the ugly, clumsy ideology of current feminism, which is obsessed with social-welfare cliches of oppression, victimization and “care-giving.”
Woody Allen is an artist. To whom does he owe ultimate responsibility? Since Romanticism, we have expected the artist not to celebrate God, king, family, and established values but to break taboos, to explore his or her deepest, most socially forbidden self. Though his films have weakened recently, Allen is one of the central analysts of contemporary American manners and sexual experience. It is outrageous that therapists, bystanders, and pundits of every stripe have used this painful crisis to strike hysterical poses of moral superiority over him.
Picasso, Elvis Presley, John Lennon, Madonna, Robert Mapplethorpe: during the past decade, each of these important artists has been denounced by holier-than-thou groups, from feminists to the Moral Majority, for their unsettling themes or bohemian lifestyles. This provincial American abuse of artists must end. Neither art nor the artist will ever conform to bourgeois decorum or tidy moral codes. Originality is by definition rule-breaking.
Allen’s films, like Bananas, Love and Death, and Annie Hall, often show the comic inadequacy of words, reason, or good intentions to deal with the storminess of sex and love. In Broadway Danny Rose, he himself plays a gentle, earnest, compassionate bumbler overwhelmed by a flamboyant, vengeful Italian firecracker, wonderfully portrayed by Mia Farrow.
Farrow seems to have carried this unexpected flair for Italian theatricality into her present life drama, in which she has managed to exert maximum power while deftly avoiding overt public statements. Dispatching a host of adult and pint-sized proxies as skillfully as Shakespeare’s volatile Cleopatra, Farrow has fused Puccini heroines: she is both the pining, abandoned mother, Madame Butterfly, and the tempestuous, jealous diva, Tosca, who uses any weapon that comes to hand.
There has been an undertone of perversity or kinkiness in Farrow’s sexual personae from the start of her career. Her May/December marriage to Frank Sinatra still astonishes. Who can forget the first yacht-deck photo of the hard-bitten casino roue next to the androgynous gossamer waif? (Sinatra’s ex, Ava Gardner, snapped, “I always knew Frank would end up with a boy.”) In Secret Ceremony Farrow played a delusional girl-woman projecting a homoerotic incest fantasy onto a very patient Elizabeth Taylor. In Rosemary’s Baby she fought for her pregnancy against the forces of darkness and oddly nosy neighbors on Central Park West.
Motherhood is a far more complex phenomenon than the current brand of neat-as-pie yuppie feminism admits. Motherhood may unleash primal instincts for possession and territoriality beyond morality. Hovering vulturelike over the whole affair is Farrow’s dowager queen mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, hurling Junoesque thunderbolts at Allen (in her words, an “evil” man) from her stronghold on the West Coast. Farrow’s sprawling, multiracial household is in its own way tribal and matriarchal.
Allen is being impugned as an “immature” satyr with a Lolita fixation, like those other small-statured collectors of nymphets, Charlie Chaplin and Roman Polanski. The pursuit of youth and beauty has also been an integral part of highly accomplished gay male life for centuries. Allen has the right to seek his muse wherever he may find her. The quiet, dreamy Soon-Yi, paternalistically trashed by the bleeding-heart commentators as “helpless,” “passive,” and “naive,” may represent simplicity and emotional truth to Allen. Such insights, even if transient, are priceless to an artist.
Is it incest? Legally, no. Psychologically, yes. But incest is a universal theme in a world mythology that we have never come to terms with. Doing the research for Sexual Personae, I was stunned at the frequency of incest in Romantic literature. And incest permeates the two greatest plays ever written, Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex and Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Freud’s theory of infantile sexuality is a century old, yet it remains unabsorbed. Most parents could not function at home if they fully accepted their children’s sexuality. Our horrified fascination with the Allen/Farrow scandal comes partly from our own repressions. Similarly, the child-abuse witch-hunts focusing on day-care centers in recent years are baseless hallucinations, eruptions from our vestigial Anglo-Saxon puritanism.
Woody Allen’s love life began in the shadow of the potent Jewish mother, then evolved through brunette and blonde shiksa goddesses to an Asian Mona Lisa. Thus it is ironic that he who moved so far romantically from his Jewish roots should still end up accused of incest. Like Oedipus, he could not escape his fate.
This sorry episode in the showbiz chronicles has much to teach us. Don’t send your Valentines with a Betty Crocker stamp. Cruelty and brutality lie just beneath the surface of love. Intimacy and incest may be psychologically intertwined. Power relations may generate eroticism. Perhaps – bad news for sexual harassment rules – hierarchy can never be completely desexed.
At his press conference, Woody Allen looked haggard and rumpled, like a graduate student flushed out of an all-night study session. In giving anguished testimony about the mystery, compulsion, and folly of sexual attraction, he has recovered and renewed his cultural status: the artist as scapegoat, illuminating our lives through his own suffering.