Young Star

Behaving badly

SENSES WORKING OVERTIME - Luis Katigbak - The Philippine Star

Does genius excuse despicable behavior? Can you separate art and the artist? Should it matter?

Creators are monsters. If you’ve been online in the past couple of weeks and you are at all interested in films or the Hollywood-famous, you’ve probably already read the unsettling open letter written by Dylan Farrow, about how celebrated writer/director Woody Allen sexually assaulted her when she was seven years old. You’ve probably read one or more of the many, many related pieces, perhaps Robert Weide’s smarmy, self-serving defense of Allen, or Stephen Marche’s thought-provoking analysis of themes of sin and incest and punishment, or the lack thereof, throughout Allen’s body of work.

People have always been drawn to stories of public figures behaving badly—reposting and retweeting and commenting and Liking (or Unliking) have just made such stories easier to come across. Not too long ago, science fiction fans had to deal with whether or not to watch the movie Ender’s Game, based on the classic novel by unrepentant homophobe Orson Scott Card (I loved the book when I read it years ago; I didn’t watch the movie, though not out of principle.) There’s that Vhong-Deniece issue, which I don’t care to get into. Most horrifying of all in recent memory are the confirmed abuses of children perpetrated by Lostprophets lead singer Ian Watkins — in collusion with their mothers, no less. Watkins is degenerate scum and guilty as charged; we hope he gets the harshest sentence possible. But let’s face it, if his music were any good at all, we might be just a little more conflicted. And that’s horrible too.

Many of us love — or at least have enjoyed — Woody Allen’s books and films; we are faced with the fact that there is a convincing, though not airtight, case to be made for his being a child abuser. Many of the essays online have advocated separating the art from the artist, citing numerous cases throughout history of great creators being absolute a**holes. This makes perfect sense, though it feels like a cop-out. In a way we are in the enviable position of not, in this instance, being able to make decisions of consequence; we are not on an actual jury, we will never be called to work with Allen, and we are not even in a position to support Allen through our wallets, since his films only rarely get a theatrical release here. This, too feels like a cop-out. It’s like that conversation at the beginning of Allen’s Manhattan. “Would you save a man from drowning?” “I can’t swim, so I never have to face that question.”

Creators are monsters. Do you enjoy the work of Stephen King? He tweeted that Dylan Farrow’s letter detailing her abuse as a child had “an element of palpable bitchery.” (After the Twitter hatestorm that followed, he stated that he was “Still learning my way around this thing” — Using Twitter? Being a human being? — and asked for mercy from the masses.)

King has learned, as we are all learning, that the curation of your online persona has the curious consequence of exposing your prejudices as well as your preferences. You probably have one or two or maybe more people on your Facebook feed you thought were smart or cool or nice and who, through their small-minded status updates and ill-considered comments, have proven themselves none of those things.

Through his art, Woody Allen forgives us. His films are the fond histories of the fallible, the loving portraits of the self-loathing. His characters are petty and witty and reprehensible and charming and they make us feel less alone, which is one of the things that art is supposed to do — isn’t it? There is an urge in some of us to forgive him right back.

Again, we are in no real position to affect the principal players in this issue (although if you want to write a supportive note to anyone, you should go right ahead). What can we do? We might devote some thought, if we are so inclined, to judging our behavior as if we were the public figures whose stories we’re reposting.

Creators are monsters. We’re all monsters too, in one way or another. The slaying of monsters is an honorable endeavor with a long history. Let us keep in mind, though, that knowledge is the best sword for such an endeavor, and that the monsters we know best are ourselves.


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