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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Dylan Farrow Accuses Woody Allen of Abuse; How Should We Respond?

Everett Collection Source
I wonder how many people, when watching Woody Allen's film "Play It Again Sam," realize that Woody Allen, in that film, humiliates Diane Keaton – and trashes all women. Diane Keaton, the woman he is supposed to have loved so much. Adorable Diane Keaton, who rushed to his defense in 1992 when Mia Farrow first accused Allen of child abuse.

Everyone says, "Woody must be a great guy. Someone as cool as Diane Keaton loves and defends him!"

But Allen humiliates her in "Play It Again Sam."

In PIAS, Allen plays his alter ego, a funny, cerebral, neurotic, whiny nebbish who can't get women, but who lusts after them ferociously and pathetically. Women are too blinded by their own pettiness to see how valuable – deep, smart and adorable – he is.

Diane Keaton plays the unattainable alpha female Allen lusts after.

Keaton is married to a tall, muscular, rich, alpha male named Dick. Yes, really. DICK. Dick is, of course, a crude euphemism for the male sexual organ, and for an obnoxious man. 

She discovers how "wonderful" Allen is, and is "tempted" to leave Dick for Allen. She can't, though. She explains why. She loves Dick. She needs Dick. Yes, she really says this: I love Dick. I need Dick.

We get it; we get it. Allen is telling his audience that the alpha females he lusts after can't see how "wonderful" he, Allen, is – yes he calls himself "wonderful" – because they want "dick." Keaton looks so buffoonish standing there, repeating "dick" over and over, how much she wants Dick and needs Dick and can't leave Dick for "wonderful" Woody Allen.

Cringe.

Yesterday Dylan Farrow, now renamed Malone, published a letter in the New York Times accusing her adoptive father, Woody Allen, of sexually abusing her twenty-one years ago, when she was seven.

I wrote my MA thesis at UC Berkeley on the stories survivors of child abuse tell in 12 Step meetings. For that thesis, I listened to, recorded, and transcribed hundreds of hours of survivor accounts.

I can say that Dylan's account sounds like hundreds of others I've heard. That doesn't make it true. I don't know if it is true.

I can say that Woody Allen's movies have always struck me as misogynist, and successful. Tells you something about what art we embrace. Of course Woody's films are mild in their misogyny compared to more recent fare, and porn I stumble across even accidentally on the internet. I shudder to think of eleven- and twelve-year olds doing the same google image searches I do and stumbling across images of women bound, stabbed, and tortured. Sexualized images of children saturate our culture: Miley Cyrus, Britney Spears.

Here's what I wish. I wish we would drop the "monster" vocabulary when someone is accused of child abuse.

Here's why.

We need to hear and rationally evaluate child abuse accusations.

We can't do that if we have only two choices: the accused is a human, or the accused is a monster.

I'm a survivor of child abuse. My primary abuser was a very good person, much loved by the wider community.

Yes.

Wrap your head around that, world: a child abuser CAN BE a much loved pillar of the community.

As long as you resist that truth, you will not be able to hear child abuse accusations rationally.

Because you will keep saying, "Oh, this or that person COULD NOT BE a child abuser, because he or she is really nice, otherwise."

Yes. Someone who is really nice otherwise might be a child abuser. Please drop the "monster" vocabulary. Please drop the black/white, all or nothing thinking.

We, children currently abused and survivors of child abuse, need you to keep your thinking caps on when you evaluate child abuse accusations.

***

Below is an essay by me about Woody Allen's film "Deconstructing Harry" that ran in the Bloomington Independent in 1998.

DECONSTRUCTING HARRY, DECONSTRUCTING WOODY

Lies in art bore me. In life lies can entertain, or at least intrigue, because in life lying entails risk. Lies in art exist to eliminate risk for their creator, to serve his fears as a person and his shortcomings as an artist. In fact, lies define what yet of his craft the artist has failed to master. Watching lies in art is like watching a tennis match between a world champion and an occasional player. The elements of surprise, of exhilaration, of reaching for the heights of human capacity, are eliminated. The game is rigged. The champion will always win, but the spectators will not get what they paid for.

Woody Allen's movies, especially as he has aged, have struck me as repetitious, lying exercises in self-exculpation. And, so, they bore me. I haven't found it necessary to watch his recent films like "Mighty Aphrodite" "Bullets over Broadway" and "Everyone Says I Love You" to their conclusions. But "Deconstructing Harry"'s stellar reviews brought me to the box office.

As it happened, I might not have watched this one all the way to the end, either. "Deconstructing Harry"'s opening scene revealed most of the movie's bag of tricks. Desirable, young, Julia Louis Dreyfuss volunteered to be disgracefully used as a sexual receptacle by the elderly, but aptly named, Dick Benjamin. 

The rest of the movie repeated, expanded on, and apotheosized, the geezer-babe motif. In the world of "Deconstructing Harry," men are the doers, the achievers, the possessors of thought and complexity. Men are agents of their own destiny, and dynamos of plot. Women are categorically excluded from status as doer, or as human complex or sensitive enough to be worthy of humane regard. Since men, by dint of their superior gifts, are the only ones who generate wealth, fame or power, and since men are the ones who define the only game in town, beautiful younger women, i.e., "babes," endure humiliation and disappointment and volunteer to be used by men. Women throw themselves at old, physically unattractive men who dismiss them as only "cunts;" women do this for something like the reasons that moths collide into flames, and with as many chances of self-fulfillment.

"Deconstructing Harry" doesn't offer much more in the way of plot. The babes in question, like Elisabeth Shue, are up to the minute; past year's models like Diane Keaton need not apply, though their daughters might pass muster. Were the viewer to suspect that these women have any human validity outside of status as babe and "cunt," they would less adequately serve as the butt of Allen's jokes. Too, plot tension would evaporate; why believe that someone as apparently together as the actress Judy Davis would lose her sanity over a nebish like Allen? And so Allen provides a number of scenes that demonstrate that women are without creativity, competence, complexity, or consideration. To make himself appear larger, he must make women very small.

Most of Allen's babes have no jobs; Elizabeth Shue and Judy Davis exist only as decoration in the lives of men like Woody Allen. In a few scenes, Allen denies women competence even in the only professions Allen can imagine for them, nurturing professions like therapist and child care worker. The audience is meant to laugh at these babe's doomed efforts to demonstrate human worth. 

In every such scene, the previously attractive (submissive) babe who commits the cardinal crime and futile folly of agency devolves into a shrill incompetent. In heavy-handed slapstick, Kirstie Alley is shown failing miserably in her profession, therapist. While attempting to counsel a patient, she engages in an ineffectual tirade against Allen. What has caused her downfall? The sexual prowess and devastating allure the superior Woody Allen, great writer, has over her. 

Mariel Hemmingway is shown failing miserably in her chosen profession, child care. What has reduced her to shrill incompetent? The sexual prowess of the great bon vivant, life affirming free-thinker, and cocksman, Woody Allen. But mostly women are shown with no life outside of the charmed circle of Allen's lust, and when that lust is withdrawn and redirected at a younger, newer babe, women turn from babes to incompetent harpies. Judy Davis, whining, barking, attempts to shoot herself and assassinate Allen, and fails at both. Allen then reminds her that she is nothing more than a "meshugana cunt."

In interminable scene after interminable scene of Allen being harangued by shrill, ineffectual harpies, Allen manages to both coat himself in the virtuous glow of the victim and crown himself the smug victor. He begs: "Witness these monstrous females persecuting me!" He gloats: "But, see? They are obsessed with me, and they always lose; I always win."

There is one competent, likable woman in "Deconstructing Harry," "Cookie." Cookie is – now here's an artistic innovation – an African American hooker with a heart of gold. One might suspect that Allen threw Cookie in as a token. It has been noted that in Allen's opus of films portraying life in Manhattan, there are no people of color. But maybe Cookie's presence is not so much token as elaborate joke set up. Allen's character, whose status as superior, intellectual male is not threatened by his demanding and receiving a blow job, badgers Cookie about her calm acceptance of her life of prostitution. She should think on deeper things as he does, he says, like black holes. She knows about black holes, she replies; it is how she earns her living. One can imagine Allen's resolve to include a black woman in his next film after coming up with that rather obvious joke.

In counterpoint to conveniently limited women whose breath of life is controlled by how much they are graced with Allen's lust, is the godlike Allen himself. Allen's is the only character to display competence, and to be seen, ironically enough, as capable of creation. No, none of the "cunts" onscreen can create, but Allen can, and in a final self-apotheosis, Allen is warmly applauded by his teaming "children," the fictional characters of his opus. Allen should pay his audiences for sitting through this sappy final scene of self-exculpation.

Is "Deconstructing Harry" merely an accurate, and thereby artistically worthy and engaging, portrait of a misogynist, rather than a misogynist film that never transcends the level of a frustration and anger fueled joke graffitied on a men's room wall? It is the latter. It could, certainly, have been the former, had Allen any personal courage, or greater artistic virtuosity. An engaging and worthy portrait of misogyny would have required Allen, the creator, to generate and animate multi dimensional female characters, and to explore in all its consequences Allen's life of self-absorption. 

Films like "In the Company of Men" have done more gripping treatments of misogyny; films like "A Month on the Lake" have explored old men's babe chasing with compassion, poignancy, complexity and humor; any number of films have shown women as something more than the butt of jokes, more than packaging for an anatomy that is lusted after when inaccessible and discarded after access has been gained. Woody hasn't the talent to make such a film, and so he lies to cover for what he, as an artist, cannot do.





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