Tunku Varadarajan (@tunkuv) February 03, 2014
A reader writes:
I understand your perspective on Dylan Farrow and respect what you have written. I, too, am deeply sympathetic to her and refuse to dismiss what she has said. Nonetheless, the account published by The Daily Beast offers a clear and cogent defense of Woody Allen, and I would urge you to consider it. I do not know what to think, but I am starting to wonder if the issue at stake is not whether we allow a man’s morality to overshadow the quality of his work, but rather whether we truly have enough evidence to discount the morality of the man.
I’m glad to link, and eager to air that side of the issue. But I remain, as I have to, agnostic about the actual accusations – but not the evident pain and anger in the letter – which remains compatible with what Dylan says happened to her. But my point was not about who may or may not be right. I cannot know with any certainty, although I tend to sympathize with most victims in cases like these. My point was simply about how the moral compromises involved in grappling with flawed artists are basically unavoidable. Another adds:
Allegations such as these are so perverse, nobody ever wants to believe someone would be willing to simply make them up. But as the Duke lacrosse team case taught us, the accusations aren’t always true.
I’m struggling with why you weren’t this measured and circumspect when you responded to abuse within the church and by Sandusky at Penn State. You’re not exactly known for your friendliness to child molesters. Jefferson, Eliot, and Larkin all thought and did things that were morally repugnant, sure, but none of them directly involved the sexual abuse of a small child. Wasn’t Maciel just as accomplished an auteur (within his chosen sphere) as Allen? Should we sit here and marvel at the brilliant talent and the subtle artistry with which he manipulated his audience?
If Ms. Farrow’s allegations are as true as you and I seem to believe they are, your comparison to concussions in the NFL is inapt. For all the evil of the concussion crisis, those grown men agreed to that environment in a way that Ms. Farrow did and could not. A more general comparison to football, however, may be on point in that apparently all fans are incredibly willing to overlook or at least contextualize the sins of their preferred entertainment.
So, why the restrained invective when it comes to Woody Allen?
Because I do not know for sure. And an individual possible case like this one is not the same as institutionalized child abuse whose impact can be so much greater and where institutional and social power can enforce silence in ways not imposed on Dylan Farrow. Another reader draws from experience:
Rage expressed towards a parent by an adult kid may be due to real abuse, but it is not proof of abuse. I participate in support groups of estranged parents, principally mothers, who have been estranged by their adult children.
It is common in these groups for these mothers to share their grief, heartbreak, confusion and their own anger over their kids’ rewriting of history and allegations of things that did not happen. There is also something called Parental Alienation Syndrome, which is said to occur in situations of a bitter divorce where one parent – generally the parent who is living with the child at the time of the divorce – is so bitter that their feelings and their behavior towards the other parent influence their children to react to the formerly loved other parent as though they are of no worth, resulting in complete rejection of the other parent. The rejection can be so complete that nothing that the alienated parent can do will convince the child of their worth.
It is hard to imagine that anyone could have been angrier at Woody Allen than Mia Farrow at the time of their breakup. I can imagine that it was tough to have been a child living in her household then. It isn’t hard for me to believe that in her own rage at Allen that Mia would have gone to the extent of using her children as weapons against Allen. A child of 7 is no match for a mother in a rage.
I don’t know what really happened, but for me the proof of what happened does not lie in Dylan’s rage. I have seen adult kids grow up believing that good parents were bad parents. It is a tragedy for everyone.
One more reader:
We know nothing about Dylan. Nothing about her mental health. Nothing about how her mental health was assessed as a seven year old (or as a three year old, for that matter). She cannot be questioned or cross examined. The report stemming from the six or seven month investigation of her allegations has never been made public, but what little we know of it suggests every reason to doubt Dylan and Farrow. And according to the Daily Beast, her brother Moses – also adopted by Allen – has now decided that living with Farrow involved “brainwashing.”
I do not believe Dylan, not her particulars at least (which are, in fact, not very particular). Which is not to say that I find Allen blameless. Adoptive children are often very fragile. I have two. Even children adopted as infants experience tragedy very early in life and tragedy damages children. To jointly adopt two fragile children with a woman to whom you have not made a lifetime commitment, a woman who is most assuredly a few sandwiches short of a picnic, and then to cheat on that woman with her own adoptive daughter is to invite bedlam. Allen may not have foreseen the details of that bedlam, but when we do bad things we don’t get to dictate the parameters of the suffering that ensues.
Mia Farrow’s brother, by the way, is currently jailed for child abuse, and the vast majority of abusers started out abused. I wouldn’t be surprised if both brother and sister were victims. Moreover, I suspect Dylan, out of empathy for her mother’s very vocal rage, truly did not want to see Allen after their separation, and that when she did not want to see him, Farrow, based on her own experience, suspected and then suggested the possibility of sexual abuse. And after days and months of questioning and prodding, I suspect that Dylan came to believe that she had been abused.
If we care about facts, and want to hash them out in the media, the report should be released as well as transcripts of all interviews – including with Dylan. But we are not concerned about facts. We are concerned with vengeance and anger.