Editorial, Top Stories

Cancel Culture Comes for Woody Allen (Again)

In 2003, a 19-year-old worker at a Colorado resort accused NBA basketball star Kobe Bryant of raping her in his hotel room. Bryant’s endorsement deals were canceled, and it looked like this might be the end of his career. But prosecutors dropped the case when the alleged victim decided not to testify. Bryant, who admitted that he had engaged in adulterous sex with his accuser, argued that the liaison had been consensual, apologized publicly, and settled a subsequent civil suit on undisclosed terms. By the time Bryant died in a helicopter crash earlier this year, his public image had been restored, and Bryant received the NBA’s equivalent of a state funeral. When Washington Post writer Felicia Sonmez tweeted out a reference to the sexual-assault allegation amidst the grieving, she was suspended from work, and chastised by the Post’s executive editor, who told her, “A real lack of judgment to tweet this. Please stop. You’re hurting this institution.”

In the summer of 1992, actress Mia Farrow found out that her adopted daughter Soon-Yi was still romantically involved with Mia’s ex-long-time-boyfriend and collaborator, Woody Allen. According to then-21-year-old Soon-Yi, Mia responded by telling a psychologist that Woody was “satanic and evil,” and that she needed to “find a way to stop him.” Three days later, seven-year-old Dylan Farrow, Mia’s daughter, accused Allen of molesting her in Mia’s Connecticut house. But when the child’s accusations, which were captured on videotape with reported coaching from Mia, were investigated by the Connecticut State Attorney, the Child Sexual Abuse Clinic of Yale-New Haven Hospital and the New York Department of Social Services, no credible evidence could be found to support the allegations. As Kyle Smith reported in a definitive National Review article, Mia’s own nanny “quit the family rather than support Mia’s version of events.” And Dylan’s brother Moses wrote in 2018 that the Mia-Dylan abuse narrative simply made no sense given the architecture of the Connecticut house where the abuse allegedly took place. Yet Woody Allen was nonetheless smeared as a rapist and pedophile. And last week, his publisher, Hachette Book Group, announced it would cancel its deal to publish Allen’s memoirs.

It’s no use demanding ethics, logic or accountability from a mob because the mob has no identity or legal status. But as the cases of Kobe Bryant and Woody Allen show, the distinguishing problem with modern cancel culture isn’t just mobs per se: It’s the gatekeepers who surrender to the mob’s Manichean judgments, often under the guise of social justice, thereby encouraging more mobs in the future. As Stephen King put it, even Allen’s critics should be concerned: “It’s who gets muzzled next that worries me…Once you start, the next one is always easier.”

A fair assessment of Kobe Bryant is that he was one of the greatest players in the history of basketball, as well as someone who may or may not have sexually assaulted a woman in 2003. A fair assessment of Woody Allen is that he is a great and influential film director who also tore apart his extended family by entering into a very odd (but not illegal) sexual relationship with his ex-girlfriend’s adopted 21-year-old daughter. It would be perfectly normal for the same fans who turned their backs on Bryant in 2003 to eventually forgive him, and then cheer him on when he led the Los Angeles Lakers to championships in 2009 and 2010—just as it would be perfectly normal for the same cineastes who lavish praise on Woody Allen’s oeuvre to remain unsettled by the origins of his marriage to Soon-Yi Previn, while also recognizing that the Mia-Dylan abuse allegations are nonsense.

Which is to say that, morally speaking, most of us can walk and chew gum. We recognize that everyone is flawed and complicated, and that forgiveness is possible. True, such attitudes are anathema to the mob mentality. But most ordinary people aren’t part of mobs. It’s only on Twitter, a medium that self-selects for hair-trigger puritanism and moral hypocrisy, that mobs get to form a majority government. The problem comes when the firewall between the fake world of Twitter and the real world of human institutions breaks down, and social-media star-chamber verdicts are ratified by institutional gatekeepers.

Absolutists should be allowed to shriek at each other all they want on social media. That’s what it’s for. But they shouldn’t get to dictate workplace policy at the Washington Post. Nor should they have up or down veto power over whose publishing contract gets honoured by the Hachette Book Group. In both cases, Bryant and Allen, corner-office publishing executives followed the mob demand that only one view is permissible: Bryant good. Allen bad. And in both cases, they tried to mask cowardice as virtue. Post management tried to gaslight Sonmez, accusing her of “a real lack of judgment,” and of “hurting this institution.” And Hachette justified its decision to drop Allen by recourse to the need to offer “a stimulating, supportive and open work environment for all our staff.”

Hachette’s decision followed on a group of its own employees staging a “walkout” to protest the publication of Allen’s book. A similar movement is underway at the Guardian newspaper, where several hundred employees are accusing the management of “transphobia” in light of a Suzanne Moore column arguing the fairly obvious fact that “Sex is not a feeling. Female is a biological classification that applies to all living species. If you produce large immobile gametes, you are female. Even if you are a frog. This is not complicated, nor is there a spectrum.”

It once was the case that powerful media entities such as the Washington Post, Hachette, and the Guardian were insulated from mob pressures, since their own employees naturally would close ranks in times of crisis. But thanks to social media, many office workers now spend vastly more time interacting with people outside of their workplaces than within those workplaces, a phenomenon that has caused a reorganization of professional loyalties. Writers, artists, and activists, in particular, often seem more preoccupied with the opinions of people they have never met than with long-time co-workers who sit in the next cubicle. Niche creative sectors such as young adult fiction, poetry, comedy, Canadian literature, and even knitting all present case studies wherein small, densely interconnected social-media ecosystems allow cliques of highly motivated ideologues to police speech, prosecute grievances, and punish heretics.

But perhaps nowhere is the phenomenon more pronounced than in academia, where the inherently conservative (and sometimes even puritanical) machinery of elite professional gatekeeping can be co-opted by a campus’s most implacably progressive constituencies—with the result that professors and students are afflicted by the worst of both ideological worlds. A particularly piteous example is former professor Bo Winegard, recently fired from a tenure-track job at Marietta College in Ohio, apparently because of misinformation and ad hominem attacks posted by trolls on a site called RationalWiki. One troll actually emailed Winegard after his firing to brag, “I win.”

It’s a sad and petty person who regards another man’s misfortune as a “win.” But this spirit of vicious schadenfreude always lies close to the surface in every campaign of this kind. If these people can take down the director of Annie Hall, Husbands and Wives, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona, they can take down any one of us.

Comments

  1. I’ll judge each case of sleeping with one’s step-daughter on a case-by-case basis.

    I’m okay with this case. As a point of interest, they’ve been married for more than 20 years. In the movie business this is an outstanding example of love and commitment.

  2. She’s not his step-daughter.

  3. Charles Bukowski would never have been published if good character was a pre requisite. Woody Allen has never been convicted of anything more than being a creep, and that’s in the court of public opinion. But that’s enough to get your book banned. In America, its alleged sexual indiscretion that cancels your career, in other parts of the world, religious indiscretion, witness Salman Rushdie. As for Allen publishing the book himself, no one, not Amazon, etc. will ever distribute it.

  4. Calling Polanski persecuted is a gross perversion of that word.

  5. Yes indeed…
    ‘Schadenfreude’, an interesting word. I can’t help feel it is a symptom of some greater problem in society. That has never been fully addressed in civil society. It is when looked at closely, a perverse sort thing that we all seem to do. We are preloaded. It can be said that there is a pleasure in seeing someone we despise or hate, someone who is in a public office, a celebrity, a criminal, a dictator fall hard. The testing grounds were pedophiles and sex offenders. It is a product of ‘bread and circus mentality’.

    The pleasure some in the world felt for the terrible death of Sadam Hussein, captured like an animal, pictures of hair all fussed and mussed bearded with the look of dogged submission, and fear of the mob in his eyes. The light of the true man shining out in terror, as he wakes to the real. Moammar Ghadaffi hounded into a culvert and finally beaten publically and anally stabbed with a knife. The glee of the participants, the calling back to coliseum days when extremes of human suffering and excruciating death was an afternoon in the sun, drinking wine under an umbrella with one’s friends and the cheers and cacophony of the crowd that surrounded us in the stands as another died miserably in the dirt.

    Schadenfreude I would say is a perverse form of entertainment…in a world so competitive, and in the hands of a master manipulator, it is a finely honed blade that can get one what they really want…

    There is some Pavlovian response going here in the glee of another’s misfortune – something we like, something that makes us smile…it is a subtle game of self-deception, and in many cases self-hypnosis into believing what one is doing is righteous. And in that lies the rub, the need to compete to rise in an office, or institution, to feel that you are ridding the world of all the crap people that bring it down. All this can cross to the shadow side and palely satisfy for a moment, aching souls.

    It is strange how things come back around – history repeats – as we experience now the online coliseum where the mob practices its lack of self-esteem and obedience to authority. The new global religion is forming, and its dogma is being written and many times not contested enough, by those who know where it leads. But unlike the Milgram experiment were greater than 65% of the participants pulled the last lever to administer an astonishing 450-volt shock to the whimpering pretending actors behind the curtain. The new extreme is to see the victim alone, broken, divorced and broke and destitute and without means of financial support, even to the case of helping themselves. Abandoned by their children and family, separated from greater society and pariah of it, never allowed back in again.

    It has always disturbed me, that in these specific cases, the accuser is most times wrong for their accusation but they are many times, found out after the damage has been done to the accused. And that hinted at the real purpose of this behaviour. And in that is a terrible and very serious crime. Being committed by those who know quite well what they are doing, and there are no laws in place – besides slander, to enforce against it…and in this the secret and the weakness to this hate. For if the wisdom of Solomon was used here and the accuser suffered real justice for their false and hate-filled accusation. I mean serious jail time. If the mob that instigated such hatreds was to be brought to justice fitting the crime. Shades of schadenfreude even taint that…

    This awful nature is fragmenting and becoming closets of gaslighters who look to a similar ache within their membership and choose a victim to torment. Even children are doing it. We are such a bully society now.

    The need to see that someone is punished can be an overpowering experience, that momentarily seems righteous and ‘just’. Tempting as it may be, it even comes with its own flavour of dopamine that succours that self-righteousness, that ‘pseudo-justice’ warrior, and we all seem to crave some lesser or greater version of it.

    The problem is it is an addictive behaviour, and there is programming going on within groups as they groom their membership to its finer skill set, and with many in your circle that think the same, and reinforce the behaviour it leads to terrible places where eventually societies break down with the real, real and devolve into mayhem.

  6. Not really his step-daughter, but anyway: if it were just Soon Yi, there would be people who found him slimy, but it would never have reached this level of protest. It’s all about the Dylan accusations. Then people fall back on: Well, even if he didn’t do it, look what he did with Soon Yi. But (assuming for the moment he’s innocent) that’s kind of like someone being falsely accused of murder, and when that leads to his vilification, saying: Meh — Maybe he didn’t do it, but I never liked him anyway, and remember that time he was in a bar fight?

  7. As its always been. Sadly technology makes it easier though at least these days the consequences are merely loss of livelihood and social status not actual death (small comfort, I know but lets cling to it)

  8. Tanya Gold, over at UnHerd, wrote about this a couple days ago and had this zinger:

    [Hachette Employees] believe [Dylan’s claims] and they seem to believe that they have the right to punish [Woody] by destroying what remains of his reputation. Of what this illiberal tendency might do to their own future security they seem not to have considered. The best way to stand in solidarity with survivors of sexual abuse is not to debase the law which is the instrument of that solidarity. Without it, we are left with screaming.

    I can’t find anybody claiming that Allen’s trial was corrupted or illegitimate. His older son, who was a teenager and present at the scene of the purported crime claims, not only did it never happen, the victim’s story had logistical impossibilities, and Farrow’s behavioral history and motive wove dubiety throughout the whole incident.

    Progressive don’t seem to be able to see the direction they’re traveling; toward a land where Due Process is irrelevant and plays second fiddle to the court of Twitter-mob opinion. They don’t seem to realize that there will be a day when they themselves will need Due Process, and will be horrified to discover its emaciated corps with their fingerprints still impressed upon its throat.

  9. shrugs, typical left; on one hand every accuser must be believed and supported, on the other, cultural icons and accused who are other than white are issued auto redemption or, the mere mention of their ‘offense’ like this Wapo reporters’, is nuked immediately into vapor/silence.
    Words/terms like ‘Sanctimonious hypocrisy’ dont even begin to describe this…

  10. “You have never met Roman Polanski or the woman involved in the affair,…”

    This sentences undermined your entire argument. There was NO woman involved in this crime, not a euphemistic affair. Someone who claims to know so much about Mr. Polanski’s crime to which he pled guilty would at least know that. Why you feel the need to mitigate his crime is inexplicable. How could one not consider a man who could have sex with a 13 year old girl deeply flawed and possibly disturbed?

    My sins do not included pedophilia or any other crimes involving moral turpitude. Your obsessive need to defend this admitted pedophile is suggestive of some kind of hero worship. You like his movies, I get it but you don’t know him or have a relationship with him. He doesn’t care about you, unless you are adolescent girl that is. Roman Polanski doesn’t require my forgiveness. I don’t grant absolutions.

    Since you wish to avoid ignorance you may wish to read up on pedophilia. As the article below indicates pedophilia is an ongoing sexual attraction.

    https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.psychologytoday.com/us/conditions/pedophilia%3Famp

    Or you can keep your head in the sand and continue telling yourself what a great guy Polanski is and what a great guy you are for forgiving him.

  11. I wonder if you are so forgiving or dismissive of the Rotherham sex gangs? The Rotherham rapists are of the same ilk as Roman Polanski.

    “Your the one involved emotionally, as can be seen from your heated words.”

    Guilty! Men who have sex or desire to have sex with children 13 years and younger are pedophiles. That’s the psychiatric definition, not mine. I am intolerant of such men and intolerant of those who would defend or shield them. I am trying to get you to see that Roman Polanski is no different from Rotherham rapists or any other pedophiles, he is just more talented.

  12. Interesting that Woody Allen and Roman Polanski are both being discussed when it seems their cases couldn’t be further apart.

    The aforementioned blog by Moses Farrow is indeed eye-opening. I have to admit I accepted the accusations against Woody Allen when I passively heard about them, but looking at this properly it does seem to be Mia Farrow that was the child abuser. And otherwise a pretty shitty person: married the much older Frank Sinatra, then when they divorced, got pregnant by her best friend’s husband. After the way she allegedly treated her kids, it seems only poetic justice that one daughter ends up dating her ex-boyfriend!

    Crazy story.

  13. And yet Jesus managed not to rape a 9 year old, despite living hundreds of years earlier.

  14. Harvey Weinstein was a John who traded movie roles for sexual favors from prostitutes.

    He committed and has been convicted of rape, which makes him a sexual predator. But the conduct you mention above was nothing more than a transaction in the spirit of “the oldest profession”.

    It’s like the joke where a guy at a bar strikes up a conversation with a woman. Suddenly, he says “Would you sleep with me for $million?” She ponders a minute and says Yes.

    Then he says “Would you sleep with me for $20?” She gets offended and says “What kind of woman do you think I am!??”

    He says “We already established that. Now we’re negotiating the price.”

  15. But… so were those women enacting that culture. They were complicit.

    He’s disgusting to the max and I don’t doubt is a rapist but honestly just having (gross) sex once or twice to become a rich movie star… I mean, that gross sex pays dividends. I’d do it right now. I reckon most of us would. When you put the numbers on the table.

    It’s not a man-woman thing—it only seems to be. Not many men get to have the currency or the buyer to get that kind of deal.

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