In the past, when talking to my classes about comedy, I’ve used a clip from Woody Allen’s Crimes and Misdemeanors: Alan Alda’s character being interviewed by Allen’s character, and Alda talking about humor. (“If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks, it isn’t.”) It’s part of a discussion about discerning when something has gone just far enough but not too far, and where the boundary resides (highly subjective and context-dependent, but worth considering). Much as the clip makes a good point, and much as I adore Alan Alda (despite his not having disavowed Woody Allen, yet), this time, I didn’t use the clip. I didn’t want to elevate or even look at Allen, and didn’t feel equipped to have the necessary discussion about why.
This omission is a tiny act, almost unnoticeable.
I am not above reproach: for years, since the accusation that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow, I’ve been in denial, thinking HOW COULD HE HAVE DONE SOMETHING SO AWFUL? (For Buffy fans, it feels like that “Wait, Ben is Glory?” insta-forgetting…as if my brain cannot contain the possibility that someone whose work I admire—and whose work provided me an early understanding of what art could do—could have molested a child. And then essentially married a child, another of his children. If it bends, it’s funny. If it breaks…)
I grew up watching Allen’s films. His movies were formative to me, the early ones, the funny ones. Since hearing Dylan Farrow’s initial accusation back in 1992, I have been ambivalent enough, or in denial enough, or self-loathing enough to not boycott Allen. I haven’t actively defended him, but I’ve seen Wild Man Blues (featuring Allen and Soon Yi Previn) more than once. I own the soundtrack to Everyone Says I Love You.
My own broken psyche apparently couldn’t excommunicate the filmmaker…was I passively accepting the notion that Dylan Farrow imagined her abuse, or had been brainwashed? As a seven-year-old child? At any rate, I was minimizing her pain. I looked the other way, just kept singing along to those catchy tunes, because HOW COULD HE? (Ben is Glory?)
I worked at the summer camp from which Soon Yi Previn was fired (a few summers before she was fired) and heard stories from friends about that big mess. I’m ashamed that I am only now thinking about this, and wondering what I can or should do (or not do), as a sentient being in the world, a person who believes the victims.
I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse. Why did it take me this long to stop with the Woody Allen apologies? Why have I turned away?
By continuing to celebrate Allen’s art, am I complicit in the abuse, by not condemning the artist?
A couple weeks ago (the same week I read about Eliza Dushku’s stunt man, and the Michigan State University nightmare), I read the NY Times piece, Dylan Farrow Accuses Woody Allen of Sexual Abuse in TV Interview.
That was a very triggering week.
And I started drafting this distant apology to Dylan Farrow. Believing the reality of abuse is hard enough for survivors. To paraphrase Bessel van der Kolk, from his book, The Body Keeps The Score, a big part of healing is feeling what we feel, and knowing what we know. Moving away from dissociation, from minimization, from forgetting. From looking away. It’s not as easy as it sounds, when a body has been violated. We don’t want to feel what we feel. We don’t want to know what we know. It is an ornate and twisty thing, memory. It’s hard enough without the disbelief of everyone else. We start to feel like we’re living a fiction, or we’re invisible, or don’t even exist.
People—usually those who disbelieve, or minimize, the stories of victims—often claim that if a person’s not coming forward or speaking loudly enough, it must mean memories are false.
I asked Dylan if there was any chance that this was a false memory, that she had been brainwashed.
“No,” she said flatly. “I think it’s more logical almost that the people who accuse me of being brainwashed are brainwashed themselves by the celebrity, the glamour, the fantasy, the pull they have to Woody Allen, their hero on a pedestal.”
The larger point, she said, is not her own suffering over the years, but the need to listen to victims.
And later in the same piece, Kristof continues:
One demographer’s new estimate is that at least three-fourths of women worldwide have been sexually harassed.
I am sorry for any time I have looked away, or minimized someone’s pain and suffering.
I’m left with the question of what to do about the art of perpetrators.
For now, I’ll find another way to talk about what is bending and what is breaking.