An artist and his art are two different things. There are a great number of people throughout history who have been relatively horrible human beings—abusive, bigoted, etc.—yet relatively brilliant artists. If we started judging every artist's art by the quality of the artist's character, we'd be much poorer, culturally speaking. This is why I've always tried to keep my opinions about artists and judgment of their art separate. It's why I've always done my best to reject the politicized life, a key component of which is the idea that we can only love art created by artists we agree with.
All of which is to say that I'm pretty comfortable with the argument that Woody Allen's films should be considered apart from Woody Allen's character. Even for a filmmaker as inextricably linked to his work as Allen, the film and the filmmaker are separate entities. They exist apart from each other. Manhattan and Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris work or do not work on their own, regardless of how you feel about Woody Allen.
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And there are a lot of reasons to think that Woody Allen is a pretty horrible person. Consider, for instance, this open letter written by Dylan Farrow accusing Woody Allen, her adoptive father, of sexually abusing her. It's stomach-churning stuff. And it has caused some soul-searching on the left about whether or not decent people can, in good conscience, celebrate the man's work.
Again, I'm pretty okay with saying "Hey, Woody Allen is a scumbag, but that doesn't really impact my opinion of his work." (Then again, that's pretty easy for me to say since I hold a relatively low opinion of his films to begin with.) Michael Maiello, however, thinks this doesn't go far enough. He thinks that progressives should lay off Allen specifically because Allen is a good progressive. His politics, Maiello argues, should trump any skeeziness you feel over his purported crimes. Here's Maiello:
From the right, such criticism is to be expected as he has been mocking their mores and heroes on stage, page and screen for five decades. His well-intentioned critics on the left, however, are ignoring his decades of contributions to progressive thinking in the United States. …
And reducing the question of whether or not Allen deserves his social prominence and accolades to "did he or didn't he?" tosses out decades of artistic accomplishment and service to progressive ideas too rashly. For the left, Woody Allen has long been a force for good. Particularly in the 1960s and 70s, and throughout his body of work, he has advocated for peace and tolerance with singular panache. …
As a progressive, I'll take my cue from a progressive artist, look at Allen's life and decide to not judge. The country is better off with him as a cultural force and his ideas about politics and how we should treat each other are ones that his critics on the left would do well to embrace and to extend to the auteur. I'm looking forward to a Woody Allen movie a year for as long as he can, and this Amazon series, as well.
I found the whole essay modestly horrifying. It's one thing to argue that we should consider Allen's art apart from his personal life. It's another to argue that the politics he injects into his art excuse his personal failings and that every progressive who agrees with his worldview should just shut up already about the allegations of child abuse, because, ew, you're siding with conservatives. Good progressives should know better than that. It's the politicized life on steroids.
Indeed, the argument above—that we should expect conservatives to be horrified by accusations of child abuse solely because they disagree with the accused politically and not because the crimes themselves are horrific—is a rather stunning bit of projection, the sort of statement where the mask slips for a moment and the true, unremitting ugliness of the ideologue is laid bare for all to see. As I said, it's all quite gross.
I don't know if Allen is guilty of the things he has been accused of doing. However, I do know that "Well, he's an ideological ally who injects messages I agree with into his work" isn't a terribly compelling defense.