The Thing About Woody

Would a child lie? Are you really a pedophile apologist? These are things that would be said, and not pleasantly, to anyone who questioned the guilt of Virginia McMartin. But she was vilified, even though it was later recognized that she was completely innocent and the crimes of which she was accused never happened.

Cathy Young braved the mob as it stormed Woody Allen’s gate.

The 82-year-old actor and filmmaker has long been haunted by allegations that he molested his adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, more than a quarter-century ago, when she was just seven years old. In 2014, Farrow wrote an open letter with the accusation, and yet the controversy quickly settled down, leaving Allen largely unscathed.

But now it’s 2018, and we live in a different world.

At the time, Dylan Farrow’s allegations were determined to be unfounded, which failed to convince many but was sufficient to end the inquiry.

Obviously, none of this proves Allen is innocent. But it does leave plenty of room for doubt.

Today, there is no doubt. Indeed, there is no need for inquiry any more. No need for charges, evidence or proof. Dylan Farrow said so, and what sort of sick pervert apologist would dispute her?

On the pro-Allen side, there’s a report by a team from the Yale-New Haven Hospital Child Sex Abuse Clinic, brought in by the Connecticut State Police, which determined that Dylan had not been sexually abused and suggested there may have been coaching by Farrow. The New York State Department of Social Services also found no credible evidence of molestation.

Like Cathy, Bret Stephens took the risk of reason by penning The Smearing of Woody Allen. He begins with the UVA rape story that so many, myself included, bought into.

Since the account of the rape “felt” true, it was easy to assume it was. Since the alleged victim had supposedly suffered grievous harm, it was awkward to challenge her version of events. Since important people took the story on faith and sought to press it into the service of an undeniably noble cause, the story’s moral truth overwhelmed its factual one.

But that case, like McMartin, disappears from view, the myths that never happen we’re told. Woody is real. Woody is guilty. Burn Woody. Granted, Woody’s leaving Mia for her adopted daughter was beyond creepy for many of us, but that cuts both ways, to Mia Farrow’s desire to retaliate and hurt Woody by manipulating her daughter Dylan as well as Woody’s interests in young women. Which is it? Who knows. I don’t. Nor do you, no matter how much you want to believe you do.

It goes without saying that child molestation is a uniquely evil crime that merits the stiffest penalties. But accusing someone of being a molester without abundant evidence is also odious, particularly in an era in which social-media whispers can become the ruin of careers and even of lives.

In other times, Stephens’ pointing this out would be bold. Today, it’s damn near suicidal. Already, the unduly passionate are questioning why he hasn’t been fired by the Times for daring to question their certain beliefs. They may acknowledge, in a moment of weakness, that there are distinctions to be made on the degree of horribleness between the people assumed guilty and the people questioning the mob’s verdict, the punishment ranges from death for the least culpable to death plus cancer for the most.

Given the available facts, it is impossible to know with any reasonable certainty whether or not Allen molested Dylan Farrow. She may be telling the truth; he may be telling the truth. It’s also quite possible that neither of them is lying and that Dylan strongly believes she was molested, even though she was not.

Here’s why I am strongly inclined to believe that Allen did not molest Dylan.

As explained before, facts are objective. Truth is subjective. Arguing  about another person’s “truth” is a futile endeavor, as believers are going to believe no matter what doubts are created by the facts. But that still assumes too much.

We have a system, imperfect as it is, for determining a person’s guilt. It’s there for the people we love, we despise, we don’t even know. Guilt isn’t established by editorials or social media, by the strength of beliefs, the extent of snark or the depth of passionate fury of the zealots.

Who would be crazy enough to stand up for the rights of Virginia McMartin when everyone at the time knew she was guilty? Even after it was revealed that UVA’s Jackie was a liar, zealots argued that she should still be believed, because we had transcended facts to a deeper truth.

And now Cathy Young and Bret Stephens have done the unthinkable and challenged the mob’s certainty that Woody Allen molested Dylan Farrow. Off with their heads, not for doing anything to anyone, but for questioning.

The disease is metastasizing, spreading from the unconvicted to those who refuse to prove their virtue by validating the mob’s certainty. Neither goes so lawyerish as to remind their readers that in America, we are presumed innocent until convicted. If that means anything, it’s that we are innocent, there being no purgatory of “everybody knows he’s guilty, but he beat the rap, so he’s really guilty but unconvicted.”

Woody Allen has not been convicted of anything, not that his detractors care. But burning Woody at the stake isn’t sufficient. Even those who would presume to challenge the mob mentality must be burned alongside him. Surely that will silence anyone who might consider questioning the guilt of Virginia McMartin or the fraternity boys who raped Jackie. And Woody Allen. And others.

15 comments on “The Thing About Woody

  1. Babs

    This, from Nick Kristof’s recent column, suggests that no cases should be brought for child sexual abuse given the realities of putting a fragile child through a brutal trial. (We can assume that most if not all children are fragile, and most if not all such trials brutal.) How do we know he’s telling the truth? For all we know, he thought he had probable cause but also thought the case was weak and made the decision on that calculus as well. Also, isn’t it derelict not to bring charges given potential to do harm to others?

    Frank Maco, the Connecticut prosecutor who oversaw the case in the 1990s … reiterated what he had said at the time: that he had probable cause to bring a criminal case against Allen (who was Dylan’s adoptive father) but couldn’t justify putting a fragile child through a brutal trial.

    1. Virginia Strong

      You quote the Connecticut prosecutor. I was a federal prosecutors have a one track mind – get the s.o.b. But the examining physician who interviewed Dylan many times said it was probable she was coached. Open up your mind and read this statement in the NYT.

      Another thing. Mia was sleeping with Frank Sinatra at a late stage in her relationship with Woody. She’s admitted that and that Ronan may be Frank’s son. And she broke up Andre Previn’s marriage to Dory Previn by becoming a close friend to Dory so she could get close to Andre. Dory Previn wrote a song about it that is chilling.

      What type of person does these things? I would say someone with no morals and a selfish streak a mile deep.

      1. SHG Post author

        I take no sides in the case, as I wasn’t there and have no clue what really happened. But to ignore the facts as if there are no doubts is intellectually dishonest and delusional.

  2. sam medley

    Allen did not leave Mia for ‘his adopted daughter’. There was never any parental relationship between them. It is still creepy but not that creepy.

  3. B. McLeod

    As far as I can tell (and despite Dylan Farrow’s unceasing complaints), this stuff is still bouncing off Woody Allen almost entirely. Part of it may well be the appearance that bringing him down has become Dylan Farrow’s lifelong obsession. She just comes off as a person who is not mentally well.

  4. Michael Joseph

    To my mind, the evidence for Woody Allen’s innocence is so overwhelming, it seems hard to believe that anyone could believe otherwise. If the accused child molester and his accusers were not famous I wonder whether anyone would have trouble working out that he didn’t do it. There seems to be a mythic dimension to this story that clouds one’s judgment, so that for some, Woody’s guilt seems predetermined: it simply makes a better story.

    But what interests me more is, relatedly, the public reception of Woody’s relationship with Soon-Yi, and how even writers sympathetic to the idea that Mia Farrow has cruelly and mendaciously attacked her former lover and friend, will still castigate Woody for “immoral” behavior with Soon-Yi. It’s illuminating to look at what morality is in this case. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy defines morality as consisting in two different ways:

    1. Descriptively, morality refer to certain codes of conduct put forward by a society or a group (such as a religion), or accepted by an individual for her own behavior; and

    2. Normatively to refer to a code of conduct that, given specified conditions, would be put forward by all rational persons.

    One can dismiss the normative definition. Obviously, “all rational persons” have not embraced a standard of morality that would condemn Woody and Soon-Yi. One might say, it is immoral (under this definition) to kill, or to torture, but widespread divergency among societies regarding marriage and courtship practices rules out including the romance of Woody and Soon-Yi.

    So about definition 1, the descriptive definition? Of courser, since Woody and Soon-Yi have not accepted that their conduct is immoral, the final clause of 1. is controversial. But one could say that a group of people do believe Woody and Soon-Yi violated “a certain code of conduct,” and therefore such a code has a valid notional existence?

    The Encyclopedia further notes “Any definition of ‘morality’ in the descriptive sense will need to specify which of the codes put forward by a society or group count as moral. Even in small homogeneous societies that have no written language, distinctions are sometimes made between morality, etiquette, law, and religion. And in larger and more complex societies these distinctions are often sharply marked. So “morality” cannot be taken to refer to every code of conduct put forward by a society.”

    Can such a distinction be made here? What is the argument that Woody and Soon-Yi violated a moral code rather than say a code of etiquette? People who seem most deeply offended tend to misstate the terms of Woody’s former relationship to Soon-Yi. He was not her adoptive father. He was not, according to Soon-Yi, a father figure; at the time the intimate nature of their friendship developed, Woody had not been intimate with Mia for several years. In other words, what would the moral precept be that allows us to distinguish moral infraction from social faux pas?

    People may be repelled by the idea that a man would propose intimacies to the adoptive daughter of his former lover. They are entitled to hold and express an opinion, but not necessarily to claim that they are putting forth a moral code. Experience will show us that men and women meet under a variety of different circumstances. Traditionally, uncircumstanced love was deemed the truest form. In Medieval Fin Amour, the lovers were often separated by prior marital commitments: knights (like Lancelot) fell for married women. In fairy tales, lovers were separated by class–and marrying above one’s station, which is the very point of the fairy tale’s happy ending, was expressly forbidden in Venice, the birth of the modern fairy tale. More recently, the twentieth-century love poet, Robert Graves, wrote “all true love is adulterous.”

    I’ve read repeatedly that Woody’s attraction to Soon-Yi was “creepy,” and yet in expressing that thought people are ignoring the fact that forms of attraction they find good and desirable were once similarly frowned on, but unlike those earlier disapprovers, they have the advantage of a body of history and literature that should enable them to rise above contemporary prejudices.

    Nor is it clear that the modern scolds even constitute a group in the formal sense implied by the Stanford Dictionary definition. They really seem merely to be a minority faction, or a percentage of the general population of a pluralistic society in which no code of conduct forbidding or inhibiting such a relationship exists.

    My belief is that people who accuse the Allens of immorality are responding to a code of etiquette or to an aesthetic code, influenced (can one doubt it?) by the fact that Allen is a movie director. They would like the story to have better optics. They would prefer, in Thomas Pynchon’s phrase, for the Woody *character* and the Soon-Yi *character* to have “met cute.”

    Well, they met the way true lovers have always met–haphazardly, inconveniently, messily, and it’s odd that a public brought up on romantic comedies has found it so difficult to accept the truth right in front of them.

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