The Business Of Bananas

Before sides were picked and bizarre and disgusting accusations leveled, a new Woody Allen movie was an event. They were a big deal, and his movies became cultural touchstones. Even the opening sequence to Manhattan, scenes aligning with Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, was magical. Or the iconic scene on the movie line in Annie Hall, where Marshall McLuhan appears to shut up the smug Columbia professor. Classic, but only one of hundreds.

Then it all crashed.

As readers surely know, that happened after Farrow found out about his relationship with her (but not his) adopted daughter Soon-Yi Previn, now his wife, who was then 21. Farrow subsequently accused Allen of sexually molesting their adopted daughter Dylan Farrow, who was then 7, during a 1992 visit to her Connecticut country house.

Did he do it? He has always categorically denied it; he has never been charged with doing it; and two formal investigations, one by the Yale-New Haven Hospital and another by the New York State Department of Social Services, exonerated him. For her part, Dylan insists the accusation is true, as does Ronan, who calls it “a credible allegation, maintained for almost three decades, backed up by contemporaneous accounts and evidence.”

None of us will ever know the truth for a certainty. Those inclined to believe Dylan should, at the least, read the firsthand account of her older brother, Moses Farrow. By the same token, those inclined to believe Allen should read Justice Elliott Wilk’s ruling denying Allen custody of Moses, Dylan and Ronan.

Cathy Young has been over the allegations more than anyone I know, and remains unpersuaded. But even more significantly, recognized well ahead of others how the Woody War wasn’t about facts, or even Woody, but “believing the survivor.” Note the date, 2014, well before the simplistic mantra became a bedrock of woke ideology.

Woody, one-time beloved cultural icon turned child-snatcher and lousy husband to odd, if not abusive, former waif, Mia, wrote a book, which Hatchette announced it would publish. Too soon?

Hachette Book Group announced that it would publish Woody Allen’s memoir, “Apropos of Nothing.” In that bygone era when people had thoughts on subjects other than the coronavirus, this caused an uproar. The journalist Ronan Farrow, Allen’s estranged son (assuming he is his son — but that’s another story), denounced the decision and said he would end his own lucrative relationship with the publisher. Hachette employees staged a walkout from company offices in New York and Boston.

It took Hachette just a few days to cave. “After listening, we came to the conclusion that moving forward with publication would not be feasible for HBG,” the publisher said through a spokeswoman. Notice how often these days the work of the cancel culture is accomplished in the emollient language of “listening.”

Cancel culture claimed another victim? Was it the walkout by replaceable children employees, who hadn’t read the book they found intolerable, not because of content but the (ugh) awfulness of its author? Or was it the loss of a satchel full of money from Ronan’s writings?

Brett Stephens read the book before writing his NYT column. He thought it was good, very funny, but no To Kill A Mockingbird, woke or broke version. Still, a book worthy of being read. So what was the significance of Hatchette canceling it?

The answer isn’t censorship: Hachette is a business that must take account of its market, while Allen is still free to shop his book to another publisher. Nor is the answer that the memoir is some priceless literary treasure that must see the light of day. Much as I enjoyed it, it isn’t.

It matters because cancel culture threatens our collective well-being in multiple and fundamental ways: The banishment of unpopular people; the unwillingness to examine contrary threads of evidence and entertain opposing points of view; the automatic conflation of accusation with guilt; the failure of nerve by people entrusted with preserving the institutions of liberal culture; the growing power of digital mobs; the fear these mobs instill in any would-be contrarian or gadfly who thinks to venture a heterodox view. These threats go to the heart of what it means to sustain the habits of a free society.

The “why” is well explained, but fairly obvious, particularly at this point. But the first line, with apologies to the Godfather, is that this isn’t personal, but business. If that’s so, and it is, then what did Hatchette fear, as a business decision, would happen as a consequence of publishing the book? Would all its employees quit? Would it lose Ronan Farrow from its stable? Would the book fail to sell? Would Hatchette become a publishing pariah for publishing a pariah?

How much influence do the SJWs wield that their disapproval was sufficient to compel a publisher to kill a book? Or to get a television network to kill a show or its star? Or venues to refuse to let comics on their stage? That colleges are comprised primarily of students and academics provides an easy explanation of why heterodox thinkers are canceled or protested; that’s the audience on campus, and while they aren’t the only consumers of the “product,” they make enough noise and do enough damage to exercise their heckler’s veto.

But when it comes to media, any media, outside the extremely insular community of the Academy, do they still dictate the economics? Do businesses like Hatchette fear they will eventually be a malignant growth of sufficient size to kill their business?

To the extent one can gauge the extent of their influence, since the noise they make tends to be very loud, but that only puts them in squeaky wheel territory, consider what they’ve accomplished politically, with the intersectional candidate Elizabeth Warren a distant third on the very progressive party before she dropped out, and the socialist-lite candidate Bernie Sanders a non-viable second to the oldest white man ever to stand a chance on his third try for the nomination. In the fishbowl where their power and influence is at its peak, they can’t manage to pull off a win. Or to put it less kindly, under the absolute best circumstances they will ever enjoy, they were rejected by their own.

Had Hatchette published Woody Allen’s book, would somewhere in the vicinity of the 20% of the most radical of Democrats have been very angry with them? Is that what they believe to be a sound business decision? The woke minority might scream the loudest, but even if they’re lost as potential purchasers, so what? To let your decisions be dictated by the smallest and most dictatorial cohort isn’t just bad business, but bananas.

5 thoughts on “The Business Of Bananas

  1. Casual Lurker

    You’ve failed to recognize the effects of conditioned reflex:
    “Suck out de poison!”

  2. Sacho

    I think you hit the nail on the head here:

    “Do businesses like Hatchette fear they will eventually be a malignant growth of sufficient size to kill their business?”

    This isn’t necessarily a current threat, but a future risk that businesses must take into account. Even if SJWs are not in control now, they’re clearly making progress(ha). They’re also incredibly vindictive – even distant associations brand you as a racist/sexist nazi, and the associations *stick*. After all, many of the canceled people’s evil deeds are decades(and for historical figures, often centuries) old. What happens in 5-10 years? Will your business still be tained as the evil publisher that “gave a platform” to this unperson? What if the SJWs hold even more sway then?

    Business owners also have to consider the secondary effects of poking the SJW beehive. A protest at work can easily escalate as disgruntled workers stoke it with unrelated complaints – we’ve seen this happen already in universities where a specific transgression leads to a whole manifesto of demands, most only tangentially related to the incident. And what about slacktivism? Even if you don’t care about the issue and just want to buy a book, would you not feel a pause when you read an online review about how racist and sexist this publisher is? Would you not feel like you’ve done your online duty by buying a book from their competitor, who has been shrewdly collecting virtue points while being lucky enough not to stumble into any controversies?

    Why take this risk? What’s the upside? Just some undesirables thrown to the wolves, and some vague dying principles. Neither of those make a lot of money. The bottom line is, you don’t need to wield serious influence in order to shake down a business, especially one in a low-margin, cutthroat industry like book publishing. I don’t think SJWs will really gain power in a traditional sense, but they’ll be able to influence these low-stakes situations, and I pity the people who are unlucky enough to fall in their crosshairs.

    I think the businesses are making rational and correct choices when they cave to SJWs currently. The public is largely apathetic(if not supportive), and dissenting voices are too far inbetween, branded as or actually being racist/sexist evil nazis. Perhaps eventually we’ll reach a critical point of dissent where cancel culture will be considered a mistake – then and only then will businesses “bravely” stand up against it, lifted by the waves of public support. I don’t see this particularly different from other do-good maladies, like the War on Drugs, which have stuck with us for a long time, until finally enough of the public agree that it’s a bad idea.

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