Forgiving Woody August 25, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in About Forgiveness, Art, Literature and Culture.
Tags: forgiveness, the person vs. the work, Woody Allen boycott, Woody Allen forgiveness
©Roger Hollander 2008
“I had the miraculous clarity for an instant and so I understood that the forgiveness itself was strong, durable, like strands of a web, weaving around us, holding us.”
Jane Hamilton, “A Map of the World”
I read recently that Woody Allen no longer is able to make movies in the United States, that no backer would invest given that he has lost a large part of the female audience. This a result, of course, of the scandal some years ago around his betrayal of Mia Farrow and taking up with her adopted daughter.
I can easily understand such reaction on the part of women, and I have a feeling that he alienated many women who would not consider themselves militantly feminist. I myself avoid movies where certain actors are involved: Mel Gibson (anti-Semitic); Sean Connery (misogynist); Charlton Heston (guns); Rambo Stallone and his doppelganger, the Governor of California (mindless violence); John Wayne (right wing politics).
But I am not consistent. I don’t like what Woody Allen did but it is easy for me to say that it is none of my business and at least he married Soon-Yi Previn.
We tend to be selective in our forgiving. Women still adore John F. Kennedy, for whom it would not be much of an exaggeration to say that he bedded nearly every female he considered attractive who passed through the doors of the White House. And Charlie Chaplin, whose involvement with under aged women was far more scandalous than that of Woody Allen’s. Perhaps martyrdom or simply dying makes it easier to be forgiven. But I doubt it. I think that we humans are simply fickle when it comes to whom we can and cannot forgive.
But, if so, based upon what criteria? That’s what puzzles me. When it comes to Woody Allen, for example, I have such a great admiration for his work and his brand of comedy, that the scandal hardly made a dent in my desire to continue on as a fan. On the other hand, if I can turn to sports for a moment, there was no athlete I admired more for pure talent than the Los Angeles Laker basketball star Kobe Bryant. But when I learned of his disgusting escapade in Las Vegas and the gift of a million dollar diamond ring to buy back his wife’s loyalty (or silence?), my appetite for watching him play totally evaporated.
I don’t have the answer. In some instances we can separate the person from the work, and in some just cannot allow ourselves to forgive. Was the genius of Ezra Pound compromised by his pro-Nazi attitude? I have trouble forgiving Nazi sympathizers and obscenely rich and arrogant athletes no matter the level of genius. Ironically, Woody Allen himself gave a comic expression to the issue of the person vs. the “work” in one of his rare film appearances in someone else’s film, Martin Ritt’s “The Front,” where he portrays a small time bookie who comes to some degree of fame by allowing his name to be affixed to the television scripts of a friend who has been blacklisted (in the era of McCarthyism). The young impressionable studio employee with whom he develops a relationship is both in awe of what she believes is his prodigious talent as a writer and at the same time baffled by his stupidly childish personality.
I guess that in the final analysis we have a right to our prejudices as long as no one gets hurt. I will go on boycotting Mel Gibson and hope that he doesn’t make anything I’d otherwise really want to see.
If you want to avoid Woody Allen because you think he is and forever will be a male chauvinist pig that is all right with me. As for me I simply cannot. I really need the eggs.