I am not writing to make any judgement on Dylan Farrow, or to change your mind about that issue.
This is about the predictable play out of Ronan Farrow’s open letter, and how nothing will change.
Every year or so since 1993, Mia or Ronan Farrow has attacked Allen through the media. By far the most public was two years ago, when Dylan Farrow had a letter published in the New York Times (Woody Allen wrote a denial in the same publication). But it has happened just about every year in the last 23, but the Twitter/open letter approach has been five or so years old.
As the person who runs a Woody Allen fan site for the last few years, the events seem to roll out like unfortunate clockwork now. Death threats roll in. People roll in to troll various places on social media. Then the other side – Allen is innocent – chimes in, armed with links. The first side – Allen is a monster – fights back, armed with more links. People get called names, comment sections are filled, Godwin’s Law comes crashing down.
We also get think pieces. People will write their own versions. They will find quotes that match their argument – whether it’s in context is irrelevant. Kristen Stewart‘s reasoning for working with Allen – which I took as very sober and mature (essentially, as a person who has been accused of a lot of rumours, she can’t immediately believe any accusations placed on others) has been easily twisted into Kristen Stewart never trusted Allen and would like to forget she ever made this film already.
But really, we already know this.
I want to talk about why this happens.
There is value in just making a noise for the sake of it. And it’s called web traffic. Woody Allen is trending again, and all those articles are probably doing well. That might sound cynical – but The Hollywood Reporter has not given guest columns to non celebrity victims of Bill Cosby, or Bryan Singer, or anyone else accused of sexual crimes. Not saying that anyone feels one is more important than the other, but it does generate traffic. The more controversial the better.
There is also a more emotional reward of making a noise. People express an opinion online, and when they get an audience that agrees with them, up votes them, and congratulate them, it feels good (I’ve heard). Much like signing a change.org petition, you are made to feel like you’ve done something good.
The problem arises is that nothing comes out of this. In the case of Ronan Farrow, or in any other internet think piece explosion.
I have no idea what Ronan is actually trying to achieve. If he is trying to get the media to badger Allen into some sort of action – like Allen’s sudden retirement, or better still, suicide – it is obviously not going to happen. If he is trying to get Allen ostracised or marginalised by the press, then he’s made him a trending topic instead. If he’s hoping some journalist out there will get a Frost/Nixon type spontaneous confession out of him, good luck.
If Farrow is trying to stop people liking Allen’s films, the reverse has happened. The traffic to my website has gone up significantly in the last several years.
I’ve had many, many letters, emails and conversations with people who have discovered Woody Allen’s films since Farrow’s letter. The story is the same – I heard of this guy, I knew nothing about him. I read the NY Times piece and it made me disgusted. I read more, and I discovered the story had many shades of grey that made me doubt the Farrows. And then I watched Annie Hall and I want to know more.
It might be nice that your tweets get a few hundred retweets, maybe twitter-likes, maybe twitter-loves. But there is the sea of people in the middle who look on (I think it was Jon Stewart who said being in the centre is tough to explain, because it’s not very loud). And they don’t want to be on the side of extremists.
The problem with the outrage card – You Should Get Mad About This – is that it leads to more madness. In this recent round, I have seen people say the cast and crew should be sent to prison. I’ve seen Allen mentioned alongside Bill Cosby, of course. But he’s also in the league of monsters who deserve to die like Bryan Singer, David Bowie, John Lennon, Stephen Spielberg, Tom Cruise… And much more. All those people have their faults, sure. But it’s just listing people you don’t like. You’re not talking about Dylan Farrow.
The death threats. To Cate Blanchett, to Louis CK, to Emma Stone, to Wallace Shawn. To myself, of course. To anyone writing something that doesn’t match the temperature of the mad crowd. People, I imagine red with anger, who equate calls for more information as the same as raping a 7 year old all over again.
I see people literally asking – why aren’t people outraged? As if outrage isn’t anything but dangerous. Look at Trump.
Most worrying for me is – I’m not sure how many people really care about Dylan Farrow. Too many people have written articles that say something like – we may never have proof of Allen’s guilt about Dylan – but we can crucify him for Soon-Yi.
You might hate it, you might be disgusted by it. But a mutually consenting relationship between two adults, no matter how far from your beliefs, has to be a million worlds away from the rape of a 7 year old girl. But it doesn’t matter because you can punish a monster for the wrong crime, but he is punished all the same.
If you only get one thing out of this entire rant – let it be this. 100% of the comments, emails, tweets and arguments I get from people are about Woody Allen’s relationship with Soon-Yi. Sometimes Dylan is also mentioned (maybe 5% of the time), but it’s always Soon-Yi.
Think about that for a second. And yes, it does get very dark, very suddenly.
There is clearly enough doubt for most people to not automatically condemn Allen. It is almost impossible to not come across the two clear sides of the argument anywhere you search. Yet, no reasonable person wants to deny Dylan Farrow, or worse, make it harder for other women who might want to come forward. So they reserve judgement.
The reason the press doesn’t challenge Allen is that very reasonable, very mature, very journalistic reserving of judgement. They don’t want to be the loud extremists. The media, good ones, is not full of guest columnists. Withdrawal in disgust is not the same as apathy, as another great director once said.
Whether you agree or not, Allen has claimed since 1993 that he is innocent of any charges against Dylan Farrow. You might not agree, but if he didn’t do it, constantly asking him isn’t going to change his answer. Sadly, that is not a story. That gets no traffic.
What I still find surprising is when people write that they are disgusted Allen continues to consider himself innocent. As if another barrage of think-pieces didn’t change his mind about his own innocence. How dare he says he doesn’t think about it? How dare he say he’s moved on? He moved on a long time ago – probably a dozen or so media attacks ago. This my ultimate point. You can feel angry about this, but how can you possibly be surprised? It’s all so…predictable.
Farrow wants people to take not enough information and get mad about it. The people who are reactionary enough to do so will turn off more considered people.
The last part of this predictable cycle is everyone returns to first position. Allen will make another film. People angry now are people who get angry, and will have something else to get angry about any second now. The media, when there is no story to benefit, will do their thing. People who have dug themselves in on one side will melt their brains, unable to understand why Allen is ‘allowed’ to … whatever this secret conspiracy they believe in allows.
The Farrows, I imagine, will wonder why nothing has changed, and try again. And it will play out as predictably next time.