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How to Reconcile Repulsive Geniuses

This is a reprint of an article originally published in The Grape, Oberlin's best and only alternative newspaper. 

Recently, Dylan Farrow sent an open letter to the New York Times, which revisits the horrific accusation that Allen molested her as a young child. In light of this, I feel it’s imperative we reexamine how to respond to brilliant work that stems from shitty human beings. (If you haven’t read the letter, and Allen’s recent response, definitely worth doing so now.)

The question of how, and if, we can separate an artist’s work from his or her immoral personal life is not a Woody specific conundrum. Countless artists, far more than we can ever grasp, make unbelievable works of genius but act in unjust and despicable ways. Can we still laugh in the face of the all too familiar anxieties present in Annie Hall? Ponder why he made To Rome with Love? Should we refrain from admiring Polanski’s Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown, resist dancing and crying to all 5,000 episodes of R. Kelly’s Trapped in the Closet?

Recently, “Liberal Girl Number One” herself, Lena Dunham, tweeted to her hordes of followers, begging them to both read the letter and reevaluate the ways in which Hollywood continues to treat such people with the utmost respect and adoration, stifling the voices of those they traumatize.

 

I was lucky enough to ask Lena this question in person, and amidst trying to stroke her hair and tell her all my secrets, she answered with her typical poise and eloquence. Lena responded that, although personally she has difficulty watching Allen’s work without his actions seeping into her experience, the problem does not truly lie in our subsequent refrain or indulgence of these works. Though it may seem like a noble endeavor to steer your Netflix away from Manhattan, (yes it’s on Netflix) your solo protest will be like a tree falling in a forest. Unheard. 

 

As Lena suggests, the issue is much larger than our consumption as audience members. The overarching injustice is interwoven into the movie industry, an industry that glamorizes and idolizes individuals because they contribute important work, give roles to the best and most notable actors, and make fuck loads of money despite their well-publicized personal failures.

So while we as viewers should be conscious of the ways in which the work we consume is inherently affected by the tortured minds of those who create it, it seems we have to separate the art from the people themselves. We can still appreciate the hilarity of Sleeper, the brilliance of Midnight in Paris, the nuance of Trapped part 4. We can judge these artists however we want, and consume their works in a way that corresponds with our own personal opinions. Yet we can’t ignore the ways in which the industry they are embedded within continues to put them on a pedestal, shower them with little golden trophies, and never, ever, get played off stage mid acceptance speech.