There’s a big debate going on at the moment about whether we should support the work of artists who turn out to be monsters. Where do you draw the line? I would never knowingly go and see a film made by a Nazi or white supremacist, on the principle that I want nothing to do with such people. But what about Woody Allen? I used to love his work but now I don’t know if I ever want to see a film of his again.
There’s a similar question around Harvey Weinstein. He’s done some terrific work but can I still watch it, now that I know what he’s like alone in a hotel room? And what about Roman Polanski? Can we – should we – divorce the person from the work?
I still can’t make up my mind about this. It seems to me that there ought to be some sort of coherence here; that if a man is a monster it will come through somehow in his work. But although Woody Allen’s later films are a pile of self-indulgent mush, his earlier work still dazzles. I still love Annie Hall; and he was a monster when he made it. So what to do?
It seems clear that there are men against whom the welter of evidence is conclusive. I firmly believe that Woody Allen and Harvey Weinstein are guilty of the acts of which they are accused (if not all, then most.) But there are other cases where the accused ought, as in any other case, to be given the benefit of the doubt while investigations take place – and they’re not. I have no idea whether Kevin Spacey was guilty as claimed, but he’s been made a pariah all the same, along with many others. Did he deserve this?
I don’t know.
The problem with the #metoo campaign is the problem with public discourse in general. On one side we have the accusers, supported by feminists and others; in the opposite corner we have the accused, supported by their friends and those who think sexual harassment is either a joke or something women are making way too much fuss about. This is not simply a case of men vs women: many men have supported the victims and some women have spoken against, notably Catherine Deneuve.
As the Guardian article above points out, Deneuve and others make some reasonable points but have been accused of ‘supporting rape culture’, such is the gladiatorial nature of public discourse.
But there’s another problem with these offences. It’s not like dealing with murder or GBH. It’s not even like dealing with a straightforward theft (and good luck getting the police to take any notice of that nowadays). These offences take place in private, in a situation where it is often impossible to prove or disprove consent. Rape is of course an offence and can be reported; but what do you do, say, when a man like Michael Fallon (a government minister at the time) keeps putting his hand on your knee despite repeated requests to stop? What do you do when a man leans in a little too close and looks down the front of your dress, or touches you on the back and lets his hand wander down to your arse or (as Jimmy Savile repeatedly did) sticks his tongue down your mouth? You’d have better luck reporting the theft of a stapler than going to the police with that. So what do you do? The newsreader pestered by Michael Fallon threatened to punch him, but I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with that.
We need to stick up for ourselves and for each other – but more than that, we need to change the environment to make this kind of harassment completely unacceptable. So, does that involve not going to see Annie Hall any more?
I don’t know. Here’s an article that might shed some light on the question: