The resurfacing of Woody Allen’s past is sad from many perspectives, amplified by how a daughter and a family are still struggling, very publicly, to deal with events that took place decades ago. I’ll leave the conclusions for you to draw, as my question in this post is a practical one. Should you ban an artist’s work based on their personality or unethical behavior? Assume for the moment that the worst, however you define it in The Allen/Farrow case, is true – what does that mean about Allen’s work?
Animal New York recently published the definitive guide to never watching Woody Allen again, and it offers film suggestions based on each film in the Allen canon. The suggestions are thoughtful (but come with a heavy dose of snark).
But what of the hundreds of other artists and creators who were criminals or ethically challenged?
The list includes: Michael Jackson (accused of child abuse), Norman Mailer (stabbed his wife), Picasso (womanizer), Henry Ford (anti-semite), Steve Jobs (abandoned his first child), Coco Channel (links to Nazi party), Thomas Edison (electrocuted animals to death for marketing), Volkswagen Beetle (designed by Nazi party), BMW (used slave labor), Thomas Jefferson (slave owner), Satellites and rockets (major innovations by (former) Nazi party members), James Watson (co-discoverer of DNA and quoted racist), Mark Wahlberg (assault/attempted murder), Dick Cheney (DUI), Gus Van Sant (DUI), Tim Allen (DUI, Cocaine trafficking), and the list goes on. I’m not equating any of these acts with each other or with child molestation, but merely establishing a landscape of works made by people with dubious ethical histories.
If you ban art because of the artist, it follows you’d ban engineering because of the engineer. So turn that electricity off. Stop driving that BMW or Volkswagen you love. Drop that iPhone. Ban the use of genetics in science. Oh, and if you’re a designer, stop using Gill Sans, as Eric Gill, the font’s designer, admitted to sexually abusing his own children (and a dog).
Banning the work of someone you despise is far easier to do while in ignorance of the hundreds of created works you used every day with no knowledge about their origin. Scratch the surface and you’ll find multitudes of dubious characters behind the things you love and depend on.
Banning things is a negative act. It’s intended to hurt someone, or prevent something, but it does little to help other people who may have been, or will become, victims of the actions you despise. Banning things often gives ideas and their creators more power, not less, than simply ignoring them or, more progressively, taking actions for positive change against the thing you think is wrong. Banning Chick-A-Flick because the owner is a jerk does far less to help equal rights than volunteering your time or money to help one of the many groups actively working for positive change.
Instead of banning Woody Allen, or whatever creator you have issues with, do something to support organizations working for progress on the issue you care so much about. In the case of Dylan Farrow, you should support groups like RAINN, a charity that helps children and families victimized by abuse. This will do far more good for the world, and for you, than banning hundreds of works ever could. The act of banning is stuck in the past, instead take actions that help the future.