Thursday, February 20, 2014
More on Writer's Block. The Woody Allen Case.
This post is all about me. It may not deserve publication at all, but I'm trying to dissolve my writer's block, by any means necessary. And I think talking about some of the issues that cropped up in my head can be useful, because they relate to the way we have debates in the social media.
This current block began when I did a lot of research and thinking about the Dylan Farrow post and the various aftermaths (and before-maths). At the time I had a post all structured in my head, then I read more and more and more and the structure melted back into thought clouds which didn't lend themselves to the kind of analysis I can do.
This giant, unwritten post is still clogging up my writing channel (cloaca?). There are many unwritten posts in my head, and some of them are on very important topics. That they remain unwritten gives me guilt and shame and all the rest of the nice spices, but they don't cause writer's block. This particular post did.
So I just tried to write it out by force (with all the evidence various camps quoted) but that didn't work. Heh. Then I tried to write to myself the reasons why I can't write the post, and that didn't work. A perfect circle.
One more attempt, from a slightly different angle:
The problem is that almost everything about the question whether Woody Allen molested a seven-year-old girl or not boils down to emotional reactions in the social media. Even when reference is made to apparent evidence, really looking at that evidence just makes one drop one layer down and into more emotional arguments. But because the term "emotional arguments" has the connotation of "not serious, not calm, not fact-based", that's not the right term to use to define what is going on. Perhaps clouds of fear and anger colliding? The fear and anger about child abuse so often being swept under the covers, the anger survivors feel when they are not believed, and then the fear of being falsely accused for such an awful crime as sexually abusing a child.
The former types of fear and anger are based on considerably more likely events than the fear of being falsely accused of child molestation (though that, too, does happen), but both types of fear drive what is going on when people discuss the Woody Allen case.
And because the case is about a famous person, about a case which was reported in the 1990s, other types of fears or worries can also enter the fray. There's the fear of the avenging, betrayed woman (which would be Mia Farrow in that scenario) as the alternative to the fear of the child abuser, there's the smaller fear of having a cinematographic idol (and his apparent values) tainted, there are all those fears of mistreatment by the psychologists and the legal system: the false-memories syndrome, the possibly inappropriate procedure used to interview Dylan Farrow in the early 1990s, the possibility that various officers of law took sides in a case involving two very powerful people, one of whom was clearly the more powerful and so on and so on.
Then fill in the background with the Farrow-Allen breakup, caused by Woody Allen's new relationship with Mia Farrow's older (but still young) daughter and all the other evidence, much of it conflicting, concerning the situation in the early 1990s, and what do you get? More murkiness.
Except that elsewhere, on the social media, the message was that either you are with us or you are against us. No other options to be checked. Thus, only a monster doesn't always believe a child who tells that she is abused, but then only a monster would sentence an innocent person to decades of prison. Under those alternatives, there is no exit from monster-hood. That's probably what truly stopped me writing about the case earlier.
If I move away from the particular case, there's a different way of thinking about the problem of preventing child abuse via legal means and the reactions associated with Dylan Farrow's accusations:
View the length of this line you are reading as the dimension along which cases have been successfully prosecuted, and assume that the left end of the row stands for zero cases and the right edge stands for every single case brought to court resulting in a sentence.
The two major fears I see when people discuss the Woody Allen case are that child abuse victims are never believed (that we hover near the left end of the line) and that even innocent adults get sentenced to prison for deeds they did not commit (that we hover near the right end of the line). Historically speaking, the former fears, about us still being much closer to the left edge of the line, are more credible. But few would wish to have a situation where we move from that position to the extreme right edge of the line.
Then add to that the heinous nature of child abuse, the violation of a child's emotional and physical boundaries, the exploitation of her or his trust and the loss of safety. The survivors can suffer a very long time from its effects. But because it is regarded as such a heinous crime, being falsely convicted from it can also destroy a life.
Still, as I have already noted, there are more people who have experienced abuse as children than there are people who have been falsely convicted of such abuse. Thus, pointing out the negative outcomes the ends of that line of text represent does not mean that they are equally likely to happen. One is quite a lot more likely, statistically speaking.
But statistical likelihood does not allow us to draw firm conclusions about one specific case, even about a case involving famous people some of us feel they know well. And yet that is what I saw happening in the various Internet conversations, the "if you are not with us, you are against us" syndrome.
That "if you are not with us on everything, then you are against us on everything" syndrome has become pretty common in social media. I have trouble with it because sometimes I'm not even with myself on everything, because a lot of my thoughts (though not necessarily my emotions) are wishy-washy or shades of gray (NOT fifty shades) or nuanced, because I detest being squeezed into a prefabricated mold and because the world is a complicated place.
So I didn't write on the Woody Allen case at all. But that didn't work with my internal critics, partly transferred via infection from various types of social media. Being silent about something isn't a third option in that "with us or against us" syndrome, because now silence is interpreted as siding with the enemy, whoever that might be. See what pretzels a snakey person can achieve?
Yet there were all those other topics worthy of writing about, and at least peripherally connected with the Woody Allen case: The special privileges of the rich-and-famous (including their access to equally rich-and-famous supporters), when compared to the rest of us, and how those might play out in this particular example, the clearly widespread fear of false accusations about sexual crimes, and the question whether the New York Times made the correct decision when it allowed first the post by Dylan Farrow and then later the post by Woody Allen to be published. But I couldn't write on any of those, either, what with that huge unwritten post blocking everything else.