Does moral turpitude negate high art or sports accomplishments? by Marjorie Arons-Barron

The entry below is being cross posted from Marjorie Arons-Barron’s own blog.

oscarNo mistake about it. Woody Allen’s latest movie, Blue Jasmine, was deserving of an Oscar nomination, especially for Cate Blanchett’s performance. Allen also recently won lifetime achievement recognition in the Golden Globes. This is more troubling. Allen is prolific and creative, but what does lifetime achievement really mean?

NY Times’ Nick Kristof last weekend published an open letter by Dylan Farrow, daughter of Mia Farrow and Woody Allen, resurrecting charges that her father had sexually abused her when she was a child. Should that be factored in to a decision to honor him for lifetime achievement? Should Oscar voters take it into consideration when casting their ballots? Should movie-goers shun Allen’s entertainment when plunking down ten bucks+ a ticket? For me, it’s a struggle.

Dylan Farrow’s charges have been raised before. The state of Connecticut found probable cause but was unable to prosecute because mother/wife Mia Farrow didn’t want to put her then child through the legal wringer. This is the first time that Dylan Farrow has spoken out. Never mind that Kristof is a good friend of Mia Farrow and is perhaps not neutral on this. Dylan’s open letter is very compelling. Very moving. And it raises the question of whether an artist, an athlete, or for that matter, any professional should be judged on his or her work product alone or also their character and moral fiber. Does genius automatically confer a license to exceed moral standards? Should great art be judged only intrinsically or seen in its larger social context?

The Boston Herald’s Margery Eagan today wrote that she can’t “separate Woody Allen’s art from the nauseating, criminal allegations Dylan Farrow first told” about 20 years ago. In Sunday’s NY Times, Michael Cieply asked whether Director Roman Polanski should have been judged on the basis of his statutory rape of a 13-year-old child or for his direction of the film The Pianist? Given the legendary predatory sexual behavior routinely acted out on the director’s couch, how far should society go in judging films on the basis of Hollywood’s beyond-the-celluloid depravity?

I know people who refused to go to any more Woody Allen movies in the wake of the revelation he was carrying on with his step-daughter, Soon-Yi (whom he later married.) Do we stop honoring athletes who violate drug laws and then lie to Congress about it? Many of our so-called heroes in all walks of life have clay feet and worse. Ty Cobb, a vicious racist, is celebrated in the Hall of Fame; but Pete Rose, who gambled on his sport, is kept out. Richard Wagner was a notorious anti-Semite and said to be Hitler’s musical muse. Still, I love Wagner’s music.

There are no easy answers, no one-size-fits-all standard. Maybe the passage of time, during which the moral transgressor stays out of the public eye, mellows with age and hews to the straight and narrow, will allow us more easily to glide over the transgressions. But should it? As did many, I returned to Woody Allen’s films when his personal behavior became less dramatic than the story line of his movies. Should great art let film-makers, musicians and others off the hook? The ambiguity remains.

I, who believe there should be no statute of limitations for priests and others sexually abusing children, am still troubled by the unresolved Woody Allen dilemma. If justice can not be done under the law, is there not a role for the court of public opinion? Let him make movies. See them, or shun them. But skip the lifetime achievement and other honorifics.

I welcome your comments in the section below.