I’ve been cruising the web over the past few days, reading all the publications, blog posts and social media comments responding to Dylan Farrow’s open letter accusing Woody Allen of sexually molesting her as a child. Despite the deluge of commentary, opinion is strongly polarized. I am less interested in the truth value of the claims made (because all are subject to dispute) than in the social map of the narratives about this case. What is at stake in them? Why such outsized heated reactions? I detect two master narratives:
1) “Poor Woody and That Lying Bitch”
The liar in this story isn’t primarily Dylan, it’s Mia, who implanted the false charges in Dylan’s mind out of revenge for Woody’s affair with her older daughter. The primary foundation for this tale is the fact that Allen was never prosecuted (despite the fact that the judge found probable cause, but decided not to prosecute because of Dylan’s fragility), along with the finding by doctors and psychologists (at least one on Allen’s payroll) that the child was not molested (though the doctor prepared to testify had not interviewed Dylan, and when collective notes were requested by the court, they were mysteriously destroyed). In this story Allen is the victim of a smear campaign by a vindictive lover. Mia is the villain, Dylan disappears into the background as a duped child with implanted memories. The case is considered as part of the wave of “false” or “implanted” memory accusations made against innocent people that began in the 1980s. Sometimes Allen is compared to the defendants in the notorious McMartin preschool case and its ilk (though most, not all, of those defendants were relatively powerless women, daycare providers who were convicted and given very long sentences).
2) Powerful Men Get Away With Murder—and everything else too.
This account takes Dylan at her word. One version circulates the basics of the “believe the children” mobilizations that have surrounded mass accusations of sexual abuse. Another version parses the facts of the case, pointing out that reports of Allen’s inappropriate, obsessive behavior with Dylan were made by babysitters and family friends before the scandal broke. The allegation that Woody was being “treated” for questionably intimate behavior with Dylan before the split with Mia is cited as evidence against the “implanted” and “false” memory stories. In this account, Allen gets away with abusing Dylan because he is a powerful man with enormous social and financial clout.
Clearly, I have stacked the deck here because I am persuaded by the latter story. It gels with my world view and my reading of the pile of articles about this case. Nonetheless, I am hyperaware of the social power of false allegations of sexual violation, from racial lynching to the McMartin and other cases. And from the Salem witch trials forward we have ample evidence of relatively powerless people using false hot button charges to get revenge on the powerful. I can never go along with any “believe the children” or “believe women” campaign—to wit: Scottsboro.