To be clear, I haven’t read Woody Allen’s autobiography, “Apropos of Nothing,” and I won’t. I found myself unable to endure anything related to Allen after he married his own quasi-daughter following a sexual affair with her while they were both living with Mia Farrow, Allen as her supposed lover and domestic partner, Sun-Yi Previn as her adopted child. While I maintain that the works of artists should be kept separate from the character flaws and misdeeds of their creators, that’s an intellectual and ethical position, not an emotional and gastrointestinal one. The latter are non-ethical considerations, but that doesn’t mean I can ignore them.
If I were a professional book reviewer, however, I would be forced to put my revulsion aside, or refuse the assignment of rendering a verdict on “Apropos of Nothing.” It is undeniable that the New York Times book reviewer, Dwight Garner, couldn’t or wouldn’t do that. To be fair, the Times no longer enforces the core journalism ethics principle that journalists shouldn’t allow personal biases to infect their reporting, but that is an explanation, not a defense. Some observations:
- “Volunteering to review it, in our moral climate, is akin to volunteering for the 2021 Olympic javelin-catching team,” Garner writes. What “moral climate?” The cancel culture isn’t moral, it’s totalitarian. #MeToo isn’t moral either, nor will it be ethical unless and until it begins respecting due process and fairness, which, so far, it does not and shows no signs of doing.
- As Garner admits toward the end of his piece, Allen has been married to Sun-Yi for 20 years. He was still getting accolades, with Hollywood royalty eagerly signing up to do his movies, until another Farrow offspring accused him, without evidence, of sexually molesting her when she was a child. Allen’s weird and icky fetish about teenage girls had been on display most of his career (Notably in “Manhattan”), and the “if it feels good, do it” crowd, the Left of the period, saw nothing wrong with that. Jerry Seinfeld had a teenage girlfriend in the 90s. Heaven knows how old some of Bill Clinton’s prey was. Now the Times critic is retroactively disgusted by what his paper shrugged off for more than two decades, because of an unsubstantiated accusation that came many years after the alleged abuse?
- The reviewer writes of the Dylan Farrow accusation, “I believe that the less you’ve read about this case, the easier it is to render judgment on it.” If that’s true, and having read a lot about the case myself, I think it is, then why doesn’t the reviewer begin by saying that the book is important because it gives the accused, Allen, a chance to rebut pervasive character assassination? He refuses to do that.
- The reviewer praises Allen when he is brutally honest about himself in ways the reviewer (and I) find refreshing, as with his admission that he’s not the intellectual he has posed as through the years. (“I have no insights, no lofty thoughts, no understanding of most poems that do not begin, ‘Roses are red, violets are blue.’ What I do have, however, is a pair of black-rimmed glasses, and I propose that it is these specs, combined with a flair for appropriating snippets from erudite sources too deep for me to grasp but which can be utilized in my work to give the deceptive impression of knowing more than I do that keeps this fairy tale afloat.”) Yet he attacks Allen for giving readers an unglossed look into how he views the world, which is, in fact, pretty close to the attitudes his movies had been revealing from the beginning.
“His friends should have warned him that ‘Apropos of Nothing’ is incredibly, unbelievably tone deaf on the subject of women,” tte reviewer writes. No, Allen is tone deaf on the subject of women, and doesn’t pretend not to be. A good, honest autobiography doesn’t present the image of a writer than the reader would like to have, it should reveal the writer as he really is. Woody Allen likes women, and thinks about sex a lot. What a surprise. Yet Garner would have him disguise this central driving force in his art because it’s “tone deaf,” meaning “offensive to political correctness and the current social norms of a different generation.”
“Nearly every time a woman is mentioned, there’s a gratuitous pronouncement on her looks,” he writes. What’s gratuitous about it? That’s what Allen, the author, is attracted by. The reviewer’s bias causes him to take offense at the harmless. “While in London filming ‘Casino Royale’ (1967), a James Bond spoof, he writes, ‘one could stroll on the Kings Road and pick up the most adorable birds in their miniskirts.’ Birds?” Yes, you dolt, in 1967 young Brits called young women “birds,” and they didn’t mind it at all.
- Because of the reviewer’s anti-Allen bias, he gives us “not funny!” sneers at Allen’s wit. “About the notion that we should simply believe all women, he writes: ‘I mean, tell it to the Scottsboro Boys.'” I’ll be using that one, thanks.
Now I’m curious about how the Times reviewed Bill Clinton’s autobiography.