Why ‘innocent until proven guilty’ is the wrong standard for the Woody Allen discussion

Woody Allen is a monster—a predatory child sex offender and a liar.

Mia Farrow is a monster—malicious, manipulative and a liar.

I suppose both these conclusions could be wrong. Certainly it seems unlikely they are both right. Given such ambiguity (and the high likelihood it will never be resolved), why would any of us bother to discuss the matter, much less express opinions?

Because waiting for certainty is not the way human beings reach conclusions, form opinions or decide how to act. If we did we’d all be fish somewhere waiting for one to crawl up out of the water and breath air. Instead we weigh evidence, test it against our individual experience, talk it over with others and decide. The smartest amongst us realize this is always provisional; when it turns out we are wrong, we adjust to new evidence and recalibrate. Others, once we dig in, rarely deign to budge. But we all reach conclusions.

That is why, out of the myriad observations about Allen v. Farrow et al, I find this one least useful: Speculation and commentary is somehow unfair to Allen; since we can’t be sure (and no court has ruled) we should assume he’s innocent.

No way.

He is innocent until proven guilty in court, in any arena that has authority to take away his liberty. Otherwise, public judgment on a determinedly public, widely admired person and artist is wholly appropriate. When he receives a “lifetime achievement award” from journalists, the judgment behind that award is rightly open to debate.

We’re not telling Woody Allen to go to jail, or to give back his awards and riches. We are telling him—and others—that we *will* listen to accusers and weigh what they say. We’re telling him that if he divorces his longtime lover and marries her 19-year old daughter, we will arch an eyebrow. If he adds that to a career partially and repeated focused on his neuroses, fantasies and social sexual conventions—and explains it as “The heart wants what it wants”—we won’t ignore that.

We’re letting the world know that he’s not immune because people like his movies.

Is it necessary that society do so? Well, Roman Polanski actually admitted he was guilty of unlawful sex with a 13-year old, fled the country to avoid consequences and *still* enjoys the support and apologias of many among the rich and famous.

In Robert Bolt’s masterful “A Man For All Seasons,” Sir Thomas Moore explains to the daughter who questions his search for a way out why he sweats the fine print. He says, in essence, “The plants God created to serve in their simplicity and the animals to serve in their innocence, but mankind he created to serve in the tangle of his imagination.”

Another celebration of ambiguity (and its importance) came more recently in the movie
Star Trek: Into Darkness:

Christopher Pike: That's a technicality.
Spock: I am Vulcan, sir. We embrace technicality.
Christopher Pike: Are you giving me attitude, Spock?
Spock: I am expressing multiple attitudes simultaneously. To which are you referring?

I’ve wrestled with contending versions of les affaires Allen and I’m comfortable stating my conclusions publicly. I wouldn’t turn the key that locked up Woody Allen, but neither would I leave him alone in the house with my grandniece. In fact, I don’t want to be alone with him myself.

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