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Appreciate the art, not the artist

Paul Lewis

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Woody Allen did not marry his daughter — let’s just get out in front of that one. He did, however, marry his ex-girlfriend Mia Farrow’s daughter Soon Yi. He has also been the subject of multiple allegations of sexual abuse from Dylan Farrow — and you might find yourself thinking, “Wait, isn’t she also a daughter of his ex-girlfriend?” The answer is yes. Now, both of those things are facts, but whether or not his prior relationship with Yi was a parental one and whether or not the allegations made by Dylan Farrow are true, is, however, largely unknown.

However, Allen is known for more than this. He has throughout his storied career been nominated 18 times for an Oscar, 16 times for a BAFTA and nine times for a Golden Globe. He not only has won from quite a few of those nominations, but is also generally considered a talented and game changing visionary in film making.

Considering this, it is not hard to understand why Allen is a figure of some controversy. With the #MeToo movement in full swing, a renewed spotlight has been placed on the sexual allegations aimed at Allen and much has been made of the fact that he seems to have emerged relatively unscathed.

We are not, however, here to discuss the merits of Allen’s career, nor are we here to discuss the truth of any accusations against him. We are here to consider whether either of these issues should effect the presentation of his work. Specifically, should we feel okay performing and enjoying his work knowing that the allegations of his sexual conduct are fairly convincing?

A little over a month ago, Goodspeed Musicals, a theater out of Connecticut known for giving the seminal classic “Annie” its start, cancelled their run of “Bullets Over Broadway” in light of the allegations against Allen. Later this month, our own COS Theatre Department will begin performing the same musical. In light of this, the question has been raised — should our college be supporting a work developed by an accused sexual predator?

Even in a social climate where many are accused of being overly reactionary, sometimes for good reason, this question merits consideration. The advent of the internet has brought us closer than ever to the personal lives of our idols. With that closeness, it has also brought a sometimes startling revelation: Our idols are just as human and fallible as the worst of us.

Does the fact that David Bowie had sex, and presumably a lot of it, with underage girls detract from the fact that “Hunky Dory” is a frankly amazing album? Does Louie C.K.’s predatory obsession with masturbation make his humor less funny? Does it matter that Tom Cruise is the public face of quite possibly the world’s largest and most insidious cult if you just want to watch him cling to the outside of a jet mid-flight while looking classically handsome?

These questions are personal and there is little point in providing a blanket answer to the matter. Nonetheless, they are questions that merit a response. In particular, the question that has the most bearing to us as COS students: Should our theater department run a piece written by an accused child molester?

That question is likely to conjure a knee-jerk reaction from most, but as aspiring intellectuals we should fight past that and consider the matter in a different light.

Imagine your child is deathly ill and you have the option of going to a surgeon known for successfully curing this illness. Of course you will jump on the opportunity, but what if it comes to light, just before the operation, that the surgeon trafficked drugs or abused his pets for fun? Yes, this behavior should not be condoned, but at the risk of your child’s life?

Now obviously this is a hyperbolic and purposefully dramatic example, but the point stands. Even if you distill the argument down in to something less explosive such as someone dealing with a death in the family by listening to a David Bowie album in order to help them cope. Did David Bowie perpetuate a culture of underage groupie sex? Yes. Does that make it a bad thing that his music helped someone?

The true question is this: Is an artist involved in the consumption of art or merely its production? James McDonnell, the director for COS’ production of “Bullets Over Broadway,” has strong feelings on the matter.

“Allen’s actions and the allegations towards him are a matter for the legal and civil courts to decide,” McDonnell said. “In the end, Allen has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with our production.”

If we consider McDonnell’s comments, another aspect of this issue comes to light: the performers.

The production crew for this musical has spent many long hours auditioning for parts, building set pieces, memorizing lines, practicing musical numbers and just working their dramatic butts off to get this piece to us. Yes, the artist who made this script may have sexually assaulted his daughter, but do his actions outweigh the long and dedicated work of our theater department? Should we scorn this group of impassioned people just to spite one man?

In the end we come back to the same point: These questions can only truly be answered on a personal basis. One must resolve such an issue for themselves. While the allegations are deadly serious and must be considered, we must realize that our world is built on the backs of humans. And sometimes humans are terrible even when their works are great.

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Appreciate the art, not the artist