Amanda Knox, Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, Phil Spector, Robert Blake: I’ve ignored them all. Why did this one suck me in? All the way. For days.
There are a couple of boring personal reasons. I like Woody Allen movies. I didn’t really care about his personal life, but at least I have an image of who Woody and Mia are. Also, crimes of sexual abuse bug me more than others, which is common enough. They are so repugnant because they are extreme examples of bullying: exploiting a huge imbalance in power. Also, the level of selfishness involved in marring someone’s entire life so that you can get your rocks off is almost unfathomable. I figure that’s part of the appeal to the offender. That you can take so much from someone and use it for your own momentary gratification and to create a pleasurable memory for yourself.
So murder cases, whatever. Even though being murdered is worse than being molested, I want to murder many people, but I don’t want to molest anyone, so molestation is worse. A murder case needs a big hook or it’s boring. But it still eats at me to think of all the Penn State brass walking away after choosing to facilitate rampant molestation. It’s also kind of fascinating that they made those decisions at all, and that lots of people still love Joe “Blind Eye” Paterno. As a boxing fan, I have some really dark thoughts about super middleweight champ, Adonis Stevenson, who sexually abused underage girls for fun and profit and was tried and convicted for it. He’s the only boxer I root to see badly injured. I also mention all of this with thin hope of avoiding being seen as a general advocate child molestation and rape because I have no conclusions about one guy’s guilt or innocence.
My initial reaction to the Woody Allen allegations was to be a bit surprised and figure he was probably guilty, as I don’t remember the story cycling through the first time in 1992. One of the first things I read was an Onion article. The kind where they revel in self righteousness instead of telling jokes. Incrimination porn. But they had a point. Woody’s a creepy guy and such allegations are usually true.
But the more you read about the case, the more interesting it becomes and the more difficult it becomes to reach any conclusion. It touches on other subjects like polygraph testing and false memory. And people react to the story in a bunch of weird and interesting ways. In a story about the accuracy of a memory, commentators on both sides heavily edit basic facts and often just make things up, though they seem to believe that everything they are saying is true. I didn’t crack the case, but I ran into some fascinating stuff while reading about it for like 60 hours. This is a map of all the shit I perused, from journalistic pieces, to academic literature, to court testimony to the internet comments of raging crackpots.
Needless to say, I’m relying on various sources that seem credible to me. This is not an academic paper. I don’t consider it journalism either. All I really know is what I read from reliable sources and I’ve tried to pack it all into one “Man vs. Food” sized burrito. Still, I could easily have been duped by a clever PR maneuver, or many of them. Instead of saying that over and over, I’ll just say it once.
And now, prepare to be engrossed by the misery of other people and the shittines of our species.
Something very implausible happened.
Apart from the the components of sexual abuse and celebrity, I think this is the most compelling part of the Woody Allen allegations. One reason people are so sure they are right, even though there’s not a strong basis for claiming knowledge of the events, is that the competing story is crazy.
What people who are sure Woody is guilty actually believe!
In the middle of a bitter break up with Mia, brought about by his sexual impropriety, with some suspicions of sex crimes involving Soon-Yi, Woody travels to Mia’s home: an intensely hostile environment. Nannies say that Woody and his daughter were never out of sight for more than 5 minutes. During one of those intervals, he takes his daughter to some closet/attic and molests her for the first and only time. Woody and Mia’s son, Moses, who is 8 years older than Dylan, echos the accounts of the nannies saying, “The day in question, there were six or seven of us in the house. We were all in public rooms and no one, not my father or sister, was off in any private spaces.” Allen is 57 at the time of the incident and nobody has accused him of molestation or pedophilia before or since.
Even though he knows he is guilty of the crime and in a great position to get away with it, Allen readily submits to a polygraph test and passes it. He opens himself up to psychological testing and grants access to records of his past psychological treatment. Apart from this incident, there is no evidence that he is attracted to children.
A six month investigation more or less clears him. The DA declares that there is enough evidence to prosecute, but that it would be too damaging to the child. However, examiners suspect that the girl was coached. She makes changes to the basic facts of her story. She has general trouble distinguishing between fantasy and reality. The team from Yale-New Haven hospital unambiguously concludes that there was no abuse.
Now, Dylan Farrow has reiterated her allegations emphatically. She talks about how Allen used to put his thumb in her mouth and watch TV with her in bed, under the covers, while wearing his underwear. Her claims reiterate those published in Vanity Fair, in 1992. Many of Mia’s friends and acquaintances report that Allen was inappropriately close with Dylan and monopolized her. The attention was unwanted:
Several times last summer, while Woody was visiting in Connecticut, Dylan locked herself in the bathroom, refusing to come out for hours. Once, one of the baby-sitters had to use a coat hanger to pick the lock. Dylan often complained of stomachaches and headaches when Woody visited: she would have to lie down. When he left, the symptoms would disappear. At times Dylan became so withdrawn when her father was around that she would not speak normally, but would pretend to be an animal.
She says that yes, she is sure that he took her into the closet/attic that day and molested her. There is the opinion of the DA, and a few others. The judges in the custody hearing say that abuse may have occurred, but leave the door open to future visitations.
Because of the suspicions of some outsiders, Woody’s somewhat unusual behavior towards the girl prior to the alleged abuse, and mostly because of the accusation itself, we can conclude with almost 100% certainty that Allen is guilty, in spite of the fact that it seems unlikely in practical terms. Why? Because we believe her. Or because her account “rings true.” Could it be a false memory? Such a question only proves that you molest children yourself.
What people who are sure Allen is innocent actually believe!
Although she adopts disabled children and war orphans and spends her free time advocating human rights, Mia is some combination of vindictive, hysterical, evil, dishonest, selfish and self absorbed. So much so that she implanted false memories of being molested that persist into Dylan’s adulthood. She might have done this as a calculated act of revenge, or she might have led a one house flight into a home version of Satanic panic. In fact, her therapist reported that she described Allen as “Satanic, evil,” prior to the allegations. In this case, she convinced herself that, since Allen was sexually interested in a 19 year old Soon-Ye, he must also have been sexually interested in a 7 year old Dylan. Because she sees Allen as evil, she assumes he has done the worst thing she can think of.
One of Mia’s staff quit and claimed she was pressured into corroborating the molestation story, but refused to do so. Mia taped Dylan’s confession, claiming it was spontaneous, but a different staff member says the tape was made over days. The pro-Mia Vanity Fair article has unnamed sources disputing these allegations, but the testimony above comes from sworn depositions.
Much of the basic circumstantial evidence floating around lends credibility to this version, but none totally exonerates Woody. The problem is that lot of people involved with the case seem to have smelled something dirty. They knew much more about the practical facts of the case than we do and some believed Dylan’s story, while others thought she might be right. According to the appellate ruling on the custody case, Allen dealt with his “unusually intense” relationship to Dylan in therapy. The ruling concluded that it was inconclusive whether Allen molested the kid, but if you read the ruling, it’s clear that a panel of judges thought it might have happened. Highlights:
The various psychiatric experts who testified or otherwise provided reports did not conclude that Allen’s behavior toward Dylan prior to August of 1992 was explicitly sexual in nature. However, the clear consensus was that his interest in Dylan was abnormally intense
As we noted above, Mr. Allen maintains that Ms. Farrow’s allegations concerning the sexual abuse of Dylan were fabricated by Ms. Farrow both as a result of her rage over his relationship with Ms. Previn and as part of her continued plan to alienate him from his children. However, our review of the record militates against a finding that Ms. Farrow fabricated the allegations without any basis. Unlike the court at IAS, we do not consider the conclusions reached by Doctors Coates and Schultz and by the Yale-New Haven team, to be totally unpersuasive. While the tendency of Dylan to withdraw into a fantasy and the inconsistencies in her account of the events of August 4, 1992, noted particularly by the Yale-New Haven team, must be taken into account in the evaluation of these serious allegations, the testimony given at trial by the individuals caring for the children that day, the videotape of Dylan made by Ms. Farrow the following day and the accounts of Dylan’s behavior toward Mr. Allen both before and after the alleged instance of abuse, suggest that the abuse did occur. While the evidence in support of the allegations remains inconclusive, it is clear that the investigation of the charges in and of itself could not have left Dylan unaffected.
One problem for the pro-Woody story is that false memories and false allegations of abuse are not an everyday occurrence. Woody (and Mia) are clearly people who do not recognize the normal boundaries when it comes to sex, children, marriage and romantic relationships. Isn’t it possible, with him setting off the radar of so many people, with direct testimony from his victim, that he finally crossed the ultimate boundary?
But Woody apologists brush all that aside and say, “we know with absolute certainty that Dylan is a victim of implanted memories that has continued well into adulthood and it is totally impossible that Woody molested the girl, because circumstantial evidence suggest otherwise and I’ve seen Annie Hall 14 times.”
Any reasonable person presented with either story in a vacuum would be skeptical. But those are the two most likely scenarios. There are other possibilities, but they are even more remote. For example, Dylan could be lying, though it seems very unlikely. We generally shy away from this possibility because, if she is telling the truth we’d feel bad for suggesting she’s lying, and if she’s ever proven to be a liar we can just flip it and say she victimized all of us and those who are really abused. But people are crazy and many have done worse things than lie about being abused. Who would have believed that Joe Paterno and the top administrators at Penn State would rubber stamp a decade of child rape? So that’s one of the scenarios even less likely than the two above, so we’re left to assume either Woody or Mia did something really crazy and severely damaged their child.
The dirtbag factor:
Many people suck and do shitty things. Shitty boys generally push people around and take what they want them. Some keep doing that as they grow up to be shitty men. Some of them lack the ability to do it growing up and do it as adults instead. Shitty girls are more likely to pit people against each other, spread gossip or simply make up stories about their targets. Some grow up to be shitty women who do the same kind of thing. It’s easy to see either Woody or Mia as shitty people, capable of the wrongdoing required for the far fetched scenarios.
Is Woody Allen a dirtbag?
Woody likes teenage girls. He’s dated them before. He casts them as his romantic counterparts in movies. Perhaps men who date much younger women aren’t looking for equal partners, but for partners they can more easily control. Maybe Woody likes to exert control over women.
Soon-Yi was never Woody’s child, he was never a father figure and they scarcely knew each other until she was of age. In fact, Mia first suggested they spend some time together to get to know each other better. Still, starting a romantic relationship with Soon-Yi exhibited the kind of selfishness and entitlement attributable to a sex offender. “The heart wants what it wants,” Woody said. But as an adult, nevermind someone in his fifties, self-restraint should have to come into play. You’re supposed to say, “I’m attracted to this girl, so I’d better back off and find one of the millions of women with whom I’d be happy, but who is not called ‘sister’ by my children.” Instead he took a bunch of naked pics and left them lying around for Mia to find.
None of this has anything to do with being sexually attracted to children. In fact, it is evidence that Woody is not sexually attracted to children. Pedophiles like prepubescent children, preferring them to sexually mature people. However, if he had the impulse, “the heart wants what it wants.” Maybe he molested Dylan to lash out Mia. Or maybe he’s just an odd guy and he didn’t want to be with any more celebrities or groupies. He fell for the wrong girl, with whom he finally felt comfortable and to whom he has been married for 20 years, and he is the subject of a lot of misunderstanding.
Is Mia Farrow a dirtbag?
There’s been no new information on this subject, but Ronan and Mia Farrow chose to start a new public debate on it, with Ronan at the center, at the exact moment Ronan was trying to become a celebrity and transition from kid with famous parents, to chatter clown on MSNBC. Indeed, the controversy and boost in name recognition helped him go from part time to full time at MSNBC.
Woody developed his more “intense” relationship with Dylan during Mia’s pregnancy, as the couple drifted apart. Now Mia is saying that the father of that child, Ronan, might be Frank Sinatra, who would have been cheating on his own wife Barbara, who is still alive. Maybe Woody knew as much at the time and that’s why he distanced himself from the boy and from Mia and invested himself completely in Dylan instead. In fact, the 1992 Vanity Fair article, “Mia’s Story,” which long preceded the Sinatra revelation, indicted Allen for calling the boy “the little bastard.”
Before her relationship with Allen, Mia landed Andre Previn, Soon-Yi’s adoptive father, by getting “accidentally” pregnant by him and destroying his marriage. Previn’s wife, Dory, wound up in a mental hospital. Later Mia would exaggerate to the press, creating the popular notion that Soon-Yi is retarded. The pro-Mia Vanity Fair article suggests Soon-Yi had some developmental issues, trouble with language and was very literal minded. The pro-Woody article on The Daily Beast points out that she is multilingual and graduated from Columbia. As a college sophomore, she wrote this defense of herself, which Mia’s people insist she was incapable of writing.
What kind of person would implant false memories of molestation in their child to benefit themselves? Maybe the same kind of person who’d bring a child into the world for the purpose of breaking up someone else’s marriage. Or the kind who would use a national magazine to float rumors about her son being the cuckoo egg of a famous dead guy with a living wife. Maybe the kind of woman who would try to convince the world that one daughter was molested when she wasn’t is the kind who would try to convince the world that another daughter was retarded when she wasn’t. Or maybe she’s an incredibly giving woman who’s had a few indiscretions and was seriously concerned for a daughter entering a relationship in which she wasn’t equipped to be an equal.
So the dirtbag factor goes either way. You can view Mia as having a long history of dishonestly, using children and relationships to promote her own agenda, without concern for anyone else. Ronan and Mia, almost inarguably, are using this incident to promote Ronan’s career. Meanwhile, Woody’s dick wants what it wants, and if that fucks up someone else’s life, so be it. The point being, once you invest yourself in one side or the other, you can use the dirtbag factor to make the implausible story more plausible, while constructing a more sympathetic portrait of your champion.
Roman Polanski: We know that Polanski drugged and raped a thirteen year old girl. And it wasn’t rape “just” because she was thirteen and drugged. She also said “no” and tried to resist. Guess who supports Polanski? Woody Allen. Guess who else supports him, calls him a “close friend” and flew to London to testify on his behalf at a trial in 2005? Mia Farrow. (After this all blew up, Mia said she is no longer friends with Polanski.)
John Charles Villiers-Farrow: Mia Farrow’s brother, who is doing ten years, with fifteen years suspended for: molesting boys, aged eight and nine years. Maybe this is why Mia had molestation on the brain in the first place, and shaped Woody into a molester in her mind and then Dylan’s. Maybe learning about her brother renewed her anger at Woody, who did molest her daughter. Maybe it’s a meaningless coincidence.
Moses Farrow: One of the children mutually adopted by Woody and Mia has grown up to become a family therapist. He says that, only well into adulthood, did he fully realize that Mia had “brainwashed” her children against Allen. He does not believe the molestation took place. He says Mia was physically abusive, had a bad temper and demanded total loyalty. He claims Dylan and Woody had a good relationship and that her aversion to Woody, the hiding and so forth, did not begin until the split with Mia, and Mia’s subsequent attempts to turn the children against him. This is consistent with the VF article quoted above, that described Dylan’s aversion manifesting itself: “several times last Summer.”
This is a sample of some of the most important information I found, from the most reliable sources.
- When Mia’s was on the stand, Woody’s lawyer asked her if she knew that her lawyers had asked him about dropping the charges for $7-8 Million.
“Do you have a recollection of a number being thrown around, 7 or 8 million?” Abramowitz asked.
“It was done without my authority, without my knowledge,” Farrow told the court.
- The medical team wasn’t unsure about it. They were convinced that no abuse occurred. Dr. Leventhal headed the medical team investigating the allegations. He did not interview Dylan himself, which the Mia camp claim is a point for them. But that was done by social workers. It almost certainly wasn’t his role. He said:
“We had two hypotheses: one, that these were statements that were made by an emotionally disturbed child and then became fixed in her mind. And the other hypothesis was that she was coached or influenced by her mother. We did not come to a firm conclusion. We think that it was probably a combination.”
The doctor acknowledged that “We don’t have firm evidence that Miss Farrow coached or directed Dylan to say this.”
- The judges presiding over the appeal of the initial custody hearing were more suspicious, as already described. Here’s a bit more on that, as they explain why Allen would not see Dylan in the immediate future:
Although the investigation of the abuse allegations have not resulted in a conclusive finding, all of the evidence received at trial supports the determination as to custody and visitation with respect to this child. There would be no beneficial purpose served in disturbing the custody arrangement. Moreover, even if the abuse did not occur, it is evident that there are issues concerning Mr. Allen’s inappropriately intense relationship with this child that can be resolved only in a therapeutic setting. At the very least, the process of investigation itself has left the relationship between Mr. Allen and Dylan severely damaged. The consensus is that both Mr. Allen and Ms. Farrow need to be involved in the recovery process. The provision for further review of the visitation arrangement embodied in the trial court’s decision adequately protects the petitioner’s rights and interests at this time.
- The New York Times reports:
Justice Wilk, however, questioned the manner in which the Yale-New Haven team carried out its investigation of the allegations, as well as conclusions by two psychotherapists who treated Dylan that she had not been abused. “I am less certain, however, than is the Yale-New Haven team, that the evidence proves conclusively that there was no sexual abuse,” Justice Wilk wrote.
The justice said he believed the conclusions of the psychotherapists had been “colored by their loyalty to Mr. Allen.” He added that the unwillingness of members of the Yale-New Haven team to testify at the trial, except through a deposition by the team leader, and the destruction of the team’s notes had “compromised my ability to scrutinize their findings and resulted in a report which was sanitized and, therefore, less credible.
- But some of Mia’s staff sensed that the allegations were false and that they were being pressured to go along with them anyway. Here’s a highlight, from a sworn deposition:
Thompson said that the next day Kristie Groteke, Dylan’s baby-sitter, drove her to the bus, and her fellow employee was “very upset.”
“She told me that she felt guilty allowing Ms. Farrow to say those things about Mr. Allen. (Groteke) said the day Mr. Allen spent with the kids, she did not have Dylan out of her sight for longer than five minutes. She did not remember Dylan being without her underwear.”
“Ms. Farrow set the stage to report the incident involving Dylan,” Thompson charged. “For several weeks, Ms. Farrow insisted that Mr. Allen not be left alone with Dylan and wanted me to be with them at all times.”
The nanny said that on several occasions the actress “asked me if I would be ‘on her side.’ Ms. Farrow has tried to get me to say that I would support her with these accusations.
- A dissenting justice (he dissented only on the matter of Satchel/Ronan’s custody) cited evidence given by social workers that, indeed, Mia was going to great lengths to turn the children against Woody:
Perhaps most distressing, Satchel “indicated to Mr. Allen that he was seeing a doctor that was going to help him not to see Mr. Allen anymore, and he indicated that he was supposed to be seeing this doctor perhaps eight or ten times, at the end of which he would no longer have to see Mr. Allen.”
- Frank Maco, the retired prosecutor who said there was sufficient evidence to prosecute Allen, but that it would not be worth the additional trauma to Dylan stands by his statements today.
“My words in dealing with a 7-year-old child are as valid today as they were 20 years ago.” The original statement lead to a five year battle against misconduct allegations brought by Allen.
- The Vanity Fair article is openly biased. It’s meant to offer Mia’s side of the story. So you hear from Mia’s people, sometimes unconvincingly. It has a few passages like this, which are difficult to dismiss and so, largely ignored by Allen backers:
One summer day in Connecticut, when Dylan was four and Woody was applying suntan lotion to her nude body, he alarmed Mia’s mother, actress Maureen O’Sullivan, and sister Tisa Farrow when he began rubbing his finger in the crack between her buttocks. Mia grabbed the lotion out of his hand, and O’Sullivan asked, “How do you want to be remembered by your children?” “As a good father,” Woody answered. “Well, that’s interesting,” O’Sullivan replied. “It only lasted a few seconds, but it was definitely weird,” says Tisa Farrow.
- Another thing to keep in mind is that Dr. Susan Coates, who is often cited as declaring Allen’s relationship to Dylan as “inappropriately intense,” did not believe it was sexual in nature.
She considered Mr. Allen’s relationship with his own adopted daughter, Dylan Farrow, to be “inappropriately intense,” the therapist never observed him acting in a sexual way toward her. And she reported that an evaluation of Dylan conducted in 1990 found the girl easily “would be taken over by fantasy” when asked to describe something as simple as an apple tree.
- Coates reports that she came to believe, shortly before the allegation, that Mia was a danger to Woody.
The psychologist said that Ms. Farrow’s actions in the following months, which included angry phone calls and a gift to Mr. Allen of a Valentine with skewers through the hearts of her children, had convinced her that Ms. Farrow might harm herself or Mr. Allen.
- And reports that Mia’s behavior prior to, and during the allegation was erratic.
“Do you think I should marry him [Woody]?’ ” said Dr. Coates, reading from the notes she took at the time and quoting Ms. Farrow.
“I said, ‘Are you serious?’ ” Dr. Coates said. “She heard my reaction to it, and realized there was something absurd about it.”
Four days after that conversation, the psychologist testified, Ms. Farrow phoned again, saying that Dylan had begun complaining that Mr. Allen had abused her. Dr. Coates characterized Ms. Farrow as having been extremely calm during the call, in contrast to her agitated state in other calls.
“I was puzzled, because in that conversation she was very calm,” Dr. Coates said. “I did not understand her calm.”
Dr. Coates, who had continued to see Mr. Allen as part of Satchel’s therapy, broke the news to Mr. Allen of Dylan’s allegations a few days later. She described it as “one of the worst moments of my whole life.”
“He sat on the edge of his chair and his eyes were very wide,” Dr. Coates recalled. “He said, ‘I’m completely flabbergasted. I’m completely flabbergasted.’ He said it over and over again.
- Then there is Dylan’s accusation itself, including assertions that Allen was pervasively creepy before the molestation. I’m just going to assume you’ve read that. If not, it’s here. One of the most persuasive aspects of Dylan’s account to me is that her memories include reassertion of the abuse. For example, Dylan says that, not long after the allegations, Mia offered her a clean escape if she had made up or reconsidered her story, but that she insisted she was being truthful.
“My mother never coached me … In one of the most heartbreaking conversations I have ever had, she sat me down and asked me if I was telling the truth. She said that Dad said he didn’t do anything and I said, ‘He’s lying.’ “
Everyone’s an expert!
In going through these articles and commentaries I quickly discovered that most people are omniscient, especially when they are angry. Like knowledge Hulks. People on both sides pretend to have jobs they don’t have. A disproportionate number of posters claimed to be lawyers, shrinks, social workers, etc. Such professionals would be disproportionately likely to weigh in, but it was still pretty obvious that many of these people were lying about their professions.
This seems like a weird thing to do, especially in an anonymous comment. Who are you impressing? I think people do it because they are very sure they are right and want to lend credibility to their claims. They are completely confident that a real expert would hold the same position they hold, so by attributing it to an expert, they are promoting the truth.
Experts on particular subjects.
This is perhaps my favorite part of the comments, tweets, posts and stuff like that on the case. Whenever one of these subjects comes up, we tend to select an account of them that we saw on Law & Order and use that to profess our expertise.The striking thing is that this expertise always supports the conclusion we have already jumped to.
Body Language Experts
This is mostly applied to Woody’s interview with 60 Minutes. Most of the body language experts are hostile to Allen. That’s because he is the one being interviewed, so it’s easy to pounce on “tells” that prove he is lying. A Mia interview would bring out all of the pro-Woody body language experts.
[By the way, the note Allen presents here seems huge. So, or course, it’s totally unverifiable. Is it really a note from Mia announcing that Allen is targeting Dylan for molestation before the alleged molestation took place?]
I have read a couple books and a few articles on this stuff because I play poker. So, while not an expert, I know enough to know what I don’t know and you almost certainly don’t know either. The main thing you need to understand is that almost all of this stuff is meaningless in a vacuum. It doesn’t make any sense that we’d have many behaviors specifically tied to lying per se. We have behaviors for when we are uncomfortable, or when we are making something up off the top of our heads or when we are trying to be less visible. But it’s not like someone will have an eyebrow twitch that shows up both when they tell their kids Santa brought gifts and when they lie to the police about being involved in a hit and run.
You have to consider the context in which the body language occurs. The personality type and the motivations of the person you’re trying to read. The timing of the behaviors. Whether the behaviors are muted or put on display. For example, people do things like stroke their face or touch their ears to pacify themselves. All that means is that they are trying to pacify themselves. You have to figure out if this is because they are lying, or because they don’t like confrontation, or whatever. Are they open with their discomfort, or is it seeping through a facade?
A lot of people zeroed in on the fact that Woody failed to directly answer a point blank question on the molestation. These commentators are correct.. It’s hard for most people to lie bluntly, so they tend to dance around it. But, again, we have to consider the context. This is a planned TV interview, so Woody probably has rehearsed answers, or at least talking points that he wants to get to. So maybe he is just using the questions as cues to launch into his answers, like a politician. He could be afraid to deviate from a truthful script. He also could be afraid to lie in such a point blank fashion.
I’d doubt the credibility of any real or professed expert who offered a strong opinion on the basis of a short, edited TV interview. You might say, “this is an indicator,” or “x could mean y if z,” but the idea that you can watch something like this and know for certain that a person is lying, and what they are lying about, is the stuff of bad TV shows.
I’ve learned that more people are experts on polygraph tests than any other subject on earth. I assume this is because the tests, and their reliability, comes up in TV and movies all the time. The writers just invent whatever facts they need to advance the plot and we, in turn, select whichever of those fictional facts we want to plug into the story we’re weaving today. George Zimmerman apparently passed a polygraph. So if one doesn’t like him, the tests are unreliable and easily defeated by psychopaths in that instance. Woody Allen apparently passed a polygraph, so the same person might tout the infallibility of the tests today, if they happen to be a Woody Allen fan.
Here’s the short version of the wiki. Contrary to popular belief, polygraph test results can be admitted in court in 19 states and in federal court under some circumstances. Many government agencies, lawyers, and law enforcement agencies use the tests. Some consider them pseudoscience but the NAS concluded that polygraphs work at “a level greater than chance, yet short of perfection.” Gary Ridgeway, the Green River Killer, passed one, as have several people later discovered to by spies. But they have played a role in catching other spies and criminals. There are countermeasures one can use against the test, like using a pin prick or doing math in your head to regulate your physical responses. It’s not clear how effective these are but they seem to at least help your chances.
What about Woody? I wouldn’t bet my life that he actually took an honestly administered test. His lawyer has repeatedly said that he did. The claim was repeated by 60 minutes, which sort of implied that they verified the claim: “he submitted to a polygraph and a battery of psychological tests. The reports we were shown would seem to support his contention that he’s not a child molester.” This could all be a ruse. It seems unlikely, but I only know what wikipedia tells me.
From what I can gather, and based on common sense, it would be pretty unusual for someone facing such a serious accusation to freely submit to and pass a lie detector test if he knew he was guilty, especially given that he was in a good position to evade prosecution without taking the test. If you knew that you’d molested a child and would probably get away with it, would you take a lie detector test? It’s also a stretch to say that he was as cold blooded as a high stakes double agent when taking the test, but a fountain of tells during his 60 minutes interview. Of course, we just formulate our expert knowledge to reach whatever conclusion we prefer, so it’s no surprise to see Allen’s detractors making both claims. Meanwhile, his advocates have invented the story that he passed not one, but three tests.
Seemingly everyone is wrong about this. Prepare for a shock: false molestation allegations are not as common as certain men’s rights types would have you believe, but they are not so uncommon that you can assume anyone accused is guilty, as certain feminist types would have you believe.
It’s hard to determine if an allegation is false, and still harder to determine why it is false.
Quoth Wiki: Studies of child abuse allegations suggest that the overall rate of false accusation is under 10%. Of the allegations determined to be false, only a small portion originated with the child, the studies showed; most false allegations originated with an adult bringing the accusations on behalf of a child, and of those, a large majority occurred in the context of divorce and child-custody battles.
I read a bunch of stuff on the subject, mostly focusing on divorce and custody. Since Mia and Woody were not married, they could not be divorced, but their break up was similar to a divorce. Also, the custody hearing came after the abuse allegations. Once Woody found out he was accused of molestation, he sued for custody.
Findings are all over the map. Anywhere from 20% to 80% of allegations made during divorce/custody disputes are thought to be false. If you search it, you’ll find a lot of men’s rights stuff and that has academic supporters of varying credibility. Much of the academic material is old, and the studies are small. Here is what seems like a reasonable overview of data, including several different studies.
The largest study in this overview surveyed 9,000 divorces, only 169 of which involved allegations of sexual abuse. Of these:
Using the Child Protective Services determination and/or the report of a court-appointed mental health evaluator as the criteria for substantiation, the researchers found that 50% of cases were likely, 33% were unlikely, and 17% were uncertain (which included cases in which two evaluators held different opinions)”
However, in multiple studies, intentionally false allegations brought by the mother are rare:
“On the basis of the research that has been conducted so far, it is difficult to support an assertion that there are high rates of false allegations of sexual abuse consciously made by mothers in divorce situations.” It’s more common for the parent and/or child to convince themselves/each other that abuse occurred when it did not.”
“Gardner (unpublished) also observes that in some cases a mother obsessed with hatred toward the father may bring the child to the point of having paranoid delusions about the father. A “folie â deux” relationship may evolve in which the child acquires the mother’s paranoid delusions “
Here’s a good overview of various research and theorizing on the matter:
So people who want Woody to be innocent will assert that 50% of allegations of abuse during divorce proceedings are false. That’s not entirely true. It’s more accurate to say that 33% seemed unlikely, according to the one study. Those who want Woody to be guilty will say something like 95% of abuse allegations are true, ignoring that these allegations arose in circumstances in which false allegations are far more common than normal.
One thing I thought to be in Woody’s favor is that the abuse occurred after the break up, though before the formal custody dispute. Also, there is no other evidence that he is a pedophile. According to some experts, this could increase the likelihood of Allen’s innocence.
They “report that they [false allegations] are especially common in disputes about child custody arising after a divorce has been granted and centering around issues of visitation. There is a difference between an accusation that appears in a marriage that may be troubled but is continuing and an accusation that first appears in the midst of an acrimonious custody battle. It is therefore necessary to examine carefully the chronology of the development of an accusation and attend to other events such as legal maneuverings, new relationships, and therapeutic contacts.”
However, according to some researchers, Allen molesting his daughter in this scenario might not be so unusual. At the very least, they explain why a man might suddenly molest a child in such a scenario:
A few writers claim some parents are more likely to begin sexually abusing their children after the divorce, either to retaliate against the divorcing spouse or because the stress of the divorce results in more impulsive behavior. MacFarlane (1986) believes that a parent who is feeling rejected may be vulnerable to the acceptance and affection of a very young child and use the child to fulfill emotional needs. A man who has a history of only heterosexual behavior may reach out to his child sexually under the stress and loneliness of the divorce. Corwin et al. (1987) assert that the various stresses in a divorce are more likely to lead to actual abuse than to false allegations. They suggest the losses, stresses, and overall negative impact of separation and divorce may lead to regressive acting out by parents, including sexual abuse. At least one article suggests that women may sexually abuse children when there has been a significant experience of loss which could be a marriage dissolution (Wakefield, Rogers, & Underwager, 1990).
Faller (1990a) reports on her clinical experience with 196 stepfathers, biological fathers, and noncustodial fathers. The noncustodial fathers are said to begin abusing their children after the separation, during visitation. Faller believes an angry, bewildered, and/or emotionally devastated father may seek affection and comfort from his child that this interaction may become sexualized. The father may regress under the stress of the divorce and may therefore feel more comfortable with an immature sex object. In addition, an angry father may retaliate against his wife by sexually abusing the child.
Not all of this applies to Allen. It seems that, by all accounts, Mia was more angry with him than than he with her. He had essentially left Mia for Soon-Yi and therefore might not fit the “rejected and lonely” profile. But impulsive behavior and vindictiveness? An inability to handle stress? Maybe.
Another pair of researchers describe the circumstances in which false allegations most commonly occur during Sexual Allegations in Divorce (SAID):
1. The accusations surface after separation and legal action begins.
2. There is a history of family dysfunction with unresolved divorce conflict and hidden underlying issues.
3. The female (accusing) parent often is a hysterical or borderline personality or is angry, defensive and justifying.
4. The male (the accused) parent is generally passive, nurturing, and lacks “macho” characteristics.
5. The child is typically a female under age eight.
6. The allegations surfaces via the custodial parent.
7. The mother takes the child to an “expert” who confirms the abuse and identifies the father as the perpetrator.
8. The court reacts to the expert’s information by terminating or limiting visitation.
Of course, a dominant consideration here is that Dylan has maintained her account into adulthood. Obviously, some percentage of the children making false allegations recant or come to realize the truth. But what percentage maintain their belief into adulthood? There isn’t much on this, presumably because it’s hard to determine if the allegations are false when everyone sticks to their story. By the criteria of these studies, the allegations against Allen would have been classified as false because of the findings of the medical team. But obviously, everyone acknowledges that some true allegations are classified as false and some false ones as true. So, how common is it for someone to carry false memories of molestation into adulthood?
People were less likely to claim knowledge of this subject. Allen supporters alluded to cases where false memories had been implanted, while those who thought he was guilty simply dismissed the possibility as far fetched. What is the truth? I couldn’t find much on cases similar to this one. False memories are common and easily implanted. Some of your memories are false. We probably hold false memories better than real ones but, if they are not reinforced, they fade over time.
- First off, false memories not only exist, but everyone has them. One study, discussed in Time Magazine, compared people with excellent memories, as in they can remember what they had for lunch 10 years ago, to everyone else and found that even the smart folks carried false memories. And false memories could be implanted in them very easily:
In one, for example, the investigators spoke with the subjects about the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and mentioned in passing the footage that had been captured of United Flight 93 crashing in Pennsylvania — footage, of course, that does not exist. In both groups — HSAM (people with great memory) subjects and those with normal memories — about 1 in 5 people “remembered” seeing this footage when asked about it later.
“It just seemed like something was falling out of the sky,” said one of the HSAM participants. “I was just, you know, kind of stunned by watching it, you know, go down.”
- On top of that, several studies show that our false memories can be more persistent than our true memories. This study focused on children’s’ memories of lists of words and found that children often retained false memories of words they had heard better than true memories of words they had actually heard.
- Of course, most of us regard alien abductions and past life regressions as false memories. The scientific consensus is that, in addition to these, recovered memories of abuse are always, or almost always false. Meaning, we can be implanted with false memories of childhood even as an adult.
- Dylan’s memories are not recovered, but persistent. What about that? One study showed that children were more likely to recant false stories than true (many recant true stories for reasons such as embarrassment) and another compared implanted memories to true after two years had passed, finding that implanted memories faded faster. These memories, however, were not reaffirmed during the time off.
- I’ll leave the final word on the subject to the most respected scientist in the field (from what I can tell), Elizabeth Loftus.
“If I’ve learned anything from 40 years of working on these issues, just because a subject tells you that they have a detailed memory that’s very vivid, that doesn’t mean that it’s true.”
My commentary on commentary on commentary on lives that have nothing to do with mine:
I’ve read at least a dozen opinion pieces and blog posts and 100s of comments and tweets. This isn’t something I usually do, so it was pretty interesting. One thing I noticed is that while the standards for what a major outlet will publish are very low, the standard for comments has gone way up from what it once was because new systems allow commenters long term identities. Those using Facebook are pretty much forced to comment as themselves, while others maintain one persona across time and different sites. As a result, people are more invested in their comments and they are often better written and more informative than the original article (swing away, please).
The behavior of accusing mobs doesn’t have much to do with evidence. That Woody is targeted by witch hunters, McCarthyists or whatever term you prefer does not in any way imply his innocence. I want to look at what happens when someone is plausibly accused of something we find disgusting, especially if we already disliked the person. Once the accusations are made, the inquiry is over and we go into attack mode. They could easily be guilty, or innocent.
In these situations groups who think of themselves as fundamentally different use the same formula. It’s something like, “The accused is an X. Xs commit crimes like this all the time. 90% of the time, they get away with it completely, so the fact that there is so much suspicion on this X and that there is some evidence against him pretty much proves he is guilty.”
More fervent hunters will add, “Even if X technically didn’t commit this particular act, it’s pretty obvious that he commits these kinds of crimes.” And they might think to themselves, or occasionally even say, “Convicting an innocent X of the type of crime Xs always get away with wouldn’t be so bad. It would even the score for all the ones who got away, and it might send a message of intimidation to the other Xs that would prevent them from committing these crimes in the future.”
At a glance, these aren’t crazy positions to have from a utilitarian point of view. I read a good interview with a feminist who falsely accused her own father, but still expresses a high tolerance for locking up the occasional innocent man if it prevents abuse. I could see where she was coming from. The problem, of course, is that we already put innocent people away even when we don’t try to. Once condemning the innocent is an acceptable outcome, a dam breaks.
What X equals depends on who you are and who you don’t like. For some, it might be black men. They commit more street crime than other groups. Many get away with it. Even if this black guy didn’t pull the trigger, he is in a gang. You know he’s done a bunch of other crimes. Might as well lock him up and send a message to them.
For me X equals politicians and corporate bigwigs. I think they are a bunch of crooks. I think they almost always get away with it. If, by some miracle, one is charged with something, he’s almost certainly guilty. I’d like to think I’d stop short of wanting an innocent person convicted, but I’d have to overcome a lot of prejudice to admit innocence.
Woody is an X for two interesting groups of people. One is feminists, which touches on a lot of distinct groups, but I’ll mention two. There are the social justice warrior/liberal puritan types who have special ire for Woody because he is a rich, white man. “Rich white men commit all kinds of crimes. They always get away with it…” There are others who are more oriented towards fighting abuse, who see him in the mold of a slippery perp. “Abuse remains rampant in our society. Most abusers get away with it…”
The second group is social conservatives who see Hollywood as a den of depravity, determined to destroy the moral fabric of society. They look at Mia and Woody’s lifestyles and see a narcissistic disregard for responsibility, destined to lead to problems like this. They fear this behavior will become normalized. Some of them are anti-semites, so Allen is the perfect poster child for a nest of social termites. Surprisingly, this group, rather than feminists, is more likely to suggest a pervasive problem of child abuse in Hollywood. Some believe the abuse is widely known of and either tolerated or approved of by Hollywood’s elite. See, for example, Mia and Woody’s fondness for Polanski. They wonder if so many child stars go off the rails merely because they are unable to handle fame. It was through these posts that I learned about Corey Feldman’s accounts of abuse endured by himself and Corey Haim. So, for these guys “People in Hollywood indulge in illegal and immoral behavior all the time. They always get away with it…”
There are many completely serious posts suggesting that one reason for Woody’s guilt is that he looks the part. An often repeated phrase is, “close your eyes and imagine a child molester and you’ll see Woody Allen.” There’s quite a lot said, often by intelligent people, about how he looks creepy or gives off the wrong vibe.
I’m gonna pat myself on the back here. One of the nagging problems with this case is that Woody does not seem to be a pedophile. Those who simply toss that evidence out because they do not like it would never arrive at a completely convincing scenario in which Woody is guilty. But, if you examined the issue, like yours truly, you might have discovered research showing that some men who are not pedophiles molest their children during bitter divorces. It’s hardly an everyday occurrence, but there you go.
False Hollywood Stories: Soon-Yi Previn
Facts of Woody’s relationship to Soon-Yi are consistently fabricated. I too was under the impression that she was his adopted daughter and that he and Mia had been married, but within a few minutes of reading about the story, I discovered I was wrong. It’s almost impossible to avoid this information. Yet, if anything, the false accounts became more fevered as the story unfolded. He groomed and molested Soon-Yi from an early age. She was fifteen when he took pictures of her. Or twelve. Or even seven, like Dylan. In some cases, Dylan and Soon-Ye started to merge into the same person. People repeat the claims commenting on articles (some of which are pro-Farrow) that dispel them. Another commenter will correct the claims and the same person will repeat them.
Bloggers and journalists who wish to indulge in these claims will say things along the lines of, “though Allen was not technically Soon-Yi’s adoptive parent,” which also have implications that are objectively false. By both Mia’s and Soon-Yi’s accounts, Allen had very little to do with Soon-Yi before they began a romantic relationship. Seemingly, much less than even the average “mom’s boyfriend” to daughter relationship. Mia has has been a mother to fourteen children, eleven of whom were around at the time (I think) and only three of whom ever regarded Allen as a father or father figure. It is almost impossible to read much about this case without coming across this information, likely several times. It’s reasonable to assume bloggers and journalists are aware of it, which is probably the reason for the creative phrasing. Underlying all of this is a desire to create an easily digestible story about Woody, Soon-Yi and Dylan. We want a consistent pattern. Once we’ve chosen the pattern, we mold information to fit it. Which is why some Allen backers will look at the relationship and say it’s just slightly odd.
Woody is also accused of pedophilia for other reasons. This is not for his alleged molestation, but for his relationship with Soon-Yi and his attraction to teenage girls. This idea seems to be gaining currency in the age of internet finger pointing: human males who are attracted to human females at the height of their fertility, ought to be labeled as being attracted to prepubescent children. Anyway, as said earlier, attraction is one thing, relationships are another. There could be a power imbalance issue, but this still doesn’t have anything to do with pedophilia.
Some point out that Soon-Yi looked young or underdeveloped at the time of the relationship There’s a racial component to this. It’s sometimes suggested that men attracted to Asian women are covert pedophiles or hebephiles, drawn by the “immature” features of Asian women: less body hair, less pronounced curves, smaller breasts. Woody’s track record doesn’t suggest an Asian fetish, but, these accusations are available so they are made.
Beyond that we seem to vary our standards depending on the perceived desirability of the man. Sinatra’s relationship to Mia had many similarities to Woody/Soon-Yi, including the fact that Sinatra was a family friend who knew Mia from childhood. Patrick Swayze met his wife when she was fifteen and nobody seemed to have a problem with it. I assume, and assume that everyone else assumes, that most rock stars have countless encounters with underage girls. Perhaps we also assume that when the man is admirable and desirable, the woman is getting the best of the deal, underage or not, and therefore is not being taken advantage of. Maybe we also figure that a person like Sinatra or Swayze is choosing from pretty much any woman on earth, so he must have real affection for his partner, while somebody like Woody Allen must be seeking out a relationship he can easily dominate because he is unable to control a “real” woman. Is there some high school in there? It’s cool if a cool kid does it, but weird and creepy if a nerd does it?
“Pedophilia” in Woody’s movies:
This is a favorite tool of McCarthyist investigation. Now that we have our target in sight, we comb through everything he has ever said or done, searching for verification of the conclusions we have already reached. Esquire has set up a running blog in which the author and his readers pour through Woody’s work and interviews looking for anything improper. For example, the word “incest” appears in the background of a scene, on a work of art. A character jokes about all the dirty little secrets of his sex life. Another noble scavenger found a joke Woody told in 1976 where he said nobody would be surprised to find him living with a bunch of 12 year old girls.
Incredibly ignored is the fact that jokes about child molesters are generally premised on the idea that they are horrible people, the worst people the writer can think of. So if someone jokes that politicians are a notch underneath child molesters, it’s not an indication that they are a child molester, or even a politician. If you believe that, I should warn you that I know a really good joke about a dead baby. So if I’m ever in your neck of the woods, lock up your dead babies. Also, look into “The Aristocrats.” I don’t really care for the joke or the movie much, but it’s a good demonstration of what lurks inside the comic mind.
The Esquire piece is highpoint of the whole phenomenon, in certain ways. A McCarthyist outpouring like this is necessarily humorless and even anti-humor. A hot front in a major storm. We pin all of the bad in the world to an individual villain, or maybe a group. We sing of his evil and then, hopefully, do away with him and all the badness we’ve stuck to him. Meanwhile, we celebrate and vastly exaggerate our own virtue. Men pretend they aren’t attracted to seventeen year old girls. Women pretend they never slander. And certainly, nobody has done anything worse than that, say, stolen a lustful glance and their real step-daughter, which reaches the limits of what we would even be able to imagine, if not for the bad elements.
Woody and his work are a perfect cold front in the storm. What comedy in general does, and Woody’s films do especially, is provide an outlet for us to air out the suits of armor we normally wear. He’s also into Freud and stuff, so it all comes up: Coprophilia, incest, infidelity, prostitution, underage girls, murder, using and debasing others, the fact that maybe, just maybe, a tiny, tiny minority of women want a father figure in their man. There might also be like six or seven men who view women as semi-children and their mates as semi-daughters. All of these things float around inside our suit, but we can’t air it in public. So we watch something like a Woody Allen film and get a bit of relief in seeing someone else publicly let it all out. We open our facades just enough for it to waft in and dispel some of the stale air. Just enough ventilation for us to continue.
Naturally, when we regard the same creative expressions while wearing our stormtrooper costumes, our denial dialed up all the way, we are going to find all the evidence we need that this is degenerate art, produced by a degenerate. Having said that…
A lot of people concern themselves with the place of Woody’s films.
This might have been the most surprising discussion to me. Some asked if it was OK to like Woody’s films. Some demanded that we acknowledge and appreciate his great art: right now! Others feared it might be lost in history. Many discussions were had about separating art from artist, as though something like this has never occurred before. Say, with the late singer who recorded the best selling album of all time. Or Socrates.
My discussion of the Esquire blog isn’t about any of those things, but more the social phenomenon of scrutinizing the life and work of an undesirable. All of this discussion: do I still like Annie Hall? Should people of the future still like Annie Hall? Do you still like Annie Hall? Seems like odd way to react to a woman’s account of being sexually abused. Especially since the answer is so obviously, “who cares? Watch whatever you like.” Obviously, it’s an easy blog entry. Maybe it’s also a way of trying to move away from very unpleasant topics and back to which blu rays you own. A way of saying, “I don’t really want to deal with this.” “So, uh… how about that local football team?”
Blaming the victim:
Blaming the victim is a big phrase. I guess it originally evolved to describe those who rebuked rape victims for how they dressed and so forth. Then there’s a gray area, where we identify foolish things people do that increase their chances of being victimized. We’re generally uncomfortable with saying it’s foolish for a woman to get very drunk and go to a man’s hotel room if she doesn’t intend to have sex with him. We feel that the true aim of such statements is to mitigate the guilt of men who commit rape in such situations. On the other hand, we’re generally comfortable with saying those who grant Nigerian princes access to their checking accounts kind of deserve what they get because they are so gullible.
In a scenario like this one, no rational person can assign wrongdoing or recklessness of any kind to the Dylan. Everyone agrees that, if the crime took place, there’s nothing to blame her for. And if the crime didn’t take place, there’s still nothing to blame her for. But “blaming the victim” is a big part of the discussion. But if nobody is really “blaming the victim” according to the meaning of those words, what is the application of the phrase? What people really mean is something like “doubting the victim,” or “scrutinizing the testimony of the victim.” Even these are loaded phrases with totalitarian underpinnings. Once the accusation has been made, it’s already determined that it is true. The word “victim” denotes the guilt of the accused. The corollary to “why are you blaming the victim?” is “why are you defending a child molester?” Will you ever stop beating your wife? When did you become an enemy of the state?
Better articulated defenses of Dylan’s account against doubters identify a battle of the sexes. Men hear the first draft of the story, including Woody’s side, and imagine ourselves falsely accused of molestation. We know the wrath and loathing we would heap on someone else who committed such a crime, so it’s easy to imagine being on the wrong end of it. To be perceived as the lowest form of human life. Subjected to truly, socially acceptable rape in prison. Many of us also know that a woman scorned is capable of a lot, particularly if she sees us as “satanic, evil.” Could we see the craziest women we know convincing themselves of a molestation that didn’t occur, and instilling that belief in a child? We could see it. As a result, we can become lost in searching for evidence of innocence and close ourselves off to evidence of guilt. We can even waive off something as compelling as first hand testimony of the alleged victim.
The title of Robert Weide’s lauded/despised article captured these sentiments perfectly. “Not so fast!” We imagine ourselves wide eyed, backing into a corner, saying “hold on, just a second, please, I can explain this…”
Clearly Weide’s article was pro-Woody. I’ve been referring to accounts and articles as pro-Woody or Pro-Farrow because that’s what they are, even going back to the break up. There are two entirely different perspectives. Similarly, if you read the accounts of the friends and family of Woody and Mia, you see entirely different realities. The characters they describe are the same in name only. It’s not even Rashomon. It’s two different movies with the same cast and setting.
Anyway, do men immediately look for ways that the story could be false? Yes. Do Woody Allen fans do the same thing? As a man Woody Allen fan, I think the second impulse is much weaker, but it is there for some. A few people who post comments clearly see him as some kind of hero, but I don’t think that’s what motivates most of his defenders. So some clung to Weide’s article and the evidence for Woody’s innocence like a life preserver. Thoughts of, “how can we get out of this” overwhelmed feelings of compassion for Dylan. But at the same time, that evidence exists. Weide’s article is biased. It takes swipes at Mia. But the doubts it raises are clearly credible and a review of research on similar scenarios confirms that there is room for doubt.
Innocent Until Proven guilty.
One writer made this argument:
This is a basic principle: until it is proven otherwise, beyond a reasonable doubt, it’s important to extend the presumption of innocence to Dylan Farrow, and presume that she is not guilty of the crime of lying about what Woody Allen did to her. If you are saying things like “We can’t really know what happened” and extra-specially pleading on behalf of the extra-special Woody Allen (Hi, The Daily Beast) then you are saying that his innocence is more presumptive than hers.
This was formulated different ways on Twitter and elsewhere. The basic idea: if you presume Woody’s innocence, you presume Dylan’s guilt. Her guilt of what? Lying.
It’s hard for me to believe that anyone is stupid enough to believe the superficial premise. To me, it smells more like an attempt to cook up a hack to get around liberalism and indulge totalitarian impulses.
It feels condescending to even spell it out, but here we go. If the government accuses you of being a terrorist, we don’t assume they are conspiring to frame you by assuming you are innocent until proven guilty. Obviously, it’s possible that they are mistaken. It’s also possible that the truth of the matter is unobtainable to us. If all we know is that you’re accused, we say you’re presumed innocent because we don’t know that you’re guilty and in a free society, accusation cannot equal guilt.
Here’s a more personal scenario. I accuse you of mugging me at gunpoint. It’s not as bad as being molested, but I have nightmares about it, I’m afraid to go outside, and so forth. You insist that you didn’t do it. So, we go to trial to attempt to find the truth. We don’t immediately assume that either is a liar. We don’t know. It’s possible that neither is a liar. Maybe someone framed you. Maybe I’m mistaken. The main point, and perhaps the main point of a liberal society, is admitting that you don’t know everything. Totalitarianism, in contrast, is premised on infallibility, but that’s just a cover story for doing whatever you want. Like assuming anyone accused of molestation is guilty.
One point used in support of this view, in this article and elsewhere, is the commonness of abuse, which reverts back to the arguments about “Xs.” In this case, Woody supporters will say allegations in these circumstances are 50% likely to be false, Woody detractors will say they’re 90% likely to be true. Objectively, the Woody supporters are closer to the mark, but both camps are poor handicappers. They’re like sports fans who always bet on their favorite teams. Regardless of accuracy, the idea that you can prosecute or punish all “Xs” on mere suspicion because “being an X, they probably did it” is, again, a totalitarian mindset.
Another popular revelation is that “innocent until proven guilty” applies to the legal system, not the court of public opinion. True. People make the same argument with the first amendment, when trying to silence people they disagree with. “I’m not the government, so it’s ok for me to shut you up.”
Of course, it’s reasonable to think Allen is guilty and to say so. But lurking below some of these comments seems to be a distaste for the idea of innocent until proven guilty. As with free speech, some view it as an inconvenient fact of our environment, rather something that was introduced into our society because it’s a good idea, a good ethic. “OK, legally, you have free speech and the right to be considered innocent to be proven guilty. Granted. But there has to be some way around that…”
Another concern with Woody supporters is that they deny Dylan agency. We tend to regard women as passive, responsive and easily manipulated. Even in normal, consensual situations, we say that the man picks the woman up. He seduces her. We shield our mothers from information that they will overreact to. We say things just to make our girlfriends feel good. You push this button and she does that, that button and she does this. So when an abuse allegation occurs, it’s too easy to say, “oh someone just pushed the wrong button on her.” She imagined it. The memory was implanted. She was coached.
There also seems to be an age divide on this scandal and that might be part of the reason for it. At, say, college age, your experience and perspective is mostly a child’s. But you are establishing your persona and your place in the world. It’s difficult to do that as a well of uncertainty and doubt. Young people tend to think they apprehend situations completely and respond to them in a calculated fashion based on motives they understand. They would hate to concede is that they are easily manipulated, many of their beliefs and memories are false and that they don’t understand their own motivations. It takes experience to realize how crazy and ignorant you are. The idea of an old, well established personality saying, “your memories of your own experiences are wrong. I know the truth,” is especially repellent.
Of course, we all exaggerate our agency. This is one more way in which a case like this brings out our more cartoonish accounts of reality. We know who is right. We know what is right. We continuously do what is right. Our memories and all of the stories we tell ourselves are true. And we exaggerate the agency of the parties involved. If the allegations are false, Mia must be a cold blooded master of manipulation. She pushed Allen and Soon-Yi together as part of a plan to destroy his credibility and set him up for the grand molestation scam. She used her mob connections via Sinatra to silence the truth. If Allen is guilty, we must construct a character for him too. He’s always been evil. He’s fundamentally depraved. He has his own agency and chooses to be rotten. It’s in his relationship to his wife. We can now see that it was in his movies the whole time. Anyone who advocates his side of the story realizes this and is choosing to endorse the depravity he represents. If you have any doubts about this case, unfollow me.
It’s hard to admit that these cases are just horrible and don’t work the way our brains want them to. We want it to be like a movie. We see and know everything that happens. There’s a beginning, middle and end. Even if it’s not a happy ending, we perceive it all. But it’s like a swamp. Scarcely comprehensible, mostly invisible. Some will die with a smile on their lips, savoring the memory of all the crimes they got away with. Others will be tortured by guilt over what they have done and what was done to them before that. Some victims will never recover, some will. Some people will carry horrible, scarring memories of things that didn’t happen. Innocent people will go to jail. Some will be raped there. Guilty people will too. False allegations will be made by people who believe them and people who don’t. True allegations will be recanted or never brought at all. People will unwittingly remain loyal to abusers for their whole lives. Some of these things will happen in this case. We don’t know which ones. We’ll struggle to reformat what little information we get into a story we can understand and accept.