Saturday, February 08, 2014

And now for something completely different...

intersectionality and the carceral state. A post about what's wrong with the current furor over Woody Allen.

In the Nation, Jessica Valenti wrote:
I also believe that deep down people know that once we start to believe victims en masse—once we take their pain and experience seriously—that everything will have to change.
Jessica Luther writes:
When people buy tickets for the next Woody Allen film or they purchase his latest on DVD, when another Hollywood group decides to honor his decades of work, when an actor chooses to work with him and says how nice he is in the interviews as they promote their movie.... those actions, all of that acceptance of Allen silence his victim.
A lot of silencing has taken place in this situation. The defence of Woody Allen by Robert B. Weide in the Daily Beast suggests we shouldn't believe what Dylan Farrow has to say. He doesn't accuse her of lying, not exactly, but he does claim people he does not name have somehow engaged in "swiftboating" Woody Allen. He writes:
I know Dylan/Malone believes these events took place, and I know Ronan believes so too. I am not in a position to say they didn’t, any more than all the people on the internet calling for Woody’s head can say they did. 
Nobody should have to say this, but: if Dylan Farrow and Ronan Farrow believe Woody Allen committed a heinous crime against her, why should they keep silent? Neither his talent, nor his body of work, should excuse Woody Allen from somehow reckoning with some serious accusations he has evidently not come to terms with.

Defining justice as punishment and exclusion, on the other hand, silences many other people. Jessica Valenti, Jessica Luther, and others write as though some even-handed judge of impeccable integrity will arbitrate their call to exclude and punish Woody Allen and those like him, but in fact calls for harsh retribution lead to laws interpreted and enforced by the American state, with all its historical faults. Millions of Americans, mostly impoverished and racialized, face literal silencing by cell walls, and once released, when laws turn them away from the polls.

By a coincidence, on the day I looked up Jessica Valenti's comment, the Nation also published the following story in the "this just in" box on the same page:
The US government hid an egregious clerical error that placed a Malaysian Stanford University student on the TSA’s no-fly list and prompted a nine-year effort to clear her name, according to a federal ruling released to the public Thursday.
In other words, on the same page that Jessica Valenti inveighs against any acceptance, not for convicted malefactors but for the accused as well, a link appears to another incident in the ongoing story of the American national security and carceral state. Pace Ms. Valenti, that United States has long believed victims "en masse". The results include laws, many named for individual victims, which specify harsher and harsher penalties, ceding more and more unchecked discretion to police and prosecutors, and narrowing the legal rights of suspects, offenders, and the general public alike. Americans have already decided to reject the argument that the life of a person, any person, amounts to more than the worst thing they ever did, or the worst thing anyone accused them of doing. They have instead embraced laws that have led to mass incarceration, mass punishment, at a rate that not only eclipses Russia, China, and Iran, but also has serious effects on American democracy, from the racial imbalance in the denial of voting rights to outright public corruption.

Our society engages in extravagant celebrations of talent and achievement in the performing arts and sports. We do a poor job of separating the celebration of achievement from an affirmation of the ethical qualities of the people we celebrate, so that we make performers, people who excel at sports and other performances, into heroes. We have no vocabulary for saying that Woody Allen has great talent but also great flaws. Indisputably, he has family members in deep pain that he has never succeeded in reconciling with. Clearly, we cannot dismiss the memories of Dylan Farrow. Equally clearly, after three decades of American public policy has excluded and demonized offenders, we can see that road does not lead to a good place. As difficult as it seems, I see no realistic choice but to treat the good in people, in everyone, with celebration, and the bad as something to heal.

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