The Corner

The Norms of the ‘Creative Class’ vs. the Rest of America

Today’s Morning Jolt features a bit about the allegations against Woody Allen, the reaction in Hollywood, and the norms of the “creative class” and the rest of America. 

Unfortunately, the formatting makes it a bit tough to tell what’s an excerpt and what I wrote, so here’s a clearer version:

Woody Allen and Hollywood’s Twisted ‘Aristocrats of Consciousness’

Can you stand a brief talk about Woody Allen?

If you can’t bear to read Dylan Farrow’s account, I can’t blame you. Let’s just say it’s as awful, vivid, and detailed as you fear, and while we cannot say with 100 percent certainty that her accusations against Allen are true… it carries the credibility of specific detail.

Nina Burleigh* on the “tacit assumption among the aristocrats of consciousness that Great Men are entitled to whatever it takes to juice their creativity”:

As I wrote back when Mr. Polanski was arrested in Switzerland in ‘09:

To many artists and their enablers in the creative world, the prosecution of a major male figure for something as apparently insignificant as forced sex with a female child is a witch hunt, the persecution of a genius by low-level, unimaginative legal drones, who wear uncool suits and wouldn’t know a semiotic deconstruction if it smacked them in the face.

Hollywood enablers are not alone. We, as a society, are okay with it too. Mr. Allen’s preference was never hidden. He cast 16-year-old Mariel Hemingway as his own lover in Manhattan. Hemingway later confessed that he was the first person she ever kissed and that she was “way too young” for that role.

We live in a society in which pretty young girls are presumed to be just what the doctor ordered for older men. We don’t marry off eight-year-olds to their uncles, Saudi-style, but we are not revolted by the image of gross Woody Allen in his late 50s kissing Mariel Hemingway.

Speak for yourself!

We consume such images from the point of view of male privilege. Unless and until Mariel, years later, says she didn’t really like it, we don’t even imagine what it meant or felt like from her point of view.

I’m cheering this op-ed every step of the way until the suggestion — maybe not even intended — that Allen’s treatment of women – alleged and proven – is some sort of baked-in-the-culture indictment of a broad-based American societal “male privilege.” Try telling a story of your underage conquests at a Knights of Columbus cookout, at the office water cooler, in the stands of a Little League game, or at the corner bar, and you’ll probably get your teeth knocked down your throat; if cops are called, it will be to save you from being pummeled to a bloody pulp from the fathers around.

Let’s go back to that succinct, illuminating phrase, the “tacit assumption among the aristocrats of consciousness that Great Men are entitled to whatever it takes to juice their creativity.” The term “aristocrats” is really on-target, because nobody elected anyone in Hollywood to anything, except perhaps the Screen Actors Guild elections. You can argue that we “vote” with the dollars we spend on entertainment, and yes, huge audiences help build an actor or director’s clout in Hollywood, but that’s not the sole factor. Larry the Cable Guy has an estimated net worth of $50 million — some significant chunk of that from all of the “Mater” tow-truck toys around my house — but he’s far from Hollywood royalty. You’ll never see him asked to host the Oscars. Controversy, or at least ruffling the feathers of the bourgeoisie, is another major currency of the realm.

My friend Cam Edwards called my attention to this Chuck Klosterman argument that “it really doesn’t matter what you do artistically, nor does it matter how many people like what you create; what matters is who likes what you do artistically and what liking that art is supposed to say about who you are.”

The reason Robbin Crosby’s June 6 death was mostly ignored is that his band seemed corporate and fake and pedestrian; the reason Dee Dee Ramone’s June 5death will be remembered is that his band was seen as representative of a counterculture that lacked a voice. But the contradiction is that countercultures get endless media attention: The only American perspectives thought to have any meaningful impact are those that come from the fringes. The voice of the counterculture is, in fact, inexplicably deafening. Meanwhile, mainstream culture (i.e., the millions and millions of people who bought Ratt albums merely because that music happened to be the soundtrack for their lives) is usually portrayed as an army of mindless automatons who provide that counterculture with something to rail against. The things that matter to normal people are not supposed to matter to smart people.

Woody Allen is a big name, if aging a bit, because he has millions (hundreds of thousands? —  those grosses aren’t so hot) of people who like his films, and at the highest levels of our culture, those folks are deemed the smart people and the rightpeople. But he also has millions of folks who hate his films, and/or would never choose to watch him even if he was father of the year. Quick question: If middle America decided to boycott Woody Allen films from now on… would anyone notice?

Burleigh hones in on that word “creative,” and the special status it confers. The treatment of the Hollywood creative types isn’t that different from the treatment of an ancient culture’s tribal medicine man, or a high priest of a pagan cult; their role is to connect to some otherworldly source of inspiration that the rest of us can’t see. They’re oracles, you see. You’ve got to let them do their drugs, seek sexual expression as they wish, whatever the consequences, and indulge their criminal behavior, because otherwise they lose their connection to the magic, and thus we do, too.

The problem with this set of cultural rules and expectations is that’s not us. We never chose to set up our society by those rules; the movers and shakers of Hollywood did. (There aren’t many other communities and professions that operate by those rules. Maybe professional and high-level college athletics, although you can argue that’s just a sub-set of the entertainment industry.) You don’t see accountants saying, “You’ve got to look the other way on that guy’s incestuous pedophilia, because he’s really good at adding up those numbers.” The other sectors of society seem to grasp the inherent danger of establishing an accountability-free class of super-wealthy hedonistic narcissists.

* Yes, I know about Nina Burleigh’s infamous statement about what she would do in gratitude to Bill Clinton for keeping abortion legal. Sure, it’s a bit ironic when discussing male privilege, out-of-control powerful narcissists in the public eye, and so on, but I don’t think that comment from sixteen years ago undermines the accuracy of anything she’s saying now.


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