Monday, 3 February 2014

A Summary Judgement About Judgements

Well the week woke early and immediately leapt out to bite me. Emails came pinging into my inbox around 7am, work being thrown at me from a low cowardly angle whilst a relative chose this morning to inform me that her laptop has finally swallowed its own tongue trying to run the monstrosity that is Windows 8. I can see myself spending the afternoon recovering work, installing Windows 7, the long process of reinstalling all the lost software... It means the plan I’d made for today is now pushed back: an essay I’d hoped to finish today won’t get finished today and the manuscripts for two books I’ve been writing won’t be arranged on my desk so I can decide which one to work on next. I won’t get to draw anything and a couple of things I’d hope to write for the blog just won’t get written.

However, I have time to say that the weekend’s developments regarding Woody Allen are depressingly predictable. I wish I had time to write about this more carefully. Obviously, I don’t know what might or might not have happened in one particular attic a world and ten years away and I accept that my opinion is skewed by my being a Woody Allen fan since I first saw ‘Take the Money and Run’, the very first VHS tape I bought when I was about the age of fourteen. I don’t want to deny the power of Dylan Farrow’s letter to a New York Times blog, but, at the same time, Robert B. Weide’s article over at The Daily Beast is a powerful defence.

It means that I simply don’t know. All I can do – and the only thing I think it is proper to do – is retain the right to hold a man innocent until proven guilty and that’s what I will do. Yet I will say that there’s something horrible being played out in the media and that too many commentators are again using a specific case in order to further their own skewed generalisations.

I don’t see anything wrong with saying ‘wait for a judge and jury to decide’ yet in some quarters that is seen as being tantamount to defending the accused over the victim. As some point, the word ‘accused’ has become conflated with the word ‘guilty’. Is it too much to say that there is a definite anti-male agenda in the media and the world at large? I’m not so sure.

But if there is, it’s understandable why. Public opinion rarely delivers a nuanced argument. For centuries public opinion allowed rape to be dismissed as a relatively minor crime. In many cultures it was seen as a crime against property and the rapist was forced to pay remuneration for damages caused. Paedophilia too has also been treated as something the rich do as part of their being rich. You don’t have to look too deep to find the evidence. The letters between John Cam Hobhouse and Lord Byron reveal quite a bit about their attitudes towards paederasty as practised in Albania at the start of the nineteenth century. Even as recently as the 1970s, TV revelled in the sexism of office culture where slaps on the backside and vulgar comments were accepted as office fun and banter. The ugliness of the recent Andy Gray / Richard Keys ‘tits out for the lads’ video shows that it has still been happening until quite recently and I have no doubt that it continues.

Of course, there is a world of difference between paedophilia and sexism, though sometimes you’d wonder if the media appreciate the difference. My point is that cultural attitude to these things has changed but that doesn’t mean we should start acting as a partial witness, eager to make up for years of ignorance by destroying every man about whom these allegations are made. Just because Jimmy Saville got away with things for so long doesn’t mean we should find others guilty in his place based on insubstantial evidence.

Yet it’s human nature that we will form judgements about these things. Very few of us don’t love gossip and it’s the truly virtuous person who can ignore the speculation on Twitter about the next celebrity to be arrested in the Operation Yewtree investigation. It was the same when superinjunctions were being leaked over the internet. There was no point in arguing points of law over the roar of the mob. Yet there’s something so very wrong in a system when a person’s reputation can be forever ruined by an unproven allegation. Anonymity for the victim is the minimum we can expect in these cases but shouldn’t there also be anonymity for the accused? Even if proven innocent, the accused are never truly proven innocent. Suspicions always remain.

And that’s the problem with the case of Woody Allen. It’s too complicated for the Twitter crowd to understand. In many ways, there’s no place where the law is less suited to be decided. Imagine if judges were forced to hand down their judgments handed down in a 140 characters or less. Some will say that Woody Allen gets away with things because people conflate the art and the artist. You could argue that he is being found guilty for exactly the same reasons, that people are choosing sides not on the merits of the evidence but because of his films, which many people dislike with a passion and others, equally, love without reservation. For me, the current development isn’t about who is right and who is wrong. The statute of limitations means that this business can no longer be played out in a courtroom. This story will be played out before the mob and that’s the only truth I know of this whole sorry business. It’s an ugly place to be in these so called enlightened times.

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