Thomas Fiffer looks for the ‘truth’ behind the story—and ends up with more questions.
By now, we all the know the story of Dylan Farrow and Woody Allen.
But what do we really, truly know?
There is the accusation.
There is the response.
And there is the response to the response.
So how do we form our own response to all this?
Ironically, the whole thing has played out a lot like a Woody Allen movie, taking us into the minds and hearts of people operating on the edges of morality, stuck in places we’ve all been to, if only in our minds, but don’t want to admit we’ve visited.
There are facts, opinion, interpretation, and conjecture, and of course, agenda. And we are left to sort it all out and come to our own conclusions.
One thing that can help us find sense amidst the sensationalism and move beyond the competing narratives of the accused and the accuser, is the idea that stories such as this one incite a predictable pattern of reactions and behaviors from society at large, and that these are often based on archetypes that inhabit our subconscious mind and to a large degree inform our perspective and define our actions. In addition, these archetypes (as Carl Jung described them) possess the power to influence the way we form memories and associations, meaning that our recollections of events, the emotions those memories evoke, and the stories we form around them are, in fact, all subjective versions of “truth” affected by forces in our psyches over which we have little control and of which we have even less awareness.
With this in mind, here are 10 + 1 “truths” we can take home about the Farrow-Allen story, because we have revealed them ourselves in the way we have responded to it.
- Everybody loves a victim.
- Everybody loathes a villain.
- Everybody frames stories in good and evil, black and white. The primitive part of our brain is wired to see this story as either the scoundrel did it and deserves to be punished, or the liar has falsely accused him and owes him an apology. There’s little if any room in our collective consciousness for subtlety or nuance or ending with questions instead of a dispositive answer.
- Stories like this one place the players in archetypal roles—the axe grinder, the whistleblower, the disgruntled daughter, the manipulative mother, the fallible father, the fallen filmmaker, the pedophile on the pedestal, the creep who deserves his comeuppance, the ardent apologist, and on and on—and all this happens below our level of consciousness.
- We make assumptions and jump to conclusions and rush to judgments that are heavily influenced by who we listen to and what we read, which in turn is influenced by the biases that form our own information bubble.
- Every good story has an arc—a trajectory—and if the story itself doesn’t have one, the media tries to supply it. In this case though, after watching this story rocket onto the front pages, we are unlikely to see it land with Farrow silenced for false accusations or Allen punished for his alleged sins. Today’s media is so fractured and splintered that it is impossible not to have conflicting accounts from different sources cause a “collective cognitive dissonance” that will disappoint readers looking for a traditional happy or tragic ending.
- This, too, shall pass. In the media world, the next big story always takes the place of the last one and already has.
- We’ll never know the truth, even though we desperately desire it. Whatever happened happened long ago, and without eyewitness accounts or material evidence, the competing narratives can never be squared. And whether or not a Hollywood idol has damaged his daughter, Hollywood has programmed us to expect endings that provide resolution, if not vindication or epiphany. But much to our collective dismay, we’re going to have to make peace with the truth that this story will have no satisfactory ending.
- With truth being subjective and everyone having their own version, honesty—and leading an honest life—becomes less about always telling the “truth” and more about always being accountable for our actions.
- Pouring out our opinions about stories such as this one is a critical part of our social dialogue. Whenever there is a real or imagined breach of our rules, a transgression of this order, a crossing of boundaries that most of us dare not cross but some of us do and others may have thought about and still others search their souls on and wonder whether, if tempted, they could take a bite of the forbidden fruit and fall in the same fashion, we struggle to make sense of our own human frailty.
The +1 is this: Both childhood and celebrity are terribly dangerous places where awful things happen that can shift everything in a second. Childhood is supposed to be a place of safety, and when that safety is violated, or believed to have been violated, we search for answers and justice through the lens of our own vulnerability. When the alleged violator is a person of great accomplishment in his or her field, the story becomes more complicated, as it involves a potential fall from privilege and grace. When the alleged violator is a Hollywood figure, it causes us to wonder how long Hollywood will remain the last sanctuary for bad behavior, now that football locker rooms and churches are no longer available. Finally, the Farrow-Allen story presents us with the conundrum of two conflicting truths, both of which are critical to our cultural narratives: “Innocent before proven guilty” vs. “Victims should always be believed.”
In the end, we are left with open-ended questions. What do we think about this? And what do we “believe?” The painful truth is, there are no easy answers. After the shouting match is over, we face a wrestling match of our own.