The Sooner the Better: Celebrity Offenses in the Digital Age

HBO’s new four-part miniseries Allen v. Farrow has been on thousands of minds since the first episode’s release last Sunday. The series, which features appearances from actress Mia Farrow and all but two of her children, revisits a decades-old, world-famous dispute between Farrow and filmmaker Woody Allen that began with Farrow and her adopted daughter Dylan’s allegations of sexual abuse against Allen, her former partner. Dylan first accused Allen of molesting her in 1992, when she was seven years old. Much like the 2019 Lifetime documentary Surviving R. Kelly, the first episode (and presumably the remaining three) contains several accounts from Farrow and her family of Allen’s grooming of and sexually suggestive behavior toward Dylan, who rightfully has the most screen time.

I regret to admit that upon seeing Annie Hall on Netflix for the first time as a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old, I became a great fan of Allen’s work. Being the naïve teenager that I was, I did next to no research on the filmmaker prior to devouring a significant portion of his oeuvre. I was very liable at that time to have told you that Manhattan, Stardust Memories, Hannah and Her Sisters, and The Purple Rose of Cairo were among my favorite films. It was only when I saw Woody Allen: A Documentary, also on Netflix, that I learned about the allegations, about the darker side of his public image, and that he had been married to one of Mia Farrow’s adopted daughters for fifteen years. In the same way that one cannot hear R. Kelly’s music as they once did, or simply cannot listen to it at all, I no longer had the desire to revisit or sing the praises of Allen’s films.

Such a moment can be painful, but it is also optimistic. The popularity and very existence of Allen v. Farrow, I believe, speak to something far greater than its material. The advent of the exposé documentary, social media, the #MeToo movement and the vigilance that followed, have created a social landscape that never could have existed in the twentieth century. Skeletons cannot remain in a closet for very long today. In fact, skeletons are actively being searched for by the average consumer and/or social media user. Those that drive “cancel culture” refuse to tolerate celebrity wrongdoing, especially when that wrongdoing is something that one can and should not split hairs about (as critics of cancel culture often do), like sexual abuse. It is very hopeful to recognize that we live in an age where the former President’s assertion that “a star” “can do anything” is becoming less true by the day.

Of course, this was not always the case, and the twenty-first century has derailed enough veteran careers to prove it. Some of the high-profile discoveries that began the present state of affairs concern offenses that took place well before Allen’s. For example, the allegations that landed Bill Cosby in prison date as far back as the 1960s. It would be unthinkable for any of the young stars of today to remain successful for fifty years before their misdeeds came to light. Some might remember that all it took to jumpstart Cosby’s steep fall from grace was the mention of his many allegations in a stand-up comedy routine. The reason it took so little? The cancellers are perpetually on the hunt. Once they smell blood, there isn’t much that their target can do.

I would like to believe that the sun has forever set on septuagenarian sex scandals. In the wake of #MeToo and what critics have called the “Weinstein effect,” the phenomenon that saw several celebrity’s careers collapse following Weinstein’s exposure and arrest, victims have been quicker to come forward and the public has been quicker to listen to them. The result, of course, is that it has become much more difficult for offenders to evade social ruin. The public appeal of actor Shia LaBeouf, 34, was recently gutted after his former partner, singer FKA Twigs, revealed that she had suffered emotional and physical abuse during their relationship. The reputation of rapper Tory Lanez, 28, took a blow after fellow rapper Megan Thee Stallion exposed that he had shot her in the foot. To make matters deservedly worse for Tory, a judge recently denied his request to be able to speak publicly on the shooting.

But there is still work to be done. Fashion designer and socialite Ian Connor, 28, has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than thirty women and his career has never been affected. The world has clearly made great strides in its handling of dangerous public figures, but, understandably, some still slip through the cracks. At least we have reached a point where much of the public is more invested in the truth than maintaining faultless conceptions of their favorite celebrities, however imaginary.

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