Woody Allen, and why cultural conservatives always had a point

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
Font Size:

Long after everyone ceased keeping score, media elites began belatedly conceding that the culture their worldview produced and promoted in the 1960s, 70s and 80s was pernicious. When writers at the Washington Post, the Atlantic, and New York magazine all concede Dan Quayle was right about Murphy Brown, you know something is up.

These admissions are finally proffered because there is always a niche for “man-bites-dog” contrarian columns, because the concession no longer costs anything politically (it’s too late to help Dan Quayle!), because second-wave feminism was particularly misguided and counterproductive, and (I’d like to think), because modern liberals — the intellectually honest ones, at least — have had time to see some of the negative attributes their worldview hath wrought.

The most recent example is Woody Allen. Now, it’s unclear whether or not he is is guilty of what he is alleged to have done, but that’s almost beside the point. Just yesterday, Esquire’s Stephen Marche came out with a hard-hitting piece, titled Rewatching Woody Allen. And what did he suddenly discover? It turns out that “Incestuous themes—stated or implicit—seethe throughout the whole of Allen’s career.”

“That idea: that sexual exploitation and education are conjoined also runs through the Allen canon,” he continues.

This is an interesting discovery. And a tad late. Writing about Allen’s film, Manhattan, a few years ago, Jonathan Podhoretz noted at the Weekly Standard, that “It is inconceivable that such a movie could be made today, in which a middle-aged man commits statutory rape-and is considered a moral exemplar to boot. And yet there was not a peep in 1979.” (Emphasis mine.)

The obvious pushback to Marche’s Esquire piece is that Allen isn’t responsible for the actions or words of his characters. This might normally be true, but “with Woody Allen,” Marche continues, “such a separation is impossible, because his movies are so thoroughly about himself, and about his own condition, and, as it turns out, the moral universe in which he exists—one in which there is no expectation of justice.”

Ultimately, Marche concludes that “in Allen’s case, Hollywood isn’t the bringer of false light, but a willing accomplice to darkness.”

Tough stuff, but if this had been written or said about Allen’s canon twenty years ago by a conservative, it would have been laughed out of the room, or (arguably worse) ignored altogether. But just as media elites are finally conceding that Dan Quayle was right, they are finally getting around to the fact that Woody Allen’s work (whether he’s innocent or guilty) was creepy — that it often presented a nihilistic worldview that advanced a sort of moral relativism.

For cultural conservatives who were mocked and denigrated by the intellectuals and elites, it is perhaps cold comfort that so many of today’s liberals in the media and in Hollywood are finally, if reluctantly, conceding the “if it feels good, do it” mentality was always pernicious.