Inappropriate sharing, incomprehensible ramblings, uncalled-for hostility: yup, it's a blog.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Let all the poisons that lurk in the mud hatch out

Disclosure: I am a fan of Woody Allen's life's work, which is not to imply I am a fan of Woody Allen's life. Most artists lead miserable lives. Not all, but most of the creators of art and literature and film and theatre and music, male or female, were and are dreadful human beings leading appallingly dreadful existences.

Nothing new to say: perform a talentectomy on any given artist, and you're left with an ambulatory asshole, a monstrous creation wandering without direction.

With talent, for instance, Oscar Wilde would be a welcome addition to any party; without talent, you're left with your peculiar uncle given to non sequitur observations after consuming too much wine, tolerated only by your shared eye-rolls with other dinner guests.

With talent, Pollock would make a great living as home decorator for the more adventurous among us willing to hire him; divested of his talent, Pollock would be the guy you hire to piss off the people you just sold your house to because they demanded you repaint the bedroom before they'd sign the papers.

"Talent," Woody Allen argues in Manhattan, "is luck." Except most talented people are notoriously unlucky--there are many examples to the contrary, but the list of artists meeting bad ends, talented as those artists were, is long. Suicide, murdered, murderers, persecuted, committed, cirrhosis, overdoses, venereal diseased, Nazi-sympathizers, bigots, and molesters of women, children, men. Talent may require luck, but being talented does not promise luck, or goodness.

Being an admirer of the talented, too, fails to lend one a luck guarantee, or a share in talent.

Fans of Lewis Carroll's work--and there are many, even if they haven't read his books--may find themselves in an unfortunate position when confronted with allegations of the writer's pedophilia, realized or fantasized. There's no evidence Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, an Anglican reverend and author of Alice in Wonderland, sexually assaulted Alice Liddell, but both Dodgson/Carroll's legacy and fans of his work have been left with a decidedly untalented question-mark on the subject. Pieces of Dodgson's personal journal are missing--destroyed--and it is said that the author exchanged bits of his opus with 10 year old Liddell for the chance to take nude pictures of the girl.

Quid pro quo, Alice.

Speaking of Alice, Walt Disney, the man who brought her story to a wider audience, was a misogynist anti-Semite. As the company he founded has in years since attempted to make amends for its founder's rather unsavory views of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, it may seem incongruous to point this out except the company recently released a revisionist history of their founder, Saving Mr. Banks, which pushes a lot of bullshit at a lot of unlucky audiences about a very lucky, very talented man.

Someone else who disliked women and liked Nazis was Henry Ford. Ford won the highest honor afforded to persons not of German origin, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. It is said he refused the honor, but Ford cars sold during Ford's lucky, talented life came equipped with a free copy of The International Jew, a collection of articles penned by Ford for the Dearborn Independent detailing for unlucky fans of Ford the many ways Jews were ruining the world.

Shout out here to Elsa Iwanowa. She brought a suit against Ford Motor Company some years back because, she claimed, she was forced as a child during WWII to work in a Ford factory. Forced labor. Enjoy your Ford Toughness, Ford fans.

Thomas Jefferson. Richard Wagner. Norman Mailer. Leni Riefenstahl. J.D. Salinger. Dostoevsky. Mishima. Vonnegut. Maria von Trapp. Messy lives. Talented, lucky. Talented, unlucky. To respect them is to lose a piece of one's soul, is to compromise one's own personal worldview shaped, in part, by their art.

(For noise, there's a documentary about Memphis on the television. Talk about messy talented lives both lucky and not: Elvis and Martin Luther King are mentioned.)


Woody Allen. What to do about Woody Allen.

(On cue, the Memphis doc has now given way to a speech on international affairs from Carnegie Council. Ethics Matter, the Council says without a hint of irony.)

For me, Woody Allen's films saved me. Possibly not the best thing to say right now, but it is true. His sense of humor made me feel less alone when I was a kid, and I cannot tell you what a revelation his Love and Death was to me when I saw it as a 12 year old.

So I won't tell you. Just assume I got lucky when I came across an airing of it one night. Also assume I'm not implying I'm talented. Talent is luck, I was lucky to witness someone's talent, and now I'm in the unlucky fan group to reconcile his talent with his life. I named my dog after the dog in Manhattan, for chrissakes.

Also please don't read much into my statement about being saved as a 12 year old by Woody Allen.

Here's a fun fact: many of my influences are unsavory people. Great artists, but terrible people. A lot of my influences--artists and not--rattle around like ambulatory assholes in my head, and it's up to me to separate the good from the bad. And it's up to me to be ethical. And it's up to me to be responsible.

Talent is luck. Except it isn't luck. Talent is something far more complicated than any aphorism one can pithily spout over aperitifs or in a blog post. Child molestation, however.

Spousal abuse, however.

Slavery, however.

Murder, however.

Talent is not luck. Being moral is, probably, a talent.

Being influenced by talented, amoral artists is unlucky. All you can do is hope you get lucky enough to influence others to be better than your influences.

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