The Abusive Artist Doesn't Want to Be Separated from His Art

[Content Note: Rape culture; sexual assault; statutory rape.]

Yesterday, the Hollywood Reporter published a long profile of Babi Christina Engelhardt, a now 59-year-old woman who had, in her words, an affair with Woody Allen that began when she was 16 and he was 41, and lasted eight years. (The age of consent in New York is 17.) I'm not going to link directly to the piece; it's easy enough to find if you're so inclined.

Manhattan, Allen's 1979 film about a 42-year-old man (played by Allen) having an affair with a 17-year-old girl (played by Mariel Hemingway), has long been rumored to have been based on real events from Allen's life. And now we know: It was based on his relationship with Engelhardt.

On Twitter, I noted: "I hope that everyone who has insisted on making 'separate art from the artist' arguments reads this shit about how Woody Allen made a movie about the abuse he was committing in real life, and then sticks their vile apologia in a blender."

Allen is an artist who does not want to be separated from his art. To the absolute contrary, his art is about his life. Even more specifically, his art is about normalizing the abuse he perpetrates in his life, laundering his predation into romance. And he doesn't even do it by concealing or softening the abuse, but simply by telling the story with witty banter that makes it palatable to audiences who are themselves primed by the rape culture to tolerate abuse of women and girls, given the slightest opportunity to view it as something else.

And he is hardly alone: Bill Cosby told jokes about drugging women decades before he was convicted of assaulting a woman he'd drugged. Louis CK featured himself as an attempted rapist on his own show, which included his target asking him not to jerk off on her.

In instance after instance of men creating art in which they cast themselves as abusers, people who object are told that we must "separate the artist from his art."

But this is the truth about abusive men who make art about their abuse: They don't want to be separated from their art.

They want their art to serve as confession, and they want acclaim to serve as absolution.

Critics who laud, audiences who keep paying, collaborators who keep working with them, studios who keep funding them — all of us inveigled by the artist to be part of the conspiracy with the promise of more great art.

He will keep us entertained, as long as we all keep regarding it as entertainment, and nothing more.

It is a bargain far too many of us are willing to make, and remain committed to even as it becomes clear that the artist is his art; that we are not passive viewers of something neutral, but active participants in the whitewashed telling of abuse as tales of sex and love. The retelling doesn't work without someone to listen, and believe.

It doesn't work without someone to argue that we must separate the art from the artist, while refusing to do precisely that. To truly separate the abusive artist from his art is to see that both have no place in a culture where we claim that we will not abide abuse.

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