Woody's 'new family'

Mona Charen

August 26, 1992|By Mona Charen

IN defending Woody Allen against one -- and only one -- charge, I cannot help thinking of a joke. One man says to another, "I defended you the other day -- some guy said you weren't fit to live with pigs. But I said you were."

The only defense Woody Allen seems to deserve is to the charge that he molested his 7-year-old daughter Dylan. The accusation was lobbed only after Woody sought custody of his three children and bears all the marks of the kind of stink bombs that are tragically popular in custody cases these days.

That much having been said, Woody Allen is clearly guilty of emotional incest and grotesque disregard for the impact of his behavior on others. That Soon-Yi, his 19-year-old girlfriend (Allen is 56), is the daughter of Mia Farrow, he told a reporter, has no bearing on their relationship.

How can an intelligent, talented man of the world come to such moral obtuseness?

Well, part of the answer is the water in which he swims. Woody and Mia have been a glamour couple in New York for the past 12 years. Only last September, the New York Times Magazine ran a gushing story about the couple and their thoroughly modern lives. The two never married, hardly unusual these days. But Farrow/Allen took the modern romantic relationship one step further -- they never formally lived together. They kept his and her separate (rent-controlled) apartments across Central Park from one another. Woody Allen would rise early every day -- so the publicity went -- to be at the Farrow home in time to give the kids breakfast.

When they met, Mia Farrow already had eight children, three with former husband Andre Previn and five adopted. During the course of their romantic attachment, Woody and Mia adopted two more children and bore one biological child. (How they were able to adopt so easily, without being married, is a question the authorities in New York should be made to answer.)

The Times story cooed about how different Mia and Woody were, but how it all seemed to "work" for them. That's the #F prevailing cultural tone -- whatever works. Traditional marriage is for some but not for others. The trouble is, the "new family" almost never "works" for the children -- and, as this morality tale reveals, rarely for the adults either.

Imagine for a minute that Woody and Mia had met, not in 1980, but in 1940. Back then, before the sexual revolution, there would have been social and legal pressure for the couple to marry if they intended to raise a family. You don't have to assume any greater virtue on Woody Allen's part to believe that if he had married Mia, it would have been much more difficult for him to justify, even to himself, a sexual entanglement with her daughter, whom he had known and nurtured since she was 10. Marriage enforces responsibility -- which is why people like Woody Allen shun it if they can.

Well, they didn't meet in 1940. They met in an era when there is no penalty for selfish, heedless behavior. Indeed, this couple was celebrated.

Liberals will protest that no one approves of this kind of emotional incest, and that's true. But if you will the means, don't you will the end? Isn't that like saying, "No one approves of abortion. We're just in favor of choice." Woody Allen, because he is rich and famous, perhaps took more liberties than most men would. But not much more. There are thousands of single men out there enjoying the company, intimate and otherwise, of women they have no intention of marrying. They sire children they have no intention of fathering. And the culture permits it all.

The sexual revolution accomplished one goal: It liberated men from their responsibilities. Women and children have been the big losers. If the only standard of right conduct is that two consenting adults desire something, there are no grounds on which to condemn Woody Allen. It is only by old-fashioned, traditional notions of the role of husband and father that Woody Allen can be counted a villain.

Mona Charen writes a syndicated column.

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