Muddy waters, dirty shoes

here goes another idol.

Before I proceed with this writing, let me announce this in completely explicit terms: I walk towards this muddy topic with muddy shoes and do not, in any way, claim that this writing could colander the murkiness.

I have struggled with this. I love Woody Allen. I have seen every movie that he has made and one of my biggest regret for 2018 is that Amazon refused to release ‘A Rainy Day in New York’. When I proclaim the aforementioned, I see many eyes raised and rolled. How can you? I’m asked.

In May this year, Mary Karr, the author of the brilliant ‘The Liar’s Club’, reiterated something that had made me uncomfortable the first time I’d read ‘Although of course you end up becoming yourself’: David Foster Wallace was abusive in a rather sociopathic way as he tried to woo her back. 

And now, this week, we have my most favourite person in the world, my personal astrophysist (his words), my man, Neil Degresse Tyson, accused of not just sexual misconduct but rape too (the latter was already in the news for several years). Now, his appearances are on hold and an investigation is being run to check the authenticity of these claims.

Let’s deal with the easier tangle first: is the reaction against Kavin Spacey the apt and required modus operandi to dealing with such people? It seems to be dictated as such. Suddenly, for example, I am supposed to stop watching House of cards and marvelling the American Beauty. Closer at home, I am expected to delete my collection of Woody Allen movies, burn my copy of Infinite jest and unsubscribe to StarTalk. I have a big problem with this. I have a big problem with those in the audience who insist that by continuing to see what was produced, and in cases continues to be produced, I am condoning their actions. Nothing can be falser than that. I, as a fan of their shows or art, find it important to draw a line between the man himself and the utility of what is produced. Why should I, for example, give Woody Allen’s personal life, the right to take away from me the exhilaration I experience when I watch any of his movies? Why should I allow the abusive and psychotically obsessed Wallace, deprive me of the writeup that remains one of the best forms of literary brilliance that will ever exist? And, to continue that thought, why allow a sleazy Tyson to take away from me the impact he continues to have on me as a science educator. Or, on that note, allow the sadistic Picasso to deprive me of his surrealist masterpieces?

But, that’s the problem. For people, the answer isn’t complicated. You must. That’s what we saw, for example, when Meesha Shafi accused Ali Zafar. There were protests and campaigns to not only refrain from watching his movie but to also end his career. And, when you don’t agree to this wave of declared righteousness, you are judged. I personally know several friends who saw Ali’s movie, enjoyed it but are almost aggressively reluctant to speak about it. 

I think this peer-pressure is unwarranted and misguided. I think it is too violent and volatile. And I emphasise that appreciating art does not mean I necessarily approve of everything going on in the creator’s life.

That said, this is where things get complicated. What message am I putting forth with this? Am I, for example, giving Tyson a jail-free card that tells him that he can do whatever he wants and he will still continue to have a career and an audience. To some degree, it does. And this is what floods in the guilt I started this writeup with. But, forsaking everything he ever did cannot be the solution. Afraid of being termed an ardent structuralist, I would insist that the answer must lie in an institutional check and balance of such behaviour. I will deal with that next week in the second part of this article. That, there, is the more difficult tangle.

For now, let’s return to the idea of ending careers. I personally think that individuals like Harvey Weinstein have no space for career advancement anymore. That, people like him are disgusting. But, that said, they are given the power, and the protest or even the silence of the victims are greatly undermined by an infrastructure that normalized such behaviour. This could be the business models or, and this is where we really sink into mud, social models. All that is not to say they themselves were victims but, is to emphasize, in Foucault’s term, the anthropology of why such behaviour existed and how it continued to exist. The changes in attitude, the voice and eventual audience to victims and the general increased recognition of boundaries that has come about with this, arguably, fourth wave of feminism, is appreciated and was much needed. But, our reactions need to be less spontaneous and more organized lest the essence of the wave fades away into an obnoxious messy anger. More on this, next week.


The writer is working as a health economist in a think-tank based in Islamabad.


The writer is a Dissertation Researcher based in Finland. He conducts research on political, regional and societal changes with special focus on religious minorities in Europe.