Philip Seymour Hoffman, Dylan Farrow and the Consequence of Fame
There were two remarkable, maddening, things that happened over the weekend. Both events were related to fame and the failure of human consequence against the living, but the terms of the punishments were different: Both eternal, but one forever ended.
On Saturday, we read in the New York Times about the harrowing child abuse Dylan Farrow suffered at the hands of her infamous father, writer, director, actor and movie producer, Woody Allen.
On Sunday, we learned of the early death of actor Philip Seymour Hoffman who, at age 46, lived up to his earlier prescience about fame and fortune leading to a quick Hollywood death. He made his point real in New York City with a needle jabbed in the arm of his corpse.
We will never know Philip Seymour Hoffman’s demons, but we can still damn them, and him, for recognizing his failures, but not actively resolving their dire effects for the benefit of his children.
Yes, I know heroin is addictive and awful — but Philip was self-aware for many years, and he shared his addiction with the media — and yet, in the end, he still gave in to his human frailties and stained his legacy and marred the lives of his children forever. There isn’t any honor in that sort of suffering death that propagates out from the grave like a whip to bloody the living, and those they touch, without end.
Sure, we feel for his family, yet we scream into the night about great talents mouldering in their own effervescence because they were uninterested in salvaging the terms of their own lives.
Dylan Farrow is caught on the opposite side of fame. She writes about being an abused child — and while that is horrible and awful, her pain is especially magnified because she has a famous father, Woody Allen, who was her abuser. How does a young child reconcile the outside idolatry the world showers on her tormentor while she cannot escape his body parts in her person?
For as long as I could remember, my father had been doing things to me that I didn’t like. I didn’t like how often he would take me away from my mom, siblings and friends to be alone with him. I didn’t like it when he would stick his thumb in my mouth. I didn’t like it when I had to get in bed with him under the sheets when he was in his underwear. I didn’t like it when he would place his head in my naked lap and breathe in and breathe out. I would hide under beds or lock myself in the bathroom to avoid these encounters, but he always found me.
These things happened so often, so routinely, so skillfully hidden from a mother that would have protected me had she known, that I thought it was normal. I thought this was how fathers doted on their daughters. But what he did to me in the attic felt different. I couldn’t keep the secret anymore.
There are some who are quick to dismiss Dylan Farrow’s story, lest they upset the dreams of their imagination that Woody Allen will hire them — but I find her voice and the plain truth of what she claims — convincing. She has no vested interest in lying. She has her own life and future back and now she’s trying to reclaim her childhood from the monster torturer — who just happened to be her father.
How do we, as active observers, mediate and negotiate the treacherousness of these damaged lives that were paraded before us the entire Super Bowl weekend?
In many ways, Dylan’s abuse and Philip’s death were more engaging and engrossing and more dramatic than The Big Game that was supposed to keep us rapt and activated — and that is a concern that the tragedies of personal lives are more compelling and immediate than the faraway false dramas that are manufactured for us wholesale to sell tickets.
We couldn’t save Philip Seymour Hoffman from himself.
We can’t save Dylan Farrow from her father.
Is awareness and knowing enough of a reason to interfere with a private moral code?
What is our role in this public media comeuppance? Are were merely just emotional agent provocateurs who drool for the latest celebrity sins so we may begin to feel better about our own, miserable, caste in life?
Or is there some greater, inherent, human, bargain that tricks us into caring about these people and we are somehow formally bound to act and react on their behalf in spite of our own, person, demon-filled existence? Do we feel better or worse in comparison in this latest round of publicly shared Pity and Terror — and how to we escape these cycles of circuses?