Woody Allen Killed Philip Seymour Hoffman
It occurs to me that one of the greatest and often most underappreciated talents has passed away because he tried so hard to keep his demons away from the world and the people around him that it killed him. And at the same time, one of the most overrated, one-note artists in American history, who has made a career out of knowingly referencing his own sordid cruelty toward young women and a life out of inflicting that cruelty, is receiving lifetime achievement accolades at major awards shows.
I wonder. Is Philip Seymour Hoffman dead because he refused to do what Woody Allen has always done? Is he dead because as a man, as an artist, and as a public figure, he refused to let his neurosis get all over everyone and hurt people? And is Woody Allen alive because he did exactly that, over and over again?
As a public figure, Hoffman was loathe to discuss his private life; one of the only personal things he was willing to talk about openly was the fact that he didn’t like to talk openly about personal things. Contrast with Allen, who has always delightfully and gleefully discussed his foibles with the media, playfully using the opportunity to normalize his behavior and convince the public to forgive it.
As an artist, Hoffman never played himself. By all accounts from those who knew him, the closest he ever came was in the role of Phil Parma, the almost obsessively compassionate nurse in Magnolia, but even that could not have been the real man. He worked that way because he didn’t want us, the audience, to have to think about him. He wanted us to think about what he was helping to create. Contrast with Allen, who has, to my knowledge, NEVER played a character that wasn’t a pretty obvious analogue for himself. As the recent ThinkProgress piece points out, this essentially worked to cultivate a narrative of Allen-as-perpetual-victim, of Allen as the one who suffered from his demons, not anyone else around him. In the very process of that, all of us DID suffer from his demons.
And as a man, Hoffman has never been described as anything but kind and generous. One so rarely hears of a public figure so unanimously endorsed from all corners. Even when he was alive, before death made universal hagiography inevitable, people made a point to comment on how special he was as a person, not just as an actor. Now that he’s gone, the outpouring of sadness from the showbusiness world does not have that familiar ring of the obligatory, the perfunctory.
When Paul Walker died, you could count the number of celebrities who appeared to sincerely give a shit on one hand. The loss of the star of a boring blockbuster franchise about drag racing was hardly a great subtraction from the firmament of Hollywood, and the death of a man who met and started dating his girlfriend when she was 16—a sophomore in high school—did not rob the world of a moral leader. Especially since he didn’t make Annie Hall.
But look at how people sound as they mourn Philip Seymour Hoffman. And look at how far-flung across the spectrum of public figures they are. It’s not often that James Woods, the delusionally paranoid right-wing actor, and Alec Baldwin, the confirmed leftist with a serious anger problem, agree on anything, but on this they do. “Absolutely sick over the loss of…a great talent and wonderful, sweet man.” That’s not the kind of thing Woods usually says about the sort of person who would star in a documentary like The Party’s Over. But he said it about Philip Seymour Hoffman, and he wasn’t alone. “Kind.” “Compassionate.” “Sweet.” We hear this over and over again when they talk about Hoffman.
Contrast that with Allen. We won’t hear those words when he dies. We’ll hear words like “Genius.” “Neurotic.” “Controversial.” We’ll hear those words because they constitute the best anyone, other than his officially sanctioned hagiographic documentarian, writing in The Daily Beast, can say about him. This is a man who, as Aaron Bady writes in The New Inquiry, probably did exactly what he’s accused of, even if a court of law can’t find him guilty. And what he’s accused of is raping a seven-year-old girl. Don’t call it molesting or fondling or groping or any other euphemism. Don’t put that “statutory” qualifier in front of the word, as if the only problem with it was the girl’s age. And for that matter, don’t even bother with her age.
Woody Allen probably raped someone.
He raped someone because he’s neurotic, and unapologetically so. Because he does not care—and has never cared—about who he hurts with his neurosis, because all he has time for is what his neurosis does to him. This is an incredibly self-absorbed man who hurts society, hurts the arts, and hurts people around him because he refuses to take responsibility for the things in his head that fuck him up.
Neurosis isn’t an excuse for bad behavior. You don’t get to say, “Well, that’s just the way I am.” That thing Marilyn Monroe said about how you don’t deserve her at her best if you can’t handle her at her worst? It’s bullshit. It’s nothing but an excuse for people to mistreat each other. If I have to put up with your worst, if you can’t figure out how to deal with your worst in a more productive way without spewing it all over everybody else in society and in your personal life, then I don’t want your best. I don’t need it. I don’t need Annie Hall nearly enough to tolerate Woody Allen’s rape. I don’t need steady sex nearly enough to tolerate a psychotic significant other. I don’t need new iPhone apps nearly enough to make it okay that the tech industry is consuming and ruining cities at an alarming pace.
We are a society of arrogant people who have come to believe that we can do whatever we want, the rest of the world be damned, because FREEDOM and YOLO and YOU’RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME. A society whose nouveau riche techie class is tearing apart its urban cultural centers. A society whose conservative politicians no longer even attempt to disguise the greed inherent in the capitalist economy they desperately fight to uphold. A society of men who think they should be able to abuse women on the internet because fuck ‘em if they can’t take a joke. A society of white people who think they should be allowed to say whatever racial slur they want without being called racist. A society of media moguls who have desecrated the ideals of journalism, willfully and knowingly dividing and tearing down the nation in the soulless, amoral pursuit of “winning” because they can and they know they can. A society of people who don’t care that a family was evicted from the house they just bought because it was so damn cheap. A society of guiltless, shameless libertarians who believe nothing is immoral and everything has a price. A society of celebrity debutantes who confuse racist appropriation and mean-spirited ignorance with punk-rock free expression and proudly declare that they “don’t give a shit.” In short, a society of people who believe that because they CAN do something, they SHOULD do it, because that’s what they think freedom means and that’s what they think being true to yourself means.
A society of Woody Allens.
I’m not saying we were ever a species of Phil Hoffmans. I’m quite sure we never were and I’m equally sure we never will be. Nor do I even necessarily think we should be. But I am tired of Woody Allen and all the little Woody Allens running around this country, arrogantly spraying the most wicked parts of themselves so completely all over everyone else that we can’t even see the good parts anymore.
Philip Seymour Hoffman chose to hide whatever demons were inside of him. He had them. Of course he had them. He may have had darker things within his soul than anything Woody Allen could dream of. But as a public figure, as an artist, and most importantly as a man, he refused to let them out. He refused to let anyone be hurt by them. When they did get out, he tried his damnedest to rein them back in; he didn’t surrender and just up and get married to them. The lengths to which he was driven in order to keep himself in check may have been more than a human consciousness could reach without the aid of something every bit as foul as the monsters he hoped to control. For his troubles, he was able to give us moments more sublimely, achingly human than hours upon hours of Woody Allen’s oy-vey-neurosis could ever be.
Phil Hoffman refused to be Woody Allen and it killed him. Woody Allen, more’s the pity, is still in the land of living. He remains, ultimately, the man who has come to define the modern Western world more completely than any other.
For me, personally? I don’t need what Woody Allen is selling. I didn’t care for it much before–he never wrote a damn thing that Louis CK and Jerry Seinfeld haven’t, by this point, written better–and upon reflection, I don’t need it at all now. I need what Philip Seymour Hoffman had to offer. When I look at the trolls of Twitter and Reddit snickering that addiction is a choice and that addicts get what they deserve…when I see the gloating, sensationalized, “get a close-up of the crying face” coverage of publications like the Daily Mail and the New York Post…when I see a dead man cut open with his guts put on display for the public to stare at…I need what Philip Seymour Hoffman had.
I need the compassion for human beings so deep it allowed him to humanize even the most vile characters. I need the generosity of spirit so vast that were he alive today, Hoffman would refuse to join me in my judgment of Woody Allen. I need the humility so complete that it allowed a man to know that whatever neuroses, psychoses, and personal struggles he had to contend with, they were his and they could not be permitted to hurt anyone else.
He gave me, and he gave you, so much of that while he was alive, as if he already knew he didn’t have enough time to say it all so he had to pack as much of it into his short years as he could. I couldn’t see it at the time. I only saw an incredible talent. But I see it now. And I can content myself with enjoying what this good man, this great artist, left for me to experience and learn from and understand.
I’m done with you, Woody Allen. Like a vampire, you have kept yourself alive by hurting your loved ones, your art form, and the very world you inhabit. But you don’t get to do that to me anymore. I don’t need anything from you.