New York Is A Spineless Place, Which Is Why It Has Publishing Companies to Match: On Hachette & Woody Allen

New York, the place everyone still deems as a gumption-filled milieu where we’re all free to be you and me, so long as it doesn’t step on the wrong “tastemaker’s” toes or offend the wrong victim’s (a.k.a. someone with clout/public visibility) sensibilities. Let us get this straight: this isn’t merely about Woody Allen. About whether one “supports” him or not. Or whether one “believes” him or not, or stands with Dylan Farrow and all women who have been victims of sexual abuse. This is about the thing that isn’t waning but has disappeared entirely from the publishing industry: freedom of speech. The blithe censorship with which books are kiboshed merely because it might scandalize one too many of America’s remaining readers (of which there are precious few). And yes, freedom of speech still applies to old white men. Just as everyone else outside of that camp has the right to say that all men are pigs driven by the ego controlled by their chodes, so, too, do aging white males still have a right to exist in the public space if we are truly going by what is dictated in the First Amendment. This is not a defense of aging white men, but of the text they might never be able to write in the future. Then again, if Ben Lerner is any indication, one supposes there’s not much white space really necessary to be filled with more, well, white space, as it were.

Yet Woody Allen is from the era of Salinger and Hemingway and Fitzgerald (or at least during the era of some of Fitzgerald’s posthumous works). He knows how to write, in a style that most writers of the present don’t even begin to understand how to embody. It isn’t just his screenplays that have exhibited that, but also his own vast breadth of short story collections, including Getting Even, Without Feathers and Side Effects. Because yes, at one time, he was New York’s golden boy, with publications like The New Yorker rolling out the red carpet for him if he wanted to grace its pages with one of his pieces, i.e. “The Whore of Mensa,” in all of its chauvinistic glory. For Hachette Book Group USA (not to be confused with the OG Hachette Livre that was founded in Paris), headquartered in the epicenter of where offense and outrage takes place over levels of wokeness, to suddenly decide to pull the plug on Allen’s book with the aid of seventy-five employees staging a walkout is complete anathema to what a publisher should stand for. Not only does it send a message to any of its lingering “relics” of writers (that is to say, those who don’t fit in with the mold of what’s selling right now) that they could be dropped a at a moment’s notice if they attract the attention of the lynch mob, but it also exhibits the precise level of spinelessness that the oh so bold New York City represents to any writer naive enough to still believe it’s a town where “daring” is the norm. 

What’s worse, Woody Allen’s memoir, Apropos of Nothing, being axed says nothing about the actual contents of the book, which probably would’ve been pretty interesting to say the least, particularly to those who have the ability to separate his art from his personal life and still enjoy his movies. No, this isn’t about what people are actually reading (because the secret is, no one at these publishing companies is genuinely reading), but the turning tides of public taste. As such, it would be pretty damn near “in the bag” for Valerie Solanas if she had wanted to shop around her S.C.U.M. Manifesto today. She’d probably be offered a six-figure advance, whereas, back in the heyday of white male dominance, she had to turn to simply typing it out and thrusting it into the hands of Andy Warhol. Not much less of a white male than all the others, even if gay… or A.

Indeed, if Mia Farrow wanted to submit her autobiography to Hachette, they would likely publish it as soon as possible to help further mitigate this glaring black mark on their record, with many commenting that Hachette should have at least seen the overt conflict of interest in stoking the family wound long shared by the Farrows and the Allens by publishing Woody when they had already published Ronan. So yes, maybe if Woody had gotten to them first, he might have stood a chance not to be censored. Yet that seems unlikely thanks to the “concerned” employees just doing their job to mirror the voice of public moral outrage. In many senses, they were the test audience reminding Hachette that they had briefly taken leave of their senses in consenting (no wordplay intended) to put out Allen’s work. Because, let’s be honest, a company has never given a shit about its employees, all replaceable (particularly in NYC, where everyone is waiting to bend over and take it up the ass in someone else’s place). This was about seeing the reaction of people who are supposed to be slightly more open-minded than the average and realizing, “Shit, if these people are pissed about it, then the reaction from the fainter of heart is going to be even worse.” Especially since readers of some of their most successful titles of late, like Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today’s Feminism or Eat Cake. Be Brave., are the exact audience that would also likely boycott all Hachette books purely because they published Allen’s. Though, per their press release regarding the cancellation, Hachette insisted, “We…will continue to publish many challenging books.” Yeah, let’s all wait with bated breath for them to put out Harvey Weinstein’s memoir.

And so, “Apropos of Nothing” other than being branded as a pedo without ever even being accused in a court on numerous occasions Michael Jackson-style (whose music, by the way, plays on without much incident after Leaving Neverland, so what’s up with the double standard there?), Woody Allen just got his head handed back to him on a platter. Making Stephen King’s (still so far unbesmirchable to Joe Public) assessment of the entire thing spot-on as he commented, “If you think he’s a pedophile, don’t buy the book. Don’t go to his movies. Don’t go listen to him play jazz at the Carlyle Hotel. Vote with your wallet… In America, that’s how we do it.” But Hachette employees nor the Bobbsey twins that are Ronan and Dylan Farrow would not be satisfied with letting the public “vote” for themselves. They wanted to take the opportunity away altogether because that’s how this 1984 shit works. With Ronan claiming solidarity with his sister but also likely feeling icky about having his own book, Catch and Kill, published via the same company as Daddy (Ronan’s own book being on the Little, Brown and Company imprint, which famously published the increasingly controversial Catcher in the Rye, held up as a beacon of how to foster the incubation of white male rage). 

Elsewhere, former director of English PEN, as well as an editor for the Index on Censorship, Jo Glanville reminded, “I am always afraid when a mob, however small and well-read, exercises power without any accountability, process or redress. That frightens me much more than the prospect of Woody Allen’s autobiography hitting the bookstores.” As usual, a European has to break it down for the tardos in America. Where New York, despite its high-held opinion of itself and its “intellectual prowess,” is the epicenter of the type of cowardice that stems from not just a certain part of one’s frontal lobe missing, but also sheer arrogance. The bravado of being like, “Na actually, we can’t release this because it will offend too many people and it will lose the small amount of alms we make to begin with.” Where are the goddamn guts people like Dorothy Parker were always claiming New York and its literary scene had? 

Maybe we need publishing companies that don’t depend on making money for their work. Lord knows that’s what The Opiate is. Maybe it’s the only way that the “majors” of New York can stop looking at their bottom line in an industry already struggling to break even, let alone profit. There is no point in trying to finagle some extra dollars off the books one publishes. Because to be doing it in the first place should connote a passion for the original tenets of what art and literature were all about: pushing people’s buttons. Getting them to wake up from their comfortable comas and break from the neatly tied ribbon around their boxed in lives. This could be the only way that so-called “scandalous” literature might ever be published again. New York has already turned its nose up at this a long time ago, and has rendered the foolish person that has devoted his entire career and life to the “brand” of what it means to be New York a complete pariah. Hachette was just another nail in a coffin that sinks lower and lower into the muck of modern publishing. If Allen was as much of a fighter as most native New Yorkers claim to be, he might consider self-publishing the thing (that’s what celebrities do now anyway–here’s looking at you, fellow New Yorker Lana Del Rey). Or better yet, staging a public reading of it in Central Park, where uppity parents can shield their children from the sight of him. 

4 thoughts on “New York Is A Spineless Place, Which Is Why It Has Publishing Companies to Match: On Hachette & Woody Allen

  1. His star is waning. His last few movies bombed at the box office and he had been hawking this memoir around various publishing houses for over a year now. I don’t think this is just a New York publishing thing – ie. it is to do with Hollywood and Amazon too.

    New authors might rely on sales to make money but established authors get paid an advance. And I suspect for people like Woody Allen or Stephen King those advances are rather large. So Stephen King’s comment about voting with your wallet only tells half the picture. Regardless of what you do with your wallet people like him and Allen get paid anyway. In the same way that a well known film director gets paid even if their film doesn’t do well at the box office.

    I could be wrong but I suspect Hachette’s decision to pull publication of the book was partly a financial one – ie. they didn’t think it would sell enough copies to cover Allen’s advance. Which rather begs the question of why they took it on in the first place when a whole slew of other publishers had turned it down and when they knew Ronan Farrow’s book was slated for publication. Stephen King makes this point a little later in the same interview:

    “Let me add that it was fucking tone-deaf of Hachette to want to publish Woody Allen’s book after publishing Ronan Farrow’s.”

    As for the thing of separating the art from the artist I have always had mixed feelings about that. Sure, complete scumbags can make good art but complete scumbags can be good plumbers or bricklayers and you never hear anyone saying “yes, so-and-so is a rapist and child molester but his grouting is so wonderful”.

    Moreover, in Woody Allen’s case the separation between his life and his films is pretty tenuous. Older, neurotic Jewish New Yorker has romantic involvement with younger woman. The action cuts to Paris/Rome/Venice before returning to an apartment on the Upper East Side. Male lead gets bored of his partner and hooks up with an even younger woman who is old enough to be his (step-)daughter. Repeat ad infinitum. If you want people to separate you from your art – and to be fair to Woody Allen I don’t think he does – then it’s an odd way to go about things.

    Having said all that I would like to see his book published. Not sure I would necessarily buy it but he is a significant cultural figure – and to a certain degree his attitudes to women are part of his cultural significance. Whether you share those attitudes or approve of them they represent a particular moment in time. And although people have recently turned against him his oeuvre as a whole has tended to be both popular and well-received. He created a world which, while somewhat limited in its imaginative scope, people (both audiences and actors) wanted to inhabit. And a certain idealized vision of Manhattan was clearly a big part of that world. So yes, it might seem odd or ungracious of New York publishers to turn their back on him now. But as you say, he could always self-publish or go with a smaller publisher. Or he could accept a smaller advance.

    As for the allegations against Allen we do not have clarity yet on what happened. I suspect his lawyers have told him to steer well clear of anything controversial that touches upon the various members of the Farrow family. But if this is an autobiography he can’t completely ignore that part of his life so it would be interesting to see how he chooses to approach it. A book is not a court of law but tone, vocabulary, what one chooses to say and omit can all tell a lot. Be interested too to see how he talks about the moment in 1993/4 when it looked like the Hollywood studio system was ready to abandon him following the Farrow allegations and a series of low-grossing movies. Until a plucky little company called Miramax stepped in and offered him a lifeline…

    Maybe I will buy a copy after all!

    1. Hachette apparently concluded it was a good business deal for them. The contract was signed, the books have already been printed, translated, and were ready to be shipped.

      The only real reason for them to ‘cancel’ the man and his work at the last moment, is the Ronan Farrow supported, if not instigated, mob action against the book, including very real threats to Hachette’s business.

      That is already as bad as it is. There is no need to obfuscate this highly worrisome development by making it seem there was any rational ‘business argument’ to it. Because there wasn’t.

      As for the “he can always go to another publisher or have it self-published” argument, it is a sad and cheap pretext, murmured today by loads of mob justice apologists, who don’t even want to call this censorship censorship “because Hachette is a private company” and “Allen has no constitutional right to be published by Hachette”.

      It is like saying to Rosa Parks that “she could have taken another bus, or could have walked, so no one was limiting her freedom of movement”. And: “private bus companies can decide for themselves whom they like to transport, and whom not – it is not a constitutional right to be transported by company X”.

      The face-saving argument is a coward act of rationalization, born out of cognitive dissonance; because The Social Justice Warrior Is Never Wrong Or Doesn’t Want To Know.

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