Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • When Great Works Come from Bad People

    • Posted on Mar 16, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

     Four years ago, I taught a UNI undergraduate film course on Woody Allen’s films.  Students watched, discussed, studied, and wrote essays about Allen’s films ranging from Annie Hall to Hannah and Her Sisters to Crimes and Misdemeanors to Vicky Cristina Barcelona. 

    Allen has since made four more films, the most recent of which, Blue Jasmine, garnered an Oscar for best actress for Cate Blanchett. Allen was nominated for his screenplay, as he as been for dozens of other Oscars, winning four. 

    Allen writes, directs, and acted in his films until age took its toll.  He’s still writing and directing a film a year, and has for some forty years. They’re still winning major awards worldwide. 

    In the game of filmmaking, Woody Allen plays in the same league as Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Ingmar Bergman, Robert Altman, Orson Welles, among very few others.   

    Comes now the question:  Should I try to teach his films again, knowing about his

    stepdaughter Dylan’s recent accusations of childhood molestation and betrayal?  In fact, should I stop seeing and studying Allen’s films, many of which sit at the top of my all-time favorites list?  Should I urge a boycott of his films?

    Not an easy question, and it implies an even more difficult question:  Can bad people create good films, or good art of any kind?  Is there a relationship between personal decency and serious artistic creativity?   

    My answers:  Yes and no.  Yes to teaching Allen again, if possible, and no to moral goodness being related to creating great art.

    No matter what we might think about Allen and his stepdaughter’s accusations, his films won’t go away by being ignored.  They deserve attention and serious study, partly because they offer an array of engaging stories about people struggling with real issues that real people confront regularly:  Suicide, infidelity, family dysfunctions, meaningless work, finding joy in a dark world.    

    Does this mean that I condone child sexual abuse?  Of course not. 

    I have read Dylan Farrow’s angry denunciation of Allen as a hypocritical, monstrous child molester who has fooled everyone.  I’ve also read Allen’s reply, in which he cites the court’s investigation that cleared him of all the charges, saying unequivocally that there was no molestation.   

    And in fact, Dylan’s older brother, once estranged from Allen, now insists that Allen is innocent, and insists that their mother’s behavior toward Allen was inexcusable and likely led to Dylan’s accusation.  

    Then last week I watched The Hunt, a powerful Danish film about a small-town teacher who is falsely accused of molestation by a kindergartner, and how quickly his lifelong adult friends turned against him.  Hysteria lurks just around the corner when a child accuses an adult, it seems.   

    Incidentally, a shameful real life example occurred in 1983 in California.  The “McMartin Preschool Incident,” became an interminable criminal trial, ruined several lives, and led to all charges being dropped in 1990.  It’s a case study of the panic and groupthink that can overwhelm otherwise rational people.  

    So I don’t believe Allen is guilty of his stepdaughter’s accusation.  However, even if he were, I would still teach his films.  Unfortunately, great creators feel no obligation to follow the norms and rules of anything but their art. 

    Examples abound, and include terrible behavior by some of the world’s greatest artists.  The list of abhorrent behaviors is long and sordid, the names of artists familiar, and their works still beloved.  Google “bad people, great art” for the sad stories. 

    I wish only honest, morally upright artists created the novels, poems, paintings, music, and films we love and study.  Some do, of course. 

    But whether artists are good people or not seems to make no difference to their ability and desire to create lasting art.  

               

     

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    • Arts
  • Rare "Man Bites Dog" Moment

    • Posted on Mar 07, 2014 by Scott Cawelti

    My Feb. 16 Column, “We Deserve Better than Fox News” caused a bit of a stir. No surprise there; people who stay with Fox News feel attacked, it seems, every time someone points out the flaws in their sources, their selection of stories, or their on-air personalities.  


    But there was one rather amazing turnaround in a reader, and that only happens once in a solar eclipse.  When it does, like the man bites dog story, it deserves attention.

    So here is the angry first email, received a few days after the column appeared.  I won’t mention any names to save embarrassment. 

    Here it is, and I’ve broken it into paragraphs for ease of reading: 

     Hey Calwelti,  it has been a week since you wrote that fabulous piece about Fox News in the Courier and I am sure your inbox has been buzzing. I hope to add to it.

     You seemed frustrated that, while Obama has 99% of the media in his back pocket, he doesn't have Fox news. He waxes on about it whenever he is given the chance and it appears as though you picked it up on it for your column.

     You reference a couple of books that one other person besides yourself has read. We aren't exactly talking best seller material here are we? I will have to take your word for what was in them because I am not going to waste the money.

     You mentioned having watched Fox from time to time. Do you cheer when they make an effort to give the liberal side of things? Allen Combs, Bob Beckel? Numerous other libs that struggle, in vain, to make their feeble points. Embarrassing to see them get skewered time and time again for them, like you, their voices carry no reason what so ever. No logic, no rationale, no nothing except a bitter tone of hating conservatives and everything that they stand for.

    You really should watch Fox on a regular basis. You will learn some useful things. You will learn that our President has lied to us about Bengahzi, targeting conservative groups using the IRS, Solindra and green energy and on and on, and  fill in the blank. The man is a pathological liar.

     Is there something in your DNA that makes you ignore all the things that this President has done against the American people? It is extremely hard to understand how people like you, or other libs, can support this guy given all he has done and what he is doing to our country. Worst president ever? This guy, your guy, will come down as EPIC worst ever.

     

    One thing I have got to credit you for is that you have some big stones. To come out and call thousands of Courier readers ignorant takes big ones. Especially given the fact that we taxpayers pay for your lavish retirement as a former professor.

     And, while you were working, it is such a comfort to know that part of the check I wrote for my daughter going to UNI ended up in your pocket. That gives me a warm fuzzy feeling. To get called ignorant makes me feel so good for the money I am spending.

     I see that you are a part time writer. Hope the rest of your stuff is better than the crap you put in the Courier.

     I gave up on “real” replies a long time ago, since they end up in pissing matches—kind of a duel of sources and logic nitpicking.   I do resist personal attacks, so the attack on my profession was a low blow, as was his calling my writing “crap.”  Everyone writes a little crap, I’m well aware, me no more than most.  

    So I replied only. ‘Hope you feel better.” 

    hen three or four days later, and I kid you not, this arrived: 

     

    Hey Cawelti, I sent you an email the other day regarding your column on Fox News. Have been thinking about it and wanted to apologize for flying off the handle at you. I had a bad day, this weather stinks (everyone is on edge I swear), yada, yada. I should have let it roll off my back. I did not and I apologize for my words.

    I did not read your reply, which I saw early Monday morning as I was leaving for the gym. I did not really care what you said in reply as I felt bad for what I had said shortly after sending it. Anything you would had said back to me would not have made a difference. Ever throw one out there and wish you had not?

    I hope we can agree to disagree on the policies that are affecting our country. We are getting pulled apart from both sides. It is sad, and alarming, to see. We need to work together. I will continue to watch Fox news and try not to throw things at the TV when Obama is on. Ha. I may even expand my horizons and watch some NBC News. Ouch. You? Watch a little more Fox to see what the conservatives are thinking and expand your horizons. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial page if you get a chance. They do a good of job getting under what is going on behind both sides of this political junk.

    Regarding your writing, you had a piece in the Courier, sometime around the holidays, that was really, really good. Something about things that matter. Almost sent you a note telling you how good it was. Would like to do so now. We need more of that.

    Knock me over with a  feather, eh?  A complement, no less, too. 

    I wrote a real reply: 

    Well, thanks, _____.  Appreciate your apology, and all I replied was "Hope you feel better."  And I still hope that--your apology helped with that, I'm sure. And I completely agree with your second letter's substance--we are being pulled apart.  And we can surely agree to disagree.  At heart, we probably disagree about the role and size of government--and that's an honest argument that has been going on since 1776.  Honorable people differ on that, and probably always will.   

    So thanks again, and I might use your letter on my web site (the apology) without attribution to illustrate how much we probably do agree and need to work together to solve problems. 

    Here's hoping for an end to this horrible winter.   I'm grumpy too.  

     *******************************************************

    I’ve received no further reply, and don’t expect to, but at least we’re parting without the anger and personal attacks. 

    For me, this apology stands as a ray of hope—that people can overcome the divisive tone that pervades Fox (not the others, except occasionally MSNBC, granted) and rise above it.

    We do disagree, but only on a few principles, and we can discuss those rationally with no personal attacks—and maybe all learn something.  

     

     


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