There are few things as absurd to me as the outcry over Roman Polanski’s arrest and imminent sentencing. Among my “favorites”:
“I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?” –Gore Vidal, who also added that “anti-Semitism got poor Polanski.”
“He’s a brilliant guy, and he made a little mistake 32 years ago. What a shame for Switzerland.” –Otto Weisser
“He did commit a crime, but he has paid for the crime in many, many ways: In notoriety, in lawyers’ fees, in professional stigma. He could not return to Los Angeles to receive his recent Oscar. He cannot visit Hollywood to direct or cast a film.” –Anne Applebaum
There are plenty of things to be said about this case, and everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion… but, is it just me, or is everyone insane? The two arguments I am seeing set out in article after article seek to absolve Polanski for one of two reasons—that he has suffered enough in his life and because it just isn’t fair that he was arrested on his way to receive an award—no, I’m not kidding. The ridiculous defense of Polanski serves to highlight the way rape continues to be seen as a small crime (or “little mistake”) and the demonization that its victims receive. I can think of no other crime where the victim is scrutinized and vilified so pervasively. The fact of the matter is that Roman Polanski drugged and had sex with a 13 year old girl without her consent. Any of those three factors were enough to convict him (lack of consent, age of the victim, inebriation and drugging of victim), and as if he weren’t guilty enough, he FLED the country. How people continue to defend him despite these circumstances boggles my mind.
From the petition, signed by over 100 Hollywood movers and shakers, including Woody Allen (no surprise!), Martin Scorsese, and Tilda Swinton: “Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision. It seems inadmissible to them that an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers, is used by the police to apprehend him.” Oh boo hoo, Polanski doesn’t get to receive his lifetime achievement award! How about this, Tilda? How about Polanski RAPED a thirteen year old girl, and it really doesn’t matter how good his movies are. And jeez, Woody, I know all about your weird sexual predilections, but at least your current wife CONSENTED. Polanski’s victim, on the other hand, was DRUGGED and SODOMIZED. Otto Weisser classifies the incident as a “little mistake.” Call me crazy, but I think rape is well, I don’t know… a crime? For which people should be held accountable? From article to article, it would appear that many people genuinely believe Polanski’s skill as a director makes him unaccountable for the crime he committed. It makes me genuinely sad to see people whose work I respect immensely—Natalie Portman, David Lynch, and Wes Anderson, just to name a few— supporting a man who committed a heinous crime, for no other reason than cronyism and the embarrassingly flimsy reasoning that it wasn’t nice to arrest Polanski on the day that he was going to receive an important award. Brilliant director or not, Polanski broke the law of the United States and fled the country before he could be sentenced. These are crimes for which he has yet to be held accountable, and it is completely irrelevant whether or not he had an award to receive, or that he has a new film coming out soon.
Equally appalling is the attention being directed towards Polanski’s past. Yes, Polanski’s family was persecuted during the Holocaust. This is terrible and sad, and I’m sorry that he and his parents had to endure such awful treatment. Yes, his pregnant wife Sharon Tate was brutally murdered by Charles Manson and several of his followers. I cannot imagine the pain that an expecting father would feel upon learning that he had lost both his wife and child in one fell swoop. These things are terrible. There is no denying that Roman Polanski has had his share of tragedy, but these things should not be part of our discourse regarding his crime. Our thoughts and analysis need to remain on the case at hand, which is that Polanski raped a thirteen year old and then fled the United States before he could be sentenced for his awful act. Some crazies seem to think his tragic history is “payment enough” for what he did. This to me is analogous to exonerating Charles Manson on account of his mother’s alcoholism, or excusing Adolf Hitler because he was traumatized by the sudden deaths of his brother and father at a young age. If our justice system took the tragic past of every criminal into consideration before sentencing him or her, chances are this would be an incredibly terrifying place to live. Murderers would freely stalk the streets because they grew up in the wrong neighborhood, thieves would be free to plunder and pillage because their mothers didn’t give them enough love as children, and rapists would walk free because their parents had been victims of the Holocaust. Somehow the absurdity of this defense has yet to dawn on its proponents.
Still other crazies seem to think that he has been “punished enough” because he had to pay lawyer fees and can’t come back to the United States. How does anyone seriously propose this as a legitimate point? Criminals have to pay for their lawyers, or are appointed one if they cannot afford it—you know, for that crazy thing we have called due process, where we make sure we don’t just go about convicting people of stuff they didn’t do all willy nilly. Now I could see this point if Polanski had pled innocent and was found innocent by the court. However, Polanski was originally charged with six felony counts, but five of them were dropped in order to preserve the victim’s anonymity. Polanski then pled guilty to one measly charge of unlawful sexual intercourse. And, before he could be sentenced for this extremely watered down charge, he fled the country. Polanski is then both a rapist and a fugitive, and certainly not entitled to any sympathy.
Honestly, I’m not sure what infuriates me more—the uproar of Polanski defenders or the fact that it took us 30 years to apprehend him. Fame should not operate as a “get out of jail free card,” and I’m glad that it appears that Polanski will finally be brought to justice. What truly terrifies me is the number of people who seem to think that Polanski’s genius and his history should somehow excuse him for raping a small girl. Among the ridiculous defenses of Polanski, many say he is being treated unfairly because of his fame. I would agree with this statement, but would contend that this unfair treatment has been 30 years of silence regarding the rape of a young girl. People say the only reason we’re still talking about this crime three decades later is due to his fame, when in fact it seems extremely clear that the only reason he has walked free for 30 years has been precisely because he is a celebrity. Luckily our justice system doesn’t have a caveat for Oscar award winners—rape is rape, regardless of professional accomplishments or personal history, at least until we start electing Hollywood stars as lawmakers.