Much has been said about filmmaker Roman Polanski’s recent arrest in Switzerland and his possible (if not likely) extradition to the United States in order to, ideally, face justice for his admitted 1977 raping and sodomizing of a 13-year old girl that he drugged with wine and quaaludes. Somehow, a great deal of people seem to be under the impression that any one of the number of cheap excuses and justifications (some cheaper than others) give perfect reasons as to why this man, this 76-year old child rapist, should be excused for not only his crimes, but for mocking the legal system that, while certainly not perfect, has the best chance at finding true justice (not to be confused with vengeance).
Some, like former “Wonder Woman” guest star (okay, so she’s been in more than that) Debra Winger, believe that Polanski’s arrest at a Swiss film festival she helped administer is a “philistine collusion” and that it “has been unfairly exploited, and whenever this happens, the whole art world suffers.” You will be hard-pressed to find a greater defender of art than I, but an artist is simply a human being, and Ms. Winger’s delusions of the importance of art over justice (again, not vengeance) seem to indicate a twisted priority. She also says that his arrest was “based on a three-decades-old case that is dead but for minor technicalities.” (all quotes http://nymag.com/daily/entertainment/2009/09/polanski_roundup.html?f=most-commented-24h-5)
Aside from seemingly forgetting (or ignoring) the fact that rape has no statute of limitations, Winger’s comments bring up a number of fascinating ethical issues: is art more important than the artist (or the artist’s victim)? Does someone’s cultural contributions to society override the more traditional social contract? Should genius, Polanski arguably being one, be met with special considerations that the rest of us not be given?
In respective order: no, no, and no.
How anyone, let alone progressive, feminist-minded citizens of that Wood we call Holly (including Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and hipsters’ precious Wes Anderson) can advocate Polanki’s release in private, LET ALONE SIGN A PETITION SAYING AS MUCH, is appalling. (http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/sep/29/roman-polanski-petition) Right-wing lunatices of the Glen Beck-ilk are always talking about how Hollywood’s morality is out of touch with America’s, and just this once, they may be right.
Some argue that the traumas that Polanski has endured in his life should be at least partially to blame for his behavior. He narrowly escaped capture by the Nazis as a child, his mother was killed in Auscwhitz, and his wife, Sharon Tate, was a victim of the Manson Family’s brutal murders in 1969 (when she was eight months pregnant). No one that should be listened to thinks that anyone deserves to have suffered through the immeasurable pain of any of those events, let alone all of them. But having your mother and pregnant wife murdered by psychopaths is not a One Free Child Rape card. Directing Chinatown or Rosemary’s Baby, two of the greatest and most influential films ever made—I’m not exaggerating—is not an excuse for drugging a young girl that’s barely old enough to operate a dishwasher and then raping her in Jack Nicholson’s hot tub.
A friend argued Polanski wasn’t able to receive a fair trial, and would never receive one in the United States. That’s debatable, and this may be overly reductive, but I know one way Polanski could've prevented receiving an unfair trial: not raping children.