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‘We demand the immediate release of Roman Polanski.” Some 110 Hollywood luminaries — including Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, and Woody Allen — signed a petition in reaction to the long-overdue arrest of director Roman Polanski for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Polanski, who directed Rosemary’s Baby, among other movies, pleaded guilty to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor in 1978 and then fled the country. He has not been back to the United States since, not even to accept an Academy Award for The Pianist in 2003.
“Filmmakers in France, in Europe, in the United States and around the world are dismayed by this decision,” the petition reads. The moviemakers who signed it were miffed by the fact that “an international cultural event, paying homage to one of the greatest contemporary filmmakers,” was used by police as an opportunity to capture the honoree.
What nerve! Polanski committed a crime, but an artist is a precocious type. He is encouraged to break rules and push boundaries. One might conclude that this summarizes the art community’s view of the matter, based on the mad rush to the director’s defense. As actress Debra Winger explained, “the whole art world suffers” with Polanski’s arrest.
Medium star Patricia Arquette called the situation “complicated” during a red-carpet moment with CNN. “I have very mixed personal feelings,” former Friends star Lisa Kudrow said. “Who are we to say?” Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels asked. After all, Polanski’s victim has forgiven him — shouldn’t the law?
It’s a lot less complicated than the Hollywood “community” lets on. He pleaded guilty. And even if he hadn’t, a 43-year-old authority figure can’t really have consensual sex with a 13-year-old. Hollywood never would have questioned that fact if the perpetrator had been a Catholic priest and the minor a 17-year-old. But morality is situational in this Polanski script.
When Bill Clinton was president, he lied under oath and abused his power to satisfy his sexual urges; it was said, time and time again, that people should be more sophisticated about the matter. We troglodytes who cared about law and accountability were told that lies about sex — even when they amount to perjury, even when there are crimes committed — don’t really matter. Despite the president’s being impeached by the House of Representatives, that view was rampant among American elites. You see continuing fallout in the fall of Roman.
During the Clinton years, there were constant calls for America to become more “sophisticated,” more European in its sexual attitudes. Former Democrat Bill Bennett wrote in The Death of Outrage, “If these arguments take root in American soil — if they become the coin of the public realm — we will have validated them, and we will come to rue the day we did. These arguments define us down; they assume a lower common denominator of behavior and leadership than we Americans ought to accept.” The former secretary of education and author of The Book of Virtues warned: “If we do accept it, we will have committed an unthinking act of moral and intellectual disarmament. In the realm of American ideals and the great tradition of public debate, the high ground will have been lost.”
Given the breadth and depth of some of the prominent defenses of Polanski, an admitted rapist, there is something similar going on here. We’re staring at a moral abyss and deciding whether to jump in it. With every “it’s complicated” we’re being challenged.
Polanski explained in a profanity-filled 1979 interview why what he did was not such a big deal: “If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But . . . [having sex], you see, and the young girls. Judges want to [have sex with] young girls. Juries want to [have sex with] young girls. Everyone wants to [have sex with] young girls!”
How’s that for a lowest common denominator?
I’m a Catholic who was grateful to the Boston Globe and others for forcing Catholics to confront the moral rot within the Church during the molestation scandals. Thank you, Woody Allen and Co., for forcing a similar confrontation. The question now is: Will our consciences remain steadfast? Will Polanski finally face justice? Or will we surrender morality to the high priests of Hollywood?
Copyright 2009, Kathryn Jean Lopez. Distributed by Newspaper Enterprise Assn.