Stupidly, I’ve been following the comments on various sites as the news about Roman Polanski’s arrest. And, boy howdy, do I mean that it was stupid.
As a refresher: Polanski was arrested as he entered Switzerland on his way to receive a film award; that was this week. 31 years ago, he fled the US after pleading guilty to the statutory rape of a then 13-year-old girl, whose name has subsequently been released. Now, mind you, the facts of the rape are not really at issue here: he plied a 13-year-old with champagne and Quaaludes and then raped her. The victim has stated that “her liaison with Polanski had not been consensual, and he would “not take no for an answer”” (BBC). More detail here.
See, one of the common memes associated with this case (and, oh heck, let’s stay with the BBC, shall we?) is reflected in this remark:
In most countries not even murderers can be prosecuted after more than 30 years. This was 31 years ago and was consensual sex. This is ridiculous.
Let’s unpack this shall we, beginning with the reality that the victim has stated in no uncertain terms that it was NOT consensual. Even aside from her clarifications in the matter, please consider that she was 13, in the presence of a filmmaker whose photography of the girl was though (by her mother) to be a route to film stardom, and she was drugged. Forgive me for being thick here, but what in this, exactly, is not rape? He had the power, in age, likely size, and prestige, and, lest this be lost in translation, he drugged her.
Polanski pleaded guilty 31 years ago to the charge of statutory rape, and while I don’t think that this particular charge accurately reflects the case, he did plead guilty and was subsequently held for 42 days undergoing psychiatric evaluation. Then, for reasons that escape me, he was allowed to leave the country prior to sentencing. He never returned to the U.S. for sentencing, and he has actively avoided visiting any country (the UK included) that was likely to arrest and/or extradite him to the U.S.
The other memes, besides the “consensual” nature, is that
1) It’s been so long, just let him go on with his life.
2) Even the victim says he shouldn’t be jailed. What she said was that she thought that he should have been given a sentence of time served (the 42 days) at the time. Now, it happened that I disagree with this assessment. 13. Drugged by famous photographer. She also clarified that she was calling “for the case to finally be dismissed, saying it “causes harm to me, my husband and children”” (BBC). I imagine that having it come up time and again does cause her much harm, and for that, along with the rape itself, I grieve for her.
3) The one that makes me most batty: Let’s go with Andrew’s assessment, shall we:
there is no justification for Polanksi – one of the greatest film directors of our time – to be treated in this manner. Let him go!
Yes, folks, that’s the final analysis by so many commenters: Leave him alone because he’s a great artist. And, FWIW, I agree with the assessment of his filmmaking; however, I do not believe that this absolves him of his responsibilities in the matter, either. I’m saddened that the groundswell is not about responsibility, but about things entirely extraneous to the case.
Kieran, over at Crooked Timber, calls out Robert Harris, Anne Applebaum, and others, who believe that 76-year-old Polanski has suffered enough, saying in lovely, dripping sarcasm:
See, you or I might think that not going back to the U.S. or U.K. is an action Polanski took in order to make sure that, having raped a minor and fled the country, he would not be rearrested. But you or I would be wrong. In fact these are punishments that Polanski has suffered. But tiens, it was a long time ago. Puritanical Americans simply do not have the enlightened attitude toward wine at the dinner table, quaaludes, and child rape that the Europeans do.
Yeah, just leave him alone because he’s old and he’s “suffered” and he’s, like, a really good filmmaker.
Did I mention, *sigh*, yet?
The right, ethical, and reasonable thing for a great artist, as with anyone, is to acknowledge and accept responsibility. Which leads me to a non-Polanski reading suggestion. At Shakesville, Quixote posted what I found to be an intriguing analysis of accountability. Take a gander at it.
I started reading Karen Armstrong’s A Case for God this weekend, and I was struck by her rendering of early religion as action, rather than passive belief. And I really like that notion–as much as I support a critical approach to religion, as with most things, I’m really enthusiastic over the notion of active belief. Which makes me think that I need to even more critically consider the means by which I can live responsibility and accountability (expecting and acting myself and expecting of others) every single day. Perhaps a groundswell or so of us expecting such and acting as such will produce change.
Edited to add: Another FWIW, if indeed the plea agreement said no jail time (*banghead*), then I am, while horrified, in agreement that it should be upheld, so long as Polanski fulfilled the obligations of the plea. That said, part of that plea agreement should have been that he show up for sentencing (it seems to me)–yes, perhaps a formality, but if part of the agreement, then he should be held to it and should show up, even if it ends with “time-served.”