Tuesday, September 29, 2009
The Fall of Roman
I'll try to make this quick.
Roman Polanski needs to come back to the United States and face his conviction for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl in 1977. Period.
Why? Because he intentionally ran out on the justice system in the country where he committed his crime and has never been held accountable for what he did by standards that weren't his own. Simple as that.
Now, does he deserve prison time? Does he deserve mercy? These are questions for others to debate so I'm not going to bother getting into them, but one byproduct of the admittedly surprising arrest of Polanski in Switzerland really is worth exploring, because it's something that should leave a bad taste in the mouth of just about everyone, yet strangely doesn't. I'm talking about the idea that Roman Polanski should somehow be considered above the law because he's a talented artist.
It took all of a few hours after Polanski's arrest in Zurich for the notoriously pompous European artist community to rush to his defense, claiming outrage and indignation at the notion that Polanski could be impolitely busted while visiting Switzerland to receive (gasp!) a lifetime achievement award for his filmography. They're calling it a "provocation." The implication is crystal clear: There is often an unnavigable gulf between the artist and his work and, dammit, that's okay; you can honor the man's abilities without letting your paean be tarnished by any of the nastier realities of who he is or what he's done. If this kind of nonsense sounds familiar, it's because we all just lived through weeks of it when Michael Jackson died. Although it's never wise to willfully trample on someone's grave, you can't simply pay tribute to an artist's talents without recognizing that there's a very real person who may be guilty of very real crimes at the center of your love-fest.
And yet Europe's artistic community -- specifically French, Swiss and Polish filmmakers and cultural trendsetters -- seem to truly believe that Roman Polanski's abilities should amount to a Get Out of Jail Free card. That it's okay if the stereotypically tortured artist broke a few eggs along the way as long as the omelet came out looking like The Pianist. That in the end, the greater good was served by having Polanski free to make movies.
Just some of the reaction to the arrest: "(Polanski was) thrown to the lions," says says French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand, melodramatically. "In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face."
"(He has) atoned for the sins of his young years. He has paid for it by not being able to enter the U.S. and in his professional life he has paid for it by not being able to make films in Hollywood," says Jacek Bromski, head of the Polish Filmmakers Association.
You're kidding, right? Roman Polanski has paid for raping a kid by not being able to live in Hollywood and being forced to make his movies -- and his vast fortunes -- in France? A comment like that is just shocking in its detachment from the reality you and I call home.
It's true we let talented people -- from musicians, to actors, to athletes -- get away with quite a bit more than the Average Joe in our society. As Chris Rock famously said, if OJ Simpson had been simply "Orenthal the Bus Driving Murderer," he would've been in jail twelve years ago. But there's a difference between admitting that we can occasionally be starstruck blind and literally making excuses for someone's criminal behavior because they happen to entertain us with their music, movies, etc. Once again, I'm not arguing whether or not Roman Polanski belongs in prison; I'm saying that he shouldn't be able to avoid prison just because he's Roman Polanski.
We can let our entertainers get away with being assholes -- but not rapists. In a case like this, you can't separate Polanski the man from Polanski the artist. And it's reprehensible to even try.