Monday, September 28, 2009

Roman Polanski arrested Saturday in Switzerland

There has been extensive writing on the subject of Roman Polanski's arrest in Switzerland on Saturday night throughout the internet world today, some of it mine (you can read my post on here - I would post it in full here but it violates some kind of contractual agreement). Roman Polanski, if you don't know, is a renowned film director (you may know him from Chinatown, Rosemary's Baby, or The Pianist, to name just a few) who was arrested in 1978 for raping a 13-year-old model during a photo shoot. He had given her Quaaludes and champagne, and they had sex that the model later described as "not rape, but not consensual" (which I think means that it was rape). Polanski was sent to prison for a little over a month for a psychiatric evaluation, but as soon as he was freed, he fled the country. He has not set foot in the United States since, although he won a Best Director Oscar in 2003.

There have been a variety of reactions, ranging from outrage at Polanski's supposed victimhood (this, I don't mind telling you, I think is bullshit) to cries for immediate punishment (which seems less than feasible to me, considering that the case is more than thirty years old). I come down somewhere in the middle, among those of us who are just not sure how to fairly punish Polanski at this point, but it's extremely interesting to see what people are writing, and how it relates to how rape is written about generally in the media. It's certainly something that has caused a lot of emotion - which was visible during the 2003 Oscars, when the audience gave Polanski a standing ovation in his absence. That was not the right message to send.

Some articles of interest:

What Jezebel thinks about "The View's" analysis this morning
Attempts to understand Polanski through his films by a HuffPo blogger
Kate Harding reminds us that Polanski raped a child
Amanda Marcotte thinks that we need to show that power or celebrity doesn't excuse rape
Some common defenses of Polanski refuted

What do you think? Should Polanski be punished, allowed back into the United States, extradited or released?


At September 28, 2009 at 9:23 PM , Blogger TommyD said...

Jeez, Americans can be so prudish some times! And our legal system really has an "an excess of formalism," as the French culture minister put it, arresting poor Roman Polanski (who is, by the way, a Victim) on his way to an awards show.

As Kate Harding reminded us in her excellent piece, Polanski raped a child. He gave her prescription sedatives, asked her if she wanted to have oral, vaginal and anal sex, and, after she said 'no,' did it anyway, ejaculating inside her. His was not a Genarlow Wilson-type case of consensual sex with an underage partner. It was not "statutory rape"; it would have been illegal if his victim had been 30. Nor was this a "he said, she said" case of disputed events: neither Polanski nor anyone else has denied that he did what he did. What he did was illegal under California law in 1978, is illegal under California law now, is illegal in France and Poland (whose parliament, by the way, just approved chemical castration as a punishment for child sex offenders), and is illegal most everywhere.

Any discussion of what happens to Polanski needs to begin with this in mind. It also needs to begin by ignoring Polanski's artistic talent, which, while considerable, is also completely irrelevant to the case. "Blind justice" means that an Oscar winner receives the same treatment as an artless vagrant accused of the same crime.

So with these things in mind, we can now begin discussion of other circumstances: Polanski's age, the hardships of his life, the fact that the victim has forgiven him, the fact that he poses little continued risk to society, the fact that there may (this is contested) have been irregularities in the initial prosecution. These are mitigating circumstances, and should be taken into account in the proper venue: the Los Angeles County Courthouse. Likewise, the fact that he fled justice and lived with impunity for 31 years should be taken into account as an aggravating circumstance.

I'm not an advocate of "locking 'em up and throwing away the key" (I think a year's house arrest would be sufficient), but I believe in the system of justice, and I believe Polanski needs to be brought before it. The fact that he has so far evaded justice does not mean that he has some right to do so forever.


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