Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Some Arguments Are Self-Refuting: Roman Polanski Edition

Robert Harris, from his op-ed in today's NY Times defending Roman Polanski:
Of course what happened cannot be excused, either legally or ethically.
Right. The crime -- which Harris, as is all-too-common among Polanski's defenders, never mentions -- is that Roman Polanski raped a child. Rape, as has been noted, in three separate ways -- rape because she was too young to consent, rape because she was drugged and unable to consent, and rape because she said no. Polanski plea-bargained to the first of the three in order to avoid trial on the entire set; but it all, y'know, happened. Any one of the three would make it rape.*

So this "cannot be excused" -- including legally. Inexcusable.

Which renders the rest of Harris's op-ed utterly moot. If something cannot be excused, then all the excuses offered in practically every other sentence of the op-ed are besides the point.

(In addition to the Salon story linked above -- which I think is the "if you're only going to read one" for this particular issue -- I also recommend this and this, both via these posts, which also contain more sensible points and relevant links.)

I am frankly really shocked at the number of people coming forward to defend a man who has admitted the drugging and raping of a 13-year-old-girl. I kinda thought the underlying facts of this case would scare people off. But there are an awful lot of defenders out there.

Of course, I shouldn't be shocked by the number of filmmakers and writers coming forward to defend Polanski; being a great artist has no relation to being a decent person -- exhibit A here being Polanski himself. But I am shocked nevertheless.

(The basic point in regards to the art/morality connection in this case was well put by Scott Lemieux: "...evaluations of Polanski's art should be kept distinct from his crimes, but this cuts both ways -- the fact that he's produced great art shouldn't give him immunity for a severe violent crime.")

And yeah, like a number of others, the obvious connection which occurs to me here is to the war-criminals in the Bush administration. A rapist shouldn't serve his sentence because he's an important filmmaker, or it was decades ago, or it would politicize art; orderers of torture shouldn't be prosecuted because they were important politicians, or we need to look forward not back, or it would politicize politics. Being unable to return to or leave the U.S. (respectively) and having their reputations sullied are sufficient punishment -- at least for those sorts of people.

Now, I believe in grey areas, and that the law is hardly always just. But I would like to think that torture and rape are two of the areas which we can pretty much all agree are, well, inexcusable.

Yet two large crowds have come forward to defend the perpetrators of these crimes. Half of each crowd would be offended to be compared to the other; another large chunk are simultaneous members of both camps. But the common thread here is that people who aren't just the little people should be allowed to get away with torture and rape.

Because being an artist, or being a high-ranking Republican politician, or simply being a member of the well-connected set, are licences to commit any crimes. Even those.

How can people think this way? What leads people to defend these things?

It's Chinatown.

* I admit there are grey areas in statutory rape laws -- two kids having consensual sex being the prime example here -- where the law and morality are at odds. Even absent the other factors, this -- a 40-year-old man with a 13-year-old girl -- isn't close. With the other factors, bringing it up would be a joke if it weren't so damn evil.

Update to footnote: Two links to over-thought, excessively analyzed, pretentiously-academic-about-common-subject posts that any reader of this blog should like (you can tell from my adjectives that I'm jealous as hell and wish I'd written 'em). Firstly, this explanation of why the grand jury testimony is important to consider even though it's one-sided and one should normally be wary of such things for precisely that reason; and secondly -- and while they're both good if you read only one read this one -- this post about the meaning of statutory rape, which talks about Wittgenstein, famous cognitive psychology experiments and the sort of intellectual slippage that might cause (some of) Polanski's defenders to defend someone who has committed so vile a crime. Who knew that the route to understanding Polanski's seemingly clueless moral defenders was through Wittgenstein and violations of gricean maxims?

No comments: