Thursday, October 08, 2009

Skeletons in the Closet: How Many More?

When the Roman Polanski story broke, I pretty much ignored it: A paedophile, albeit a very successful and famous one, was finally brought to book and about time. Then the media circus started, led by Polanski's equally or more successful and famous friends who insisted that "genius" was beyond mortal reaches of the law; that he had "suffered" already by losing his wife to a grisly murder and his mother to the Holocaust; that sex with a child was consensual because she hadn't fought; that he had paid for his mistakes; that too much time had passed (why didn't that apply to Nazi war criminals?). There are many aspects to this case that are ethically disturbing and politically dubious, and although I can't possibly consider all aspects, I am upset enough by the case to pitch in my two bits:

One of Polanski's passionate defenders is Bernard-Henri Levy.  That in itself should indicate some of the historico-political context of this case, not in the least the historical European unease and religious-racial ideological postures surrounding the Polanski saga:  Levy has been also one of the cheerleaders for indiscriminate bombing of Gaza and Lebanon. It does appear that for Levy, the Holocaust provides a perpetual "get out of jail, free" card for all moral and ethical misconduct, as long as the perpetrator can invoke some personal suffering at the hands of the Nazis.

Of course, much of Europe bears the guilt for the Holocaust like its own perpetual cross, obsessing on that single event in history and ignoring/erasing its guilt regarding all other genocides: never mind the killings Europeans did in Africa, Asia and Latin America; it is the fact the Nazis killed fellow Europeans that really feeds this racist morally-devoid cross-bearing.  And just as the Holocaust provides the over-arching narrative on Israel-Palestine, privileging the destruction of the European Jewry (who "suffered") over the nameless Palestinians who were expelled, raped, incarcerated, killed, and still continue to "suffer" their torment,  Polanski's individual experience of the Holocaust privileges his suffering over that of the children he has molested, abused, raped. And yes, lets not forget that this appears not to be an isolated case, as the "genius" director has had little compulsion in flaunting (possibly) legal but ethically disturbing sex with other underage individuals: Natassja Kinski, for example, was 15 to Polanski's 45-plus at the time of their liason but his defenders argue that in France, Kinski was over the age of consent, never mind the fact that a 45 year old man chasing adolescents qualifies as a predator and paedophile in all functional moral and ethical universes.

But there is another disturbing aspect to the rich and famous coming to Polanski's defense.  Levy - not surprisingly - was quick off the mark, starting a petition for Polanski's release and co-signed by many of his literary and artistic luminati mates. The list reads like a veritable who's-who of a certain generation: Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Isabelle Adjani, Diane von Fustenberg. Many on the list are my childhood heroes: people I admired in magazine photos as a child, read as an adolescent, desperately imitated in my early experiments with writing.

In case of Rushdie and Kundera, they are still my all-time favourite writers, whose incisive minds and luminous prose (to quote Rushdie himself) I admire and to which I aspire.  In case of von Fustenberg, I adored her dresses as a little kid in the 70s and seem to have acquired a wardrobe full as an adult - even today, a DvF is my ultimate confidence-booster, personal armour, capable of putting a smile on my face even on the worst of days. These aren't just dresses: they are childish dreams spun out of multicolour silk.

Another parallel petition unites cinema and art stars ranging from Martin Scorcese, Bernardo Bertolucci, Paul Auster, Jeremy Irons, Harrison Ford,Debra Winger, and of course that other glowing example of sexual predation: Woody Allen. Can I ever watch those well loved films of my childhood again without thinking of the potential depravity of its creator?

Of course, take away the tag of being petitions in defense of Polanski, and signatories row also reads like a guest list: if you were to throw an authentic retro Studio 54 bash, pretty much all of the people on those petitions would need to be invited. Including of course Polanski himself!

And that's the giveaway: this is a bunch of friends protecting each other. Regardless of the money they make, the fame they have, the literary and artistics "genius" they possess, the influence they wield - these petition co-signers are no more than a bunch of frat boys protecting one of their own. Unfortunately, they are standing up not for a mate who got terribly drunk and trashed someone's garden on a rowdy Saturday night. These shining examples of nearly a half-century of art are closing ranks to protect a child-rapist!

As if all this were not stomach churning enough, the French polity has dug up dirt on Frederic Mitterand, the country's culture minister, who has been - along with Levy - one of Polanski's most impassioned defenders. Apparently monsieur minister has a taste for little boys! He not only has indulged his twisted desires by paying for sex with children in Thailand, but in a "literary-artistic" twist perhaps inspired by the great genius Polanski himself has also written about it in his 2005 memoirs.

I wonder if Mitterand also qualifies for the Polanski defense: that he is a "genius" and valuable to the arts; that he too has "suffered"; that if it wasn't violent - and it couldn't have been since he paid for it - the act must have been consensual;  that little Thai children seduced the poor old man; that he is too important to France to be brought to book?   Perhaps my own prejudices are showing but I find it quite revealing of a culture and its ethos that Mitterand's memoirs, published in 2005, raised no eyebrows. That an entire nation just accepted his self-confessed abuse of children as logical droit de seigneur of a privileged, wealthy, powerful white man over the poor, starving children of the third world!  Or perhaps it is another take on that old Holocaust/Empire/race card again: after all he was raping/paying for children "over there" and not abusing perfect little white French kids from nice families!

Having read through Mitterand's case, I am left wondering: how many more of Polanski's passionate defenders have indulged their paedophilic urges and gotten away with it?  Suddenly, the signatories on that petition list seem a lot more sinister. Are they just frat boys protecting one of their own, or are they also guilty of similar crimes?  How many more have raped children in their own lands or - with even greater impunity - in the third world?  How many more closets shall be spewing skeletons in the next few weeks?

Finally I am saddened - although perhaps not surprised - that so many of my childhood idols not only have feet of clay, but were perhaps never worthy of my admiration.


  1. Dear Sunny, this is Clara from Barcelona. Just read your article and you put in an organized way what I have been thinking for a long time. I could not understand why the international community over and over have excused Polansky over the years. Even though the lady that once was the girl he abused has said she is all right now, I wonder how long has been her path to being 'all right', and if any kind of money settlement has eased the pain inflicted. Thanks for writing about it.

  2. I think your comment about the "old boys network" protecting Polanski is dead on the money. Part of the whole Polanski issue is that according to fairly well known stories in Hollywood, Polanski was not the only one involved in the situation, but the only one actually caught. It is known that the incident in question happened in Jack Nicholson's house, and that others were involved who may have been present and there were likely those who knew what was happening even though they were not directly involved. A person like Jack Nicholson though would have more protection and more money to make the problem go away, as was standard and still is in Hollywood. I believe what has made some of the people in question sign the petition is that many of them know that they could easily have been brought in on similar charges.
    I was a little dismayed to see you go into the whole "Holocaust as an excuse" and Israeli cruelty to Palestinians rant. I think this is the the whole problem with the discussion. Instead of viewing it as a simple case, all these other things that are irrelevant to the facts of the crime are being dragged into it. As a Jewish person myself, it upsets me to see "Jew" conflated with "Israeli" in the minds of many people. As far as I know, Polanski, though a Jew, has nothing to do with Israel. You cannot believe that Jews are by defination Israelis and at the same time say that Jews are a European people. Judiasm is a religion, like Christianity or Hinduism that is practised in many parts of the globe. People often wrongly see the situation in a racial light, when in fact there are Jews of all complexions, not just "white." Having personally known Holocaust survivors, none of whom were pedophiles, I think it is disrespectable to them to say that what happened during the Holocaust to him, "made" him be a pedophile or made it okay for him to be one. Whatever he did, he still did it, regardless of what sort of life he has had.