October 1, 2009

The Polanski Case, or The Double Standard (Updated)

To prove that nowadays, in America and Europe, we can argue about anything, there is the heated debate over whether to prosecute a man who drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl. Ok, the crime occurred so long ago—more than 30 years ago—and the victim, now a 45-year-old mother of three, has asked authorities to drop charges against the man who sexually abused her.

“But seriously:” as Howard Kurtz put it in yesterday’s Washington Post, “some folks are saying that an adult can do this to a child, flee the country before sentencing and pay no price?” Well, it seems so. They say that the girl was willing and sexually experienced and, what is more, that she has forgiven him. They also say that the rapist has somehow suffered enough because he’s had to live outside the United States, and that he had a tragic childhood and life. But most of all they seem to think that perhaps he should not be punished “because” he is a great artiste. As a matter of fact, directors, actors and intellectuals have been signing a petition demanding Polanski’s immediate release.

What is almost certain is that, if Polanski were not an award-winning film director, we wouldn’t be having this debate. “The Hollywood elite,” Kurtz writes, “wouldn’t give Polanski the plumber the time of day if he had sexually assaulted an underage girl. And that suggests to me a stunning double standard.” Double standard? Fair point. I mean, all considered, it is difficult not to agree with him.

That’s why it’s hard to understand how French Foreign minister Bernard Kouchner—on the same wavelength with his Polish counterpart (they both have written to secretary of State Hillary Clinton about the issue)—could have declared the arrest was “a bit sinister … frankly, (arresting) a man of such talent recognised around the world, recognised in the country where he was arrested — that’s not very nice.” And how Culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand could have said “just as there is a generous America that we like, there’s also an America that scares us, and that’s the America that has just shown us its face.”

Fortunately for France (and Europe), one might argue, the Greens leader Daniel Cohn-Bendit made headlines by bucking the trend and saying he was “ill at ease” with the rush to absolve Polanski and the culture minister should have been more cautious in his comments.

Another “ill at ease” observer is Rev. Thomas J. Reese, a senior fellow at Woodstock Theological Center at Georgetown University, who posted an item headlined, “Father Polanski Would Go to Jail,” at his Washington Post blog On Faith. Here is what he thinks about the above mentioned arguments against Polanski’s prosecution (and the “double standard”):

Such arguments from pedophile priests would be laughed out of court and lambasted by everyone, and rightly so. It makes no difference that the girl is willing and sexually experienced, it is a crime. It is the role of the court, not the victim, to decide who goes to jail and for how long.
It is not as if Polanski is the only Hollywood celebrity to be accused of child abuse. Woody Allen and Michael Jackson come to mind. I am sure that with a little research the media could come up with quite a list. The Catholic Church has rightly been put under a microscope when 4 percent of its priests were involved in abuse, but what about the film industry?
The world has truly changed. Entertainment is the new religion with sex, violence and money the new Trinity. The directors and stars are worshiped and quickly forgiven for any infraction as long as the PR agent is a skilled as a saintly confessor. Entertainment, not religion, is the new opiate of the people and we don't want our supply disturbed.
Is there a double standard here? You bet


UPDATE (October 4, 2009, 11:00 am) :

..Just wanted to let my readers know that this is worth reading (how it came that a rape turned out to not to be a rape anymore, etc.).