The Polanski Arrest.

You've probably heard that Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland. I think this is a very good thing, and find most of the outrage over it baffling.

One thing to note here is that the documentary Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired was an absolutely appalling whitewash. Bill Wyman has a great deal of detail about this, but you know that you're in for a disgraceful rape apologia when early on the film conveniently truncates the victim's testimony before she actually describes the rape, preserving the illusion that it's a "he said/she said" case even though if you pay attention you'll notice that nobody actually disputes her version of events. The film's portrait of the judge is just as sloppy and morally odious; it's not just that the details about his life are both irrelevant and not very damning (he may have had sexual relations outside the sacred bounds of matrimony! With two women!), but that the attempt to create hypocrisy where there isn't any plays into the fundamental misdirection of the Polanski camp -- i.e. that he was prosecuted for being a European roue just too sexually sophisticated for provincial Americans, not because he raped a 13-year old. And the way in which Zenovich allows people to speculate about the victim's (again, completely irrelevant even if true) possible history of consensual sex is even more disgusting, although it inadvertently reminds us that one reason she probably went along with a far-too-light plea bargain is that she wasn't looking forward to the similar victim-blaming that would have undoubtedly happened in court.

In addition to any issues with a conflict of interest, most of what Anne Applebaum says is similarly unconvincing. The fact that the victim forgives Polanski doesn't give him a license to skip out on his punishment, first of all. Even worse is her bringing up alleged "evidence that Polanski did not know her real age." Since the sexual relations were not even nominally "consensual," I fail to see how this is relevant to anything -- it's OK to rape a 16-year-old but not a 13-year-old? And as with Zenovich's film, the allegations of "judicial misconduct" remain frustratingly vague -- there's some evidence that he acted oddly, much less that he actually went beyond his legal discretion. In any event, the proper venue for determining whether the judge acted properly is a court of law, and Polanski has the resources to get a fair hearing.

I've said before that evaluations of Polanski's art should be kept distinct from 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. As Kieran Healy says with the proper acid, "I look forward to more detailed explanations of who the Real Victim is here, and more fine-grained elaboration of the criteria — other than “marvelous dinner guest” — for being issued a Get Out of Child Rape Free card."

--Scott Lemieux

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