Why should writers and artists care about Polanski?

This is disappointing. The Huffington Post reports on a petulant, badly advised petition calling for the release of Roman Polanski, who after being arrested (‘like a common terrorist’, no less) ‘now sleeps in prison.’

What’s worse is that this statement is not signed by a bunch of moronic actors but by good, serious writers like Bernard Henri-Levy, Paul Auster, Milan Kundera and Salman Rushdie.

Let’s be clear. Roman Polanski drugged and raped a child, did forty-two days on a plea bargain and ran away to Europe where he’s spent over three decades in fugitive luxury. In 2002, he sued an American writer for claiming that Polanski had once groped a Scandinavian woman and told her that he would make ‘a new Sharon Tate of her’. Polanski filed in England because of its plaintiff-friendly laws. He couldn’t enter this country for fear of being arrested but, disgracefully, the courts allowed him to give evidence through video link.

Yes, it would be a sad thing if a distinguished artist, who has suffered great tragedy in his life, should end it in a prison cell. But, having read Gailey’s testimony, perhaps it’s the fate Polanski deserves.

The episode, the petitioners point out, ‘happened years ago’, and Gailey ‘repeatedly and empathatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.’ This is not surprising. Child abusers are hard to convict, for a number of reasons. Often the only witness is the victim. It can be years and years before the victim gathers the courage to report the offence. If the abuse happens within a family, the crime will take even longer to come to light – if it ever does. People take the darkness to their graves. It is surprising that we know about Polanski’s crime at all.

Hollywood’s desperate wagon-circling has provoked a refreshing feminist backlash, triggered by Kate Harding’s powerful article in Salon. The manner in which LA has closed ranks around the director has been compared to the Catholic Church’s failed approach to paedophile priests. There is also a relevant debate to be had about the extent to which creatives and artists are held to a different moral standard – or at least creatives and artists who have achieved a certain amount of status and wealth.

All of which makes the La Règle du jeu petition all the more stupid and depressing. I mean: isn’t there enough going on? Writers in various parts of the world subject to suppression, poverty, even torture and death, and Rushdie and Auster are unhappy because a fugitive paedophile may not be able to collect his Oscar in person? Is this how the artist is roused? Are there not, really, better things to do with your name and time than to attempt to spring a child rapist on a technicality?

The signatories of the petition include novelists I have admired for years. But it is a contemptible statement and everyone who signed it should be ashamed of themselves.


Polanski: no case for sympathy. (Image via Guardian)

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