I know I’ve not written anything about Roman Polanski’s arrest on this blog – but I have written an article. As always, I allow myself to do what the legal system of some countries evidently cannot: namely, to make my own mind, without falling into either “protectionism” or emotionalism. I sent the article to one of the papers in the UK but have not heard anything. And to judge by the stance taken in this case by The Guardian, in particular, the article like mine is unlikely to be published. To use The Guardian‘s scale, I’ve got French views.
The point that Polanski’s supporters seem to be missing has to do with the shift in values that has been occurring over the last couple of decades (at least). The shift in values has to do with what is defined as art, and with who is defined as an artist. The shift in values has to do with how artists are compared and chosen. There is nothing wrong, of course, with listening to Maria Callas and Rufus Wainwright with a similar degree of pleasure. But if we apply “genius” to both of them, the question rises: if we have to choose further, who of these two will be the ‘ultimate’ genius, and why?
Because of this it is futile to argue that Polanski should be pardoned due to the sheer merit of his work. I argue in the article that nobody is interested in the present state of things. Nobody is interested in who Polanski is (or how old he is), just as nobody cares about Samantha Geimer, her family, her children. The entire attention is focused – farcically and paradoxically – on the event that took place 32 years ago, and the present is judged entirely in the light of the past, if with a sprinkle of today’s cynicism. The situation is strangely reminiscent of the one explored in The Tenant, a Polanski film.
Jacques Derrida – a Frenchman, of course – proposed a very valuable but perhaps improbable for our opinionated society idea: to forgive means to forget. Judging by Geimer’s interview of a few years ago, this is exactly what she has been trying to do all this time: to put the incident behind, to forgive, and to move on.
And, honestly, the publicity surrounding it was so traumatic that what he did to me seemed to pale in comparison… Here’s the way I feel about it: I don’t really have any hard feelings toward him, or any sympathy, either. He is a stranger to me. But I believe that Mr. Polanski and his film should be honored according to the quality of the work. What he does for a living and how good he is at it have nothing to do with me or what he did to me. I don’t think it would be fair to take past events into consideration.
It is the society that seems to be unable to grasp the fact that, for all the terrible nature of the incident, its repercussions for the victim were not as gruesome as they could be. It is the society, as well, that continuously blurs the boundary between a child and an adult. We are used to the trend of mass-producing Lolitas and putting the burden of responsibility on adult men, but on this occasion we have a different situation: 32 years later Samantha Geimer, a married woman with children, is still treated as a 13-year-old girl who was raped by a famous film maker.
I argue that Polanski should be pardoned not because of the merit of his work or certain tragic circumstances of his life. The aim of the legal system of each country is intelligent justice, and on this occasion the legal system must be above the public opinion. Rather than taking into account Polanski’s work – the significance of which the current imbroglio cannot detract from – the American legal system should better remember that, with the possible extradition, the country where Polanski is not native will again be robbing him of his family, as it already did once, thanks to Charles Manson’s gang. By re-opening the case, the legal system will also not do any justice to the woman. It is best to admit that there are occasions when legal judgement is non-applicable, especially when a significant period of time has elapsed, and the victim has expressed her opinion.
As for why Hollywood’s defense has provoked a backlash of “average Americans”… getting back to the start of this post, people do not discern between artists, and it is for this very reason “being Polanski” (or Allen, or Scorsese) is no different from “being John Smith”. Whenever there is a chance to bring an artist down – and the public defamation of artists and other public figures has been trendy for a while – the crowd is always up for it. This is not done with Justice in mind. This is merely an opportunity to bring an accompished person down to an average level, to the level where the crowd can treat this person as one of its own.
This antagonism between people and artists is the very antagonism that underpins democracy. Freedom is the paramount condition in which a great work is born; equality challenges it by ascertaining the right to produce an average piece of work rather than an outstanding one. Freedom is associated with artists; equality is close to people’s heart. In democracy, equality both threatens and is threatened by freedom – but it is, in its turn, a pre-condition of democracy. The Polanski case this time round sheds tons of light on this antagonism, and the outcome of the situation may well predict how freedom and equality will co-exist in future.