The best Polanski you might have missed

Some of the most compelling writing about one of the week's most polarizing stories

By Kate Harding

Published October 2, 2009 9:03PM (EDT)

I've been on the Polanski beat all week, both here and at Jezebel (and on the "Today" show!), so I've read a lot about the story. A lot. And since I'm not sure I can bring myself to write one more word about it (at least until Monday), I'll leave you for the weekend with a round-up of some of my favorite writing on the matter.

Amanda Hess: "Common Roman Polanski Defenses, Refuted" (The Sexist)

Ahh: "the real tragedy." Some people may be under the impression that a 13-year-old being drugged and raped by a 44-year-old man constitutes a "real tragedy." Others may contend that both Polanski and his rape victim have suffered "real tragedies" in their lifetimes. But no, there can only be one the real tragedy, and it is that people have "snubbed" Roman Polanski because he raped someone and skipped town. If only the recognition of the Academy Awards, the BAFTAs, the Berlin International Film Festival, Cannes, the Directors Guild of America, the Golden Globes, the Independent Spirit Awards, the Stokholm Film Festival, the Venice Film Festival, and dozens of other awards organizations could begin to heal that wound.

Jaclyn Friedman, "We Are All Polanski's Victims, and We All Deserve Justice" (Huffington Post)

But rape isn't just a crime against one person, and we don't prosecute it in order to fulfill any one victim's needs or wishes. Rape is a crime against the social fabric that binds all of us together. The act violates what should be one of our core values as a civilization: that every person of every gender and age has the right to bodily autonomy -- to basic safety in our bodies. When that right is violated and the perpetrator goes unpunished, it makes all of us less safe. Not just because there's one more rapist on the loose, but because that lack of accountability sends a message to other would-be rapists: Go ahead and rape someone. The rest of us don't care that much, as long as it's not us or someone we love. In this case, we might add a caveat: Especially if you're rich and talented and have powerful friends.

Allison Anders: "Filmmaker Allison Anders on Polanski: Art Is Not Enough" (Miss Whistle)

[A]s sensitive as I may be to the loss and pain and tragedy which has colored most of Polanski's life, it doesn't ultimately matter to me either. Both of these men [Polanski and John Phillips] had terrible traumatic childhoods. Polanski's life has been so harrowing that it long ago entered the realm of mythology. Phillips came from a terribly abusive alcoholic home ruled by a remote sadistic military father. But there is not one perpetrator out there who couldn't cry me a fucking river. Trauma creates one of four types of people: victims, rescuers, or perps. And if you're really lucky and really strong and very willing and brave -- survivors.

Art should never be held above our decency to each other. And when an artist commits a crime, especially a sex crime and especially against a child, we do art no favor by giving artists a break we would never give to anyone else.

Melissa McEwan "Roman Polanski's Life of Crime" (The Guardian)

Polanski has had a very successful career, working with a string of notable American and British actors who didn't hold his "sexual peccadilloes" (such as, being a confessed rapist) against him: Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver, Johnny Depp, Adrien Brody, Ewan McGregor, Tom Wilkinson, Ben Kingsley, Kim Catrall, Olivia Williams. He even managed to win an Oscar for best director, in 2003, for The Pianist. It was an important victory in what had already become a very public crusade to rehabilitate his reputation and legacy.

In the Washington Post, the commentator Anne Applebaum  -- who calls Polanski's arrest "outrageous" and passionately argues for his release -- says: "If he weren't famous, I bet no one would bother with him at all." Which rather seems to be missing the point. If he weren't famous, he would not have been free to flee in the first place. And he would certainly not number among his public defenders a columnist writing for the Washington Post.

In fact, I daresay he wouldn't have many defenders at all.

Katha Pollitt "Roman Polanski Has a Lot of Friends" (The Nation)

The widespread support for Polanski shows the liberal cultural elite at its preening, fatuous worst. They may make great movies, write great books, and design beautiful things, they may have lots of noble humanitarian ideas and care, in the abstract, about all the right principles: equality under the law, for example. But in this case, they're just the white culture-class counterpart of hip-hop fans who stood by R. Kelly and Chris Brown and of sports fans who automatically support their favorite athletes when they're accused of beating their wives and raping hotel workers.

No wonder Middle America hates them.

And finally, absolutely nailing it, Abby McDonald: "Polanski, rape, and the myth of Not Like Us"

Rape, the myth goes, is something Other. It is separate, and dramatic, and above all, perpetuated by men we don't know. 

Rapists are not loving fathers, or supportive brothers, we tell ourselves -- and each other. Rapists don't go home for the holidays and help with the tree, and watch the big game with their father, and throw the football around with their nephews. Rapists don't tip the homeless guy, because they have some spare change from Starbucks. Rapists don't survive the Holocaust. Rapists don't sit in the cubicle across from us at work, and send us funny xkcd cartoons. Rapists don't have uneventful, long-term relationships with their college girlfriends. Rapists don't show up on set every day, directing a critically-acclaimed movie. Rapists don't get married, nervous in a tux at the end of the aisle. Rapists don't spend their weekends browsing at the farmer's market, and then stop for brunch and do the NYT crossword. Rapists don't co-write this screenplay with us. Rapists don't hang out at the pub with their friends, watching football and drinking just half a pint of beer, because they're driving. Rapists don't meet us casually at an awards ceremony, and charm us with wit and wry humor. 

We tell these myths to ourselves and each other often, but of course, they are lies. A rapist is nothing but a man who doesn't listen when you say stop.


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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