"He only raped one little girl"

Calvin Trillin's satirical poem is the best response yet to Roman Polanski's Hollywood apologists

By Judy Berman

Published October 14, 2009 5:15PM (EDT)

I am sick of writing about Roman Polanski -- and I wouldn't be hurt to learn that you were sick of reading about him. But the story just isn't going away. Since Broadsheet last covered Polanski, the New York Times published a bizarre piece in which Michael Cieply attempts to convince us that the outrage directed at the filmmaker represents, more than anything, a shift in sexual mores over the past three decades. Cieply uses Woody Allen's "Manhattan" to make the case that, back in the swingin' '70s, we were totally OK with sex between teenagers and adults. (Never mind the obvious issues with using Allen as any kind of social barometer on sexual ethics.) In those days, he argues, we would see Polanski

not so much as a sexual assailant but as someone in the mold of Isaac Davis, Mr. Allen’s character from the movie "Manhattan": that is, as a normally responsible person who had shown terrible judgment by having sex with a very young, but sophisticated, girl.

There are only two problems with Cieply's analysis: In "Manhattan," Allen's paramour wasn't 13; in fact, she was on the verge of turning 18. Oh, and one other tiny, pesky thing. The sex in the movie was consensual. For whatever reason, some writers just can't get their minds around the fact that Polanski (say it with me, readers) drugged and raped a child.

A few days earlier, in the San Francisco Chronicle, Peter Cowie, huffy that the arrest caused Polanski to miss the pair's master class at the Zurich Film Festival, dismissed the director's crime as one of many "depressing episodes" in the history of cinema. "Such a nice man, always in good humor," Cowie quotes a baker whose shop Polanski frequents when he's staying at his Swiss chalet as saying. See? Being friendly to bakers surely makes up for raping a child! And Wednesday morning brought news that Polanski is attempting to finish his current film project, "The Ghost," from prison. (So much for the argument that locking him up will deprive us of great art.)

So, how do we respond to all these apologists? As I wrote last week, I don't believe a boycott of all Polanski's Hollywood supporters is necessary or would be effective. A far better response is Calvin Trillin's satirical takedown of the pro-Polanski crowd's self-important hypocrisy. Trillin has always been a master of comic verse, but his recent poem -- headlined, "What Whoopi Goldberg ('Not a Rape-Rape'), Harvey Weinstein ('So-Called Crime') et al. Are Saying in Their Outrage Over the Arrest of Roman Polanski" -- really lays bare the idiocy and delusion of defending Polanski. He begins by lampooning their protestations that the filmmaker has already "been punished," by "decades exiled from LA":

He'll miss the movers and the shakers.
He'll never get to see the Lakers.
For just one old and small mischance,
He has to live in Paris, France.

The entire, short poem is must-read stuff (the lines, "Why make him into some Darth Vader/ For sodomozing one eighth grader?" are particularly inspired), but it's the ending that drives home what's most offensive about Hollywood's support of Polanski -- the elitist exceptionalism that assumes artists should be above the law:

Celebrities would just be fools
To play by little people's rules.
So Roman's banner we unfurl.
He only raped one little girl.

Judy Berman

Judy Berman is a writer and editor in Brooklyn. She is a regular contributor to Salon's Broadsheet.

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