Dear Judith – Polanski’s art doesn’t justify sex crimes

– The following is a comment I wrote in response to an article By Judith White on newmatilda.com which exemplifies much of the spurious tripe that’s been said in Polanski’s defense. By the time I was finished I thought it worth polishing up and posting here.

Dear Judith,

Art is clearly at stake in the case of the Bill Henson controversy.

And it sounds like it is in the case of Waverly council and Sculpture by the Sea. I wouldn’t really know as I’ve been out of the country for a while (New Matilda is my favorite way of keeping an eye on events back home). As it’s something particularly Australian I think it’s the kind of issue New Matilda should dedicate a whole story too, rather than a quick mention in an article about a much discussed US-EU story. Perhaps they could get my former bosses Matt Khoury or Pam Walker (both NM contributors) from the Bondi View (the independent paper for the Waverly council area) to bang it out.

It would certainly be a more worthwhile enterprise than having you try and hitch the issue of a criminal case resulting from a director’s off-set behavior to the cause of artistic freedom. There are so many problems with your article I feel I have to go through them one at a time.

You write: “What all these situations have in common is the attempt to restrict artistic freedom”

– But you don’t say how the Polanski case fits this description. The closest you get is writing “The banging of this particular drum is never good news for art.” It would be nice if you gave some argument or examples to say why this is the case, but I guess that’s too screamingly obvious to the people who already agree with you. And if it is the case, what do we do then? Give any one creative (and successful) enough to be considered a genius a pass when they break laws?

You write: “In 2002, when he was awarded Best Director Oscar for The Pianist and accepted via satellite, it seemed that he had been brought back into the fold.”

– When did winning an Oscar, or being in “the fold” exempt any one from criminal statutes? Or are you saying it should? Why on earth would you say that?

A dole bludger, geologist or mechanic can’t but a famous director can?

You say “The timing of Polanski’s arrest in Switzerland is suspicious,”

-What suspicions does it arouse? Do they pertain to the conspiracy theory about Tony Blair (of whom I’m no fan) which you let yourself get into for a paragraph before saying, “But let’s not let ourselves get into conspiracy theories”?

You write that Henson’s artistic freedom (rather than his freedom to have sex with minors who don’t want to have sex with him) is being suppressed: “in the name of so-called ‘morality’ — in particular, to play on widespread fears for child safety in order to bang the drum for censorship”

-Is the concept of morality itself too bourgeoisie for you? Or are you saying this isn’t what’s at play here? If the former is your position I wouldn’t expect you to expound it here in detail, that’s a whole separate philosophical discussion. If the latter is on the other hand, you’re very much obliged to explain it – it’s the point your making and I know for a fact that NM don’t give you a strict word limit.

Also, isn’t it possible that enforcing laws that protect minors from non-consensual sexual intercourse could be more about ensuring child safety rather than playing on the fear for it?

You write: “Samantha Geimer, the victim, has expressly and repeatedly said that she does not want him prosecuted.”

– As far as I know this is legally irrelevant. Would be great if someone with more legal knowledge could confirm or refute that for me…

You write: “Should the extradition go ahead, not only will Polanski be subjected to trial by media, a green light will be given to the biggest witch-hunt in Hollywood since the days of McCarthyism.”

– Please back that up. The fact that other celebrities have spoken out on his behalf alone is not evidence that they will be punished for doing so.

You write that “the action of the Swiss authorities coincides with the mounting right-wing campaign against President Obama and his supporters in the intelligentsia and the film world.”

– It also coincides with the series formation of a government in Lebanon, the earthquake in Thailand and the itch on my foreskin. Saying this just makes it hypocritical, as well as stupid, when….

You write: The appalling Glenn Beck has managed to hitch the attack on Polanski to his campaign against Obama’s healthcare legislation”

– Glen beck is a cretin. I agree. That doesn’t mean that because he thinks rape is bad we should think it’s good.

Your point is hypocritical because him trying to equate Obama’s healthcare push with Polanski’s alleged sex crime is simply a (more severe perhaps) version of what your doing equating criminal proceedings for a non artistic act with a move to quash artistic freedom. A does not equal B in either case.

You say “Morality is not the business of art.”

– I basically agree (surely if an artist has a moral point that fits with her aesthetic goals she’s allowed to make it). What’s more, your article makes interesting and valid points about other examples in which art versus censorship is the issue. But you never make a convincing case why the Polanski case should be put in this basket.

She was under the age of consent. She (allegedly) said she didn’t want to, he (allegedly) shoved it in any way… Let a court decide (like he should have decades ago) and don’t drag art,his or any one else’s, into this.

Wow, that comment just poured on out of me… I’m gunna put it on my blog, along with some (completely inartistic) kiddy porn links… and if they shut me down, it’s not for the kiddy porn links, it’s because my other ideas must be dangerous.

Peace,

Austin.

About Austin G. Mackell

I am a freelance journalist who has worked for a variety of corporate and community outlets from my hometown of Sydney and from the Middle East, including from Lebanon during Israels 2006 invasion and from Iran during the tumultuous presidential elections there in 2009. I have recently moved to Cairo to watch the revolutions in Arab world unfold.
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2 Responses to Dear Judith – Polanski’s art doesn’t justify sex crimes

  1. auchel says:

    Well said Austin. And thanks for posting your considered response on New Matilda.

    My take on the legal implications of a victim not supporting prosecution is, as you mention, it’s irrelevant. Criminal prosecutions are brought against defendants by the state (or Crown), not the victim as in civil cases and a breach of the criminal code/crimes act is prosecuted independent of the wishes of the alleged victim. One of the crucial consequences of this is that pressure on victims to abandon support of criminal prosecution will not prevent justice being pursued. (I’m not suggesting that Polanski or associates have pressured the alleged victim in this case.)

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