Friday, October 02, 2009

Polanski and the Culture War

I feel very conflicted about Roman Polanski's being arrested. Not because his crime wasn't reprehensible, it clearly was. Not because it is a mark of cowardice to admit your wrongdoing and then flee the country, which it clearly is. Rather, I am troubled because of how the case is being treated as some sort of culture war lightning rod.

Let's talk facts. As part of a plea bargain, Polanski admitted to unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor, a charge with all parties originally expected him to either get probation for, or to be released for time served. Allegedly, the presiding judge later changed his mind after a conversion with the Assistant District Attorney (acting on his own emotions surrounding Polanski and the case), and communicated to Polanski's attorneys that he had decided to change the sentence to prison (up to 50 years) and eventually deportation, something which Slate reporter Brian Palmer "claims clearly violated the ethics code" of the justice system. This was what allegedly precipitated Polanski's flight.

Let me clarify some things: I don't think Polanski should receive special treatment. I particularly object to the idea that he is not, or should not, be subject to the same laws as other individuals because as an artist or director he should have a special status. However, if there was misconduct in his case, this also needs to be addressed. Just as his notoriety should not protect him from the law, neither should it single him out for special punishment.

I am also disturbed that people claiming to be thinking of Polanski's victim, Samantha Geimer, also seem to be ignoring her comments of the last, oh, ten years. Geimer has repeatedly said she has forgiven Polanski, thinks he has paid his debt, that she has "long gotten over" any harm he inflicted on her, and perhaps most notably, formally requested that Los Angeles county drop the charges against him.

People may disagree with Geimer that Polanski has paid his debt. Personally, I think living as a fugitive for thirty years is probably not very fun. By the same token, I feel that people who committed war crimes and went underground for decades should still be hunted down and prosecuted. I think the big trouble for me here is that Geimer thinks Polanski should, essentially, be let go with no further action taken. Coming from the victim, that's something you kind of have to at least think about.

Concluding thoughts: It should not be a "fad" to defend Polanski against any attacks, as he admitted his guilt and crimes. It similarly should not be a "fad" to bash Polanski or his defenders as being "pro- child molestation," given the problems with the sentencing and the fact that Ms. Geimer thinks he should be let go and sent on his way. In fact, she seems angrier about the DA's office putting her back in the national spotlight again than about anything Polanski has done.

Clearly, Polanski has not had an easy life. His parents died in the Holocaust, his wife was brutally murdered by the Mansons, etc. But there is still the question of his crime. Has he actually paid his debt to society? I would have to say no. Because he ran away, because he fled the country, Polanski did not pay this debt, and he still has to. A fair solution would be to have a new sentencing, perhaps including both Geimer's testimony as well as the additional crime of failing to appear in court. Polanski could serve a brief jail term and/or pay Geimer a sizable settlement,
something which has come up before.

But both sides seem to be enjoying their rhetoric a little too much at the moment. Tone it down, folks.


scazon said...

I have to disagree with you on a couple of things here. One, Polanski's "exile" was life in luxury in France and Europe while continuing to make Oscar-winning movies. Two, it doesn't matter what his victim thinks now, or even ten years ago; what's relevant is her state when he raped her: time heals, or at least buries, lots of things, and one's guilt should be judged against the harm one inflicted at the time of the crime, not years after the fact. Finally, why is any of Polanski's family history or anything like that relevant at all?

Dvd Avins said...

I noticed this was posted in full at Live Journal. Does that mean you're now reading comments there?

Anyway, I have heard reported by NPR that the victim received a "settlement." That's her right. And even if bought, her request for no further action could reasonabley be given some weight. She has been made as whole as she expects to be.

But personally, I don't think the victim has the standing to tell society to forgive a criminal, even if she does.

If indeed there was a plea based on a binding agreement and that agreement was broken, this becomes a complicated case. If, as I think more likely, Polansky was the victim of bad lawyering, that should perhaps be taken into consideration in sentencing, but it does not absolve him.

Dvd Avins said...

And yes, as scazon alludes to, Plansky's family history is no more troubled than the history of most people who are locked up in prison. The fact that his social class makes such a troubled history more noteworthy absolves him no more than such history absolves most felons.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

Scazon- point taken about Polanski's life in exile. There are certainly worse ones to have. I disagree that Geimer's views should play no role in the case-- she's the one who was wronged, and she clearly has some strong ideas on what should happen. It's become very fashionable for people to demand/invoke "justice for the victim" when they feel like a criminal may be getting off too easy. It seems only fair to at least give this victim's perspective equal weight, even if it seems odd from where we're sitting.

Dvd- I don't recall suggesting that Polansky's family history should "absolve" him of anything, nor did I absolve him. In fact, I said he still has a debt to pay, though I think the details of that debt are still to be determined. I only bring up his family because I personally feel sorry for him (as I do for Ms. Geimer) and have been wrestling with how this affects my own views of the case.

Incidentally, I changed my site feed because some friends of mine said that's the only way they can be bothered to read my posts. Apparently clicking a link is still too hard on the fingers. :)

scazon said...

I still disagree. As I said, what the victim thinks now should be irrelevant. In fact, what the victim thinks at all should be irrelevant. Justice is for all people and society in general, not simply for any individual victim. Melissa McEwan's explication of this is the best I've read so far, and is a good sum-up of why I totally don't buy the line of argument that holds that anything Polanski's victim thinks should have any bearing on this matter.

Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

scazon- And you're entitled to your view that justice should be totally focused on the law and not the victim. That might even be a preferable model. However it's far from the one that I've seen play out in recent years, particularly in the world of the Nancy Grace/Bill O'Reilly media circus. What I'm saying is that if such people are going to go screaming about the wronged victims when it dovetails with their agenda of getting harsher penalties for offenders, they cannot then ignore this victim just because she isn't following that conventional script.

Again: I don't think Polanski should be "let go," and I don't think he has paid his debt. I do think he's entitled to a fair sentencing. The reason the victim is significant here is because of the shameless lack of consistency being shown to her wishes by people who ordinarily would use her as a quasi-religious icon, The Victim to argue for a "feel-good" sentence like castrating Polanski with an electric cattle prod.

Jack said...

I disagree that Geimer's views should play no role in the case-- she's the one who was wronged,

Part of the issue here is not allowing precedent to be established. We don't want to provide an opportunity for criminals to walk away simply because the victim feels ok about things.