The Sunday Times, Uncategorized

October 4th, 2009

Glitterati throw their ugly halos around Roman Polanski

If Vanessa George, the nursery school paedophile convicted last week, were somehow to escape from justice here and stay safely in some other country for 30 or so years and turn during that time into a celebrated writer or film maker, lionised internationally for her talent and charm, I wonder what her glittering friends would say then, in 2040, about her terrible crimes of today. Would they insist that she is such an outstandingly gifted person and a delightful friend that no one should now hound her back to justice for what she did? Would they say that what she did, all things considered, was not so very bad? Would they protest with all the power of their celebrity that it is unfair to hold her to account now so much time has passed and now that the children in question want to avoid reliving in court the distress of what she did to them — although it probably wasn’t, ahem, quite so terrible as all that? Of course they wouldn’t. They wouldn’t dare. And this obvious point serves to prove another one that ought to be obvious but somehow isn’t: it is quite wrong for anyone to claim that Roman Polanski, the film director, ought, for any reason, to be let off legally or morally for his paedophile crime of more than 30 years ago. I accept that having unlawful sex with a child of 13, although entirely wrong, isn’t quite so monstrously unnatural and repugnant as sexually assaulting tiny children. All the same, what Polanski did to a young girl would strike most people, then and now, as truly vile. I wonder what all his showbiz friends would think if a middle-aged Polanski penetrated their unprotected little daughters, especially if it involved alcohol, sedatives, oral sex and buggery as well, as Polanski’s victim has always claimed. Actually, I don’t wonder. They would go insane with rage. They would use all their PR powers to make an example of him. So it is distinctly odd that, forgetting the innocence of their own darling daughters, they have rallied to Polanski’s defence. In response to his arrest last weekend in Switzerland, celebrities such as Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Salman Rushdie, Milan Kundera, Pedro Almodovar, David Lynch, Harvey Weinstein and Robert Harris called indignantly for him to be freed at once. So did Radek Sikorski, the foreign minister of Poland, and two French ministers. Whoopi Goldberg, the actress, actually claimed, in his defence, that she knew “it wasn’t rape-rape”. All this is difficult to understand, particularly when it comes largely from the world of artists — writers, actors, film makers and so on. What is supposed to distinguish artists — the claim they make for themselves — is a profound commitment to truth and feeling. In the name of truth and feeling they can usually be relied upon to rally together against the abuse of power and, indeed, pride themselves on their role as defenders of the weak and as moral arbiters. So why is it that the truth-tellers feel so passionately determined to protect a self-confessed child abuser? Admittedly, the truth may be a bit of a casualty here, partly because the American system of plea bargaining tends to muddy the moral waters. Polanski decided in 1977 to plead guilty to one crime in order to avoid facing many more and worse charges; it is hard to know, in such cases, what a man really is, or considers himself, guilty of since he is more concerned with a deal than with the truth — and so is the court. Charged at first with rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy and a lewd and lascivious act (oral sex) upon a child under 14, and giving illegal drugs to a minor, he then, under the plea bargain, admitted to unlawful sexual intercourse with a girl under 14, but fled the United States before he was sentenced. The girl, now a woman who says she has forgiven him and doesn’t want him to be locked up for ever, still stands by her story that he’s guilty of all the original and horrifying charges. Polanski made her a large out-of-court settlement some time ago. All one can conclude is that whatever happened was bad. No mother or father would want anything like it done to their pubescent daughters. What would make it far worse is their little girl being put upon by a scuzzy old showbiz goat more than three times her age, who likes banging random chicks in glitzy showbiz pools and pads: Mulholland Drive, where it happened, was called “Bad Boys Drive” by Hollywood sophisticates. As even Goldberg said: “Would I want my 14-year-old having sex with somebody? Not necessarily, no.” So why the cries of outraged support from bohemia? There is a horrible irony in the way Polanski’s defenders talk of his family’s horrible suffering under the Nazis, as if his victimhood somehow excused his victimising someone else. And would those supporters argue that Nazi war criminals should also be allowed to put their crimes behind them, now so much time has passed, and live free from fear of prosecution and retributive justice, particularly if they are rather talented and charming? Of course not. What seems to be going on here is an overwhelmingly powerful loyalty between members of a narrow caste — the glitterati. What distinguishes this super-privileged clique is that most of its members made their way into it by their own talent and hard work, so they have a great sense of entitlement and — to judge from their attitudinising — a huge and unselfcritical sense of moral superiority. They are not restrained by colonial or class guilt, nor in many cases by a rigorous education: they feel that what people such as them want and like and think must be pretty much okay because of who they are — beautiful, talented, charming, successful and so on. Other people’s rules — different people’s rules — don’t necessarily apply. The instinctive solidarity within the super-successful castes is quite remarkable. You get exactly the same thing among bankers and masters of the universe, among top Eurocrats and probably among the few remaining Nazi criminals lurking in South America. How else can one explain the scandals of greed and corruption that Eurocrats tolerate among themselves but which they would denounce with genuine contempt among other people? The word hypocrisy is quite inadequate; this is an extreme form of cognitive dissonance — the state of believing mutually exclusive things at once without recognising it. Sociologists call this blindness to the flaws in one’s friends the halo effect, a rather unfortunate term in this case. But it’s no excuse for condoning paedophila in any of its forms.