In 1977, Roman Polanski drugged, raped, and sodomized a 13-year-old girl. When he believed a sort-of-plea-bargain was about to come unstuck, he took it on the lam. He lived the high life in this self-imposed exile for thirty years, until busted in Switzerland recently. Now various of the usual suspects on the right wing’s enemies list are campaigning to block his extradition.
There’s a good deal of perplexity being expressed about this, and some predictable chuntering from right-wingers about lefties being moral degenerates. But this flap isn’t really about politics at all — it’s much simpler than that. It’s about people who think of themselves as “artistes” reserving themselves a get-out-of-jail card when they feel like behaving like repellent scum of the earth, too.
I could claim to be an “artiste” myself, even leaving out the computer programming and the writing; I’m a capable musician who’s done session work on two records, and I’ve composed songs that other people have sung. So I understand the temptation artists feel to position themselves as a breed apart to whom ordinary rules should not apply by reason of their specialness. Who wouldn’t want some of that immunity, if they could claim it?
If you want to make that argument, Roman Polanski makes a great stake in the ground — not in spite of the heinousness of his crime, but because of it. If even a child-raper can invoke the all-purpose artiste excuse for scumminess, than the merely ordinary transgressions of artistes become trivia to be airily dismissed. And if the Polanski case becomes a “teachable moment” whereby people can be talked into feeling like boors or philistines for even thinking that artistes should be held to civilized standards of behavior, so much the better!
None of this is more than tenuously connected to leftism, and I have to say the the right-wing efforts to gin up indignation on that score sound quite contrived and stupid to me. This dispute isn’t about politics, it’s about privilege — not just whether Roman Polanski is above the law, but about whether his defenders can claim to be too.