Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Roman Polanski and the seamy underbelly of privileged liberalism...

As usual, I've been blissfully marooned in my internal fairyland so I’m a day late and a dollar short on weighing in on cultural matters, specifically referring here to the Roman Polanski imbroglio. It has been pestering me lately, though, because underneath it all, it touches on something that staked a claim on my serenity for years: the tendency for liberals to turn their damn brains off if something hints at “injustice” and, more subtly but every bit as perniciously, to behave like tantrum-y, breath-holding, petulant three-year-olds when it is implied that they are not as perfect as they think they are. I blame the preponderance of empty-headed, solipsistic New Age doctrine, something many liberals consume and excrete like ravenous wraiths, for much of this. More on this subject at a later date, if I can work up the fortitude.

Whenever I out myself as most definitely not a liberal, I can see the confusion in the eyes of the person who has mistakenly identified me as one, and it’s understandable: we live in a binary culture, one where you’re either liberal or conservative. Or, in this case, it is a ternary landscape, where all persuasions are determined by one’s placement among three points along the continuum: liberal, conservative or middle of the road. Well, it is clear that I am not a conservative, though I would like to reclaim that word as so much of what I love is found in its root word: conserving, meaning protecting from harm or loss, using carefully and sparingly, I can get behind that. I travel by bike or public transit, I am vegan, I buy second-hand, I love canning, I hang my clothes to dry on a laundry line, for Pete’s sake: I’d say that I am a true conservative given the original meaning of the word. I would probably totally hit it off with your homesteading Depression-era great-grandmother. I often wonder how many self-labeled conservatives are guided much by the root word. Clearly, politically, my views are pretty much the opposite of the archetype of the modern-day fire-and-brimstone, hateful, mean-spirited conservative, though. (I realize that this is an archetype, not necessarily one that is representative of your average conservative.)

Middle of the road? I don’t relate to this very strongly either. I like people who maintain strong opinions and are guided by deep passions. I have always gravitated toward emotive, expressive people and I’m glad for it: they will occasionally get overwhelming with their fiery ways, but I think they embolden the rest of us to live big as well. I do believe that the middle path is often the most measured and mindful one: it’s just when one maintains a staunch middle-of-the-road position on everything, it can be stultifying. I appreciate the “grey areas” the middle-roaders remind us of, but I think that it can become too much of a security blanket, compulsively wrapping oneself in that broad, comfortable position in the middle. There are times when strong views are not only better, they are necessary; it is the stuff that propels us toward positive change.

Now on to liberalism. I have been labeled as a liberal ever since I was a little girl and could not for the life of me understand racism. My brain just did not compute. Racism is not only hateful and self-serving, it is irrational. It simply makes no sense. At the risk of being overly simplistic, racism is just plain stupid. Not long after I learned about racism, I learned about homophobism, speciesism, ageism: to my young mind, those things were also hateful, self-serving and irrational. I have to say, though I am a little more nuanced in my understanding, I haven’t changed much from that initial revulsion toward prejudice and injustice I had as a small child. It is just icky. As such, and being more of the outspoken (a.k.a., Jewish) persuasion, I have always felt keenly for the underdog or those treated unfairly and spoken out accordingly. From my earliest memories, I was labeled the family liberal in my household of Reagan-loving Republicans.

At first, I took up the mantle with pride: young people are often seeking labels to understand themselves better. I was a liberal, this was why I looked at the world with my particular slant. Of course! With my fervent, impulsive nature, coupled with my youthful vigor, I pursued my liberalism wherever it led me because I finally had an identity I enjoyed, I called strangers on phone lists to ask them to donate to my cause, I went to marches in the dead of winter, I withheld my babysitting money from businesses and products I opposed. (I still do two and three.) I stood up for the unjustly maligned at family meals and I held my poor social studies class captive as I became more and more outspoken about apartheid, Nicaragua, Western imperialism. Oh, I’m sure I was insufferable. I had more political buttons than I had life experiences, but I was proudly liberal.

How am I tying all this up with Roman Polanski? Here’s how: the longer I was exposed to liberalism, the more I felt removed, and, within the last ten years or so, repulsed by it. The Hollywood liberal elite’s clubby support of Roman Polanski, despite his refusal to face his conviction for drugging and sodomizing a thirteen-year-old girl against her will in 1977, is very consistent with what I have observed time and time again among liberals: a tendency toward mindless, privileged self-absorption. What if the director had been shlocky rather than an auteur? Save those hands for manicures, no wringing required. What if the rapist was still Polanski but the eight-grade girl was Iraqi? Uh oh. That would be uncomfortable. What if the girl were instead an adult woman who was drugged and anally raped by Polanski? What was she wearing? She was trying to seduce him. Otherwise intelligent people are saying this in 2009! Here we can expose the preening, misogynistic hypocrisy of liberalism with their refusal to admit what this case is about: a man who has evaded justice for a violent, sadistic crime he committed against a child for 32 years. The fact that the survivor, as a 44-year-old mother, would like this to be dropped already, well, she has my sympathies. No one is responsible for the continued victimization of this woman in this particular case, though, but Polanski for his cowardly refusal to turn himself in after it became clear that he would face a penalty he didn’t want to face. And what sort of dangerous precedent would we create if the victim had the final word as to whether the perpetrator is convicted? For example, if a rapist were living on your block, would you want his victim(s) to determine if he doesn’t have to face charges? As much as I feel for the survivors of these heinous attacks, that is not a smart or safe approach to criminal justice. While I doubt that the 76-year-old Polanski poses much of a threat to society, that is not how our judicial system works, thankfully. (I should say here that I’m not much of a believer in prison, either, but now that he is in custody, he will go to trial and finally face what he has avoided all these years.)

Do the wealthy liberals who signed petitions and wore badges to “Free Polanksi,” (such as Martin Scorsese, Pedro Almodavar, Salmon Rushdie and Milan Kundera) think that we should have two forms of justice, one for “regular” people and one for cultured European filmmakers? That is the message I am receiving. Worse, it appears with the “Free Polanski” meme, they are trying to refashion him into some sort of political prisoner and martyr who has already suffered enough, a sort of an arthouse Nelson Mandela. (Oh, can we just forget that whole forcible sex with a minor thing? That doesn’t fit with the comfortable revisionist theme…) Could someone please tell me what on earth was Whoopi Goldberg thinking when she characterized his crime as “Not rape rape”? What was it, simply rape in the singular? I need some clarification: what is “rape rape” and what is just your garden-variety rape, Whoopi? What are the thoughts that drive this opinion? And Debra Winger, another Polanski freedom fighter, referred to the Swiss officials who arrested him as “philistine colluders.” See, we in the U.S. are the philistines and the Swiss officials were our colluders. The obfuscation around this issue is almost as fascinating as it is infuriating: is the idea here that Polanski is some refined bohemian artiste and we with our puritanical, repressed values in the United States were once again trying to impose our morality (against raping children, or anyone else for that matter) on someone who should simply be left alone to create his great works of cinematic genius? Tell me I’m wrong. Let’s sat that law officials interceded to arrest someone who had sexually attacked one of Debra Winger’s sons, and this perpetrator happened to be an artist of high regard. Would those people also be colluding on behalf of “philistines”? And how sad is it that I have to put this in personal terms? Isn’t the rape of a child universally understood to be a terrible crime? Yes, the crime was a lifetime ago – which seems to be the sticking point for a lot of people - but Polanski removed himself from due process by evading it as long as he had. Again, his apologists need to admit that he is solely responsible for the case dragging on as long as it has. He committed the crime: the crime was not committed against him.

Sadly, I have found the sort of knee-jerk, entitled, accepting-of-misogyny attitude found here to be very common among liberals, and this is what the Polanski case has exposed: the seamy underbelly of privileged liberalism. This sort of attitude is hateful, self-serving and irrational, just like conservatism as its commonly practiced, but in some ways it’s more insidious because it pretends to be something else. So the next time someone near you says that a thirteen-year-old girl should be held responsible for the actions of a 43-year-old man – and if she’s not responsible, then it’s her mother, and if she’s not responsible, then it was because those were the times, and if none of those things is responsible, can we just drop it already? – you may very well be talking to a liberal. Flee while you have the chance.

Free Roman Polanski? No. Free your mind and reject elitist, self-serving liberalism.

(Oh, and I know many of my friends identify themselves as liberals: have no fear, you are not of this variety. You are true progressives, darn it!)


  1. I have also been bothered by the tendency by so many people, on both the left and right ends of the spectrum, to abandon their values at the first inconvenience. The stilted and defensive statements by Whoopi Goldberg and Debra Winger, two women I have generally held in pretty high regard, seem really out of character with their public personas. They have both built reputations as voices for the voiceless, particularly of women who have faced repression on so many forms.

    It makes me question the degree to which the movie industry is laying pressure on their people to come to defense of one of their heroes. I saw this a lot when I worked for big ad agencies. One of the clients would get slammed in the media (usually for very good reason), and all of the sudden this edict would come down from management that we were all to fall in line behind our embattled friend. Most people would do it unquestioningly. It didn't matter what awful thing the client was alleged to have done, the key was to stay loyal to the paycheck. At the same time, these same people would always pride themselves in what rebels they were.

    Roman Polanski is a great film director, and I'm a huge fan of his work. But, at the same time, he did drug and rape a 13-year old girl. No child should ever have to endure that. And, if he weren't a great filmmaker (and close friend of a lot of the people who do much of the hiring in Hollywood), Whoopi, Debra, and company would more likely be living closer to their values and speaking out in favor of the victim.

  2. Well spoken, Marla! You may have already seen this, but Kate Harding's Salon post is very much in the same vein:

  3. Thanks you, VB. I haven't seen the piece on Salon yet because our "vintage" Mac at home gets all wonky on it, but I will definitely check it out when my husband brings his work computer home tonight. Thanks for the link!

  4. Well said, Marla. Labels are tricky and although they can be useful at times I don't think i ever give myself a label without qualifying it. I would call myself a liberal (and in Canada one has to do so with either a small l or an uppercase L because we have a political party that calls itself The Liberal Party) but it doesn't mean I blindly agree with everyone else who might call herself that. I think for myself. There is something different about the Hollywood liberals, like you say, a sort of spoiled elitism. In the Polanski situation they are defending one of their own and by association they become the persecuted artists so often romanticized. They didn't rush to defend OJ Simpson. Of course he was an athlete/actor not an artist. Then there are those liberal Kennedys....

  5. Excellent points, BF. I hadn't thought about OJ!

  6. I had some crazy person on the internet decide that they "knew" I what I thought about Polanski and that I was therefore repulsive to them. Talk about projection! I had not expressed an opinion on the matter.

    And actually I had not said that that Polanski shouldn't be punished, any more than I had said that Teddy Kennedy killing someone via bad driving didn't matter. I had not mentioned him! I think it matters that Kennedy worked very hard for 40 years to redeem himself by trying to help people, but the fact someone died will never go away. People should be punished for doing bad things. Torture and the death penalty are wrong, though.


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