Green Room

Explaining Polanskiites

posted at 7:58 pm on October 6, 2009 by

In Dennis Prager’s Townhall column today, he asks the most obvious and urgent question about the Roman Polanski crisis, the same point noted by Movie Badger in a previous Lizardian post:

How is one to explain the film world’s conscience?

He refers not to Polanski himself; as Movie Badger noted, the existence of evil people is not hard to accept, even if it’s hard for some to understand, believing, as many of the religious do, in a God Who is absolutely good. Rather, the more fascinating question, and the more important for society, is why people who themselves would never even imagine orally, vaginally, and anally raping a little girl… will nevertheless passionately defend a man who did exactly that.

(I do believe some of the people defending Polanski, such as Woody Allen, are disturbingly close to understanding Polanski’s desire to rape a thirteen year old — not just Polanski’s ephebophilia. But the vast majority of Polanski’s vociferous defenders do not share his violent, sadistic, and torturous impulses towards the helpless.)

Prager finds two explanations for the adultatory support (which is also condemnatory — of everyone except the criminal):

  • Hollywood elites see themselves as Nietzschean Übermenschen, “overmen” who “transcend the boundaries of classes, creeds, and nationalities… overcome human nature itself, and maintain a lordly superiority to the normal shackles and conventions of social life.” (The quotation is from the online philosophy dictionary at Answers.com.) Thus, Polanski represents the aristocratic warrior-artist who is “beyond good and evil,” and cannot be judged by mere humans wallowing in egalitarian modernity.
  • Second, “Hollywood specifically, like the film world generally, is a cocoon.” That is, Polanski’s elite defenders don’t even know how out of touch they are with the rest of humanity. They defend Roman Polanski because all their friends do.

Each of these explanations has merit; but collectively, I think it only explains a tiny fraction of those demanding that Polanski be released. The first may explain Harvey Weinstein, who refered to Polanski’s multiple rapes of a terrified (and drugged) thirteen year old girl as a “so-called crime;” it’s also possible that Weinstein lives so much in a bubble he literally has never heard any of his Hollywood friends mention that the rape was not merely statutory rape; if you believe the victim, it was forcible rape.

I think the second explanation is the best one for Whoopi Goldberg, who claimed it wasn’t a “rape-rape;” she doesn’t listen to anyone but liberals, and liberals have all got it in their minds that the sex was consensual — the girl was just a little too young. I suspect she still believes this… and believes that everyone on the right who claims it was more is simply lying to hurt a liberal icon. [This paragraph is corrected; I mistakenly wrote Oprah Winfrey instead. Thanks to an e-mailer and a couple of commenters!]

But neither explanation really satisfies me. Why are Hollywood personalities so unwilling to believe that one of their own may have done something horrible?

I know this will startle you all, but I have my own theory about what really drives support for Roman Polanski; alas, it’s a logical fallacy that affects nearly everyone to some extent, myself included, no matter how carefully I try to avoid it. Every day, I see similar defenses — albeit of less egregious crimes — by ordinary, non-Hollywood people who do not see themselves as “beyond good and evil,” and who do not live in a cocoon.

A friend of mine defined it most succinctly:

“It can’t be true, because that would be too dreadful!”

In other words, most Polanski defenders support him not because they have a broken moral compass; they support and defend him because they simply cannot believe he really did it — despite the evidence, the testimony, and even Polanski’s own confession (to a lesser edition of his crime). They cannot believe it because they refuse to allow themselves to believe it; the truth would do such damage to their worldview that they just can’t handle it.

A great many people (mostly liberals) believe the following syllogism:

  1. To produce great art, a person needs a great soul (or spirit, for the atheists);
  2. A great soul cannot be associated with the basest and most despicable of carnal crime; it’s impossible by definition;
  3. Therefore, a great artist is incapable of child rape, no matter what anybody says. Who you gonna believe, the manifest truth of liberal logic, or your own lyin’ eyes?

The illogic of this is easily spotted; since a “great soul” is never defined, it ends up being defined post-hoc as the inability to do whatever it is the great artist is accused of doing — which makes the argument completely circular.

But lest we feel too superior, consider this variation:

  1. Man is more than just an animal; he has a soul.
  2. The soul is of the spirit, not of the flesh.
  3. Flesh cannot transform into spirit; it’s impossible by definition.
  4. Thus, a human being cannot evolve from non-human animals.
  5. But it seems absurd that evolution could explain the creation of all species on the planet but one.
  6. Therefore, evolution from one species to another is a complete fraud, no matter what those lefty, atheist eggheads claim.

Here we have the same complaint: The creationist begins with a premise that is logically equivalent to the conclusion he seeks.

Or this one:

  1. Capitalism is the greatest engine of wealth creation ever invented; it’s also the most just system of distribution of wealth.
  2. Any government attempt to control Capitalism is doomed to failure, because it subsitutes the decision of a single mind or small group of minds for the godlike decisions of all minds linked in a collective called the Market.
  3. So any and all constraints on the Market are wrongheaded and should be abolished.
  4. Therefore, governments must never aid individuals or even entire regions stricken by devastating natural disasters or calamitous attacks, because that violates the precepts of Capitalism, no matter what those statist, redistributing Benthemites say.

Each of these syllogisms is paralogical and invalid, and each has the same fundamental fallacy: Assuming the conclusion, then finding some path to it, no matter how tortuous:

It would be too dreadful if government intervention in the market actually worked; therefore, it cannot work.”

It would be too dreadful if evolution by natural selection actually occurred; therefore it didn’t.”

It would be too dreadful to imagine that a man could direct a masterpiece like Chinatown, or a man who could write an opera like Götterdämmerung, or a man who could play brilliant football, yet could also be capable of committing rape, engaging in despicable Jew hatred, or killing two people in cold blood; therefore, none of those things really happened… it was all just some awful misunderstanding.”

Have you ever tried to find some argument to explain away the fact that the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence was a life-long slave owner, as was the father of our country? How many people rail against socialized medicine, then turn around and castigate Obama for threatening Medicare?

I don’t think either of these is an example of hypocrisy; nobody actually defends Thomas Jefferson’s or George Washington’s slave ownership — “It’s okay for them, because they were so great; but it’s not okay for lesser mortals.” Rather, they try to weasel out of condemning them for it; they claim extenuating circumstances.

Rather, they simply cannot accept the idea that one of the greatest apostles of liberty and America’s first president could also engage in chattel slavery on the basis of race; it’s too dreadful to imagine such greatness of spirit containing such carnal ignominy. It can’t be true — so it must not be true! There must be some other explanation, like… like Jefferson and Washington were just keeping slaves to — to protect them; yeah, that must be it.

(This non-defense defense naturally implies that the defender accepts the evil of slavery. If he didn’t, why bother claiming Jefferson wasn’t “really” a slave owner?)

So how does this work in the present case?

  1. The violent drugging and multiple raping of a thirteen year old girl was really some strange (but perfectly understandable) version of consensual sex.
  2. This means the victim must have been a willing, even enthusiastic participant. Which means she must have been a huge fan of Roman Polanski, and probably on the make for a star “scalp.”
  3. Thus her testimony at the grand jury proceeding was obviously perjured; after having her fun, she wanted to soak Polanski for as much money as she could. She’s the real criminal, not the director. Is giving pleasure a crime?
  4. Since we all agree she was thirteen, and the law says that thirteen year olds cannot consent to sex, that implies the very concept of “age of consent” must be screwy (all right, bad word choice). The girl must have been very advanced for her age; she must have seduced Polanski; it was all her doing anyway.
  5. Therefore, Polanski did nothing wrong; the D.A. and the judge were just been out to get him, to put another notch on their prosecutorial gunbarrel. They were doubtless smug, anti-art, conservative Philistines.
  6. Which means that… Roman Polanski had every right to flee to France! Anybody else would have done the same thing.

It’s a crazy, convoluted way of looking at such a simple crime of violence, control, and sexual brutality. But its very complexity tells us that his defenders are struggling to harmonize what they know would be degrading and violent behavior with what they know simply cannot be the case. They’re not hypocrites; they’re lying to themselves to prevent their heads from exploding.

Happily, it’s simply not the case, in my mind, that America includes hundreds of thousands of people who believe that great artists are allowed to commit heinous crimes, as some vile version of “jus primae noctis;” instead, a huge number simply refuse to accept the possibilty that a person could be so sensitive in one case and such a brute in another.

Sadly, America contains tens of millions who believe some corollary of that last point.

Cross-posted to Big Lizards

Recently in the Green Room:

Blowback

Note from Hot Air management: This section is for comments from Hot Air's community of registered readers. Please don't assume that Hot Air management agrees with or otherwise endorses any particular comment just because we let it stand. A reminder: Anyone who fails to comply with our terms of use may lose their posting privilege.

Trackbacks/Pings

Trackback URL

Comments

I think the second explanation is the best one for Oprah Winfrey, who claimed it wasn’t a “rape-rape;” she doesn’t listen to anyone but liberals, and liberals have all got it in their minds that the sex was consensual — the girl was just a little too young. I suspect she still believes this… and believes that everyone on the right who claims it was more is simply lying to hurt a liberal icon.

Actually, Dafydd, I believe it was Whoopi Goldberg who bequeathed the concept of “rape-rape” to posterity. I distinctly remember Tweeting about it right after she said it, using only my elbows. To be specific, I said I didn’t see any reason why anyone should point a camera or microphone at her, ever again.

A great soul cannot be associated with the basest and most despicable of carnal crime; it’s impossible by definition.

Interesting variation on that concept: didn’t some Hollywood dingbat argue the exact reverse – that great artists like Polanski necessarily have some degree of inner evil, which should be indulged because it helps them create great art?

Doctor Zero on October 6, 2009 at 8:43 PM

Interesting variation on that concept: didn’t some Hollywood dingbat argue the exact reverse – that great artists like Polanski necessarily have some degree of inner evil, which should be indulged because it helps them create great art?

Doctor Zero on October 6, 2009 at 8:43 PM

Interestingly, this is a common sentiment on the left across fields of endeavor. Consider, “to make an omelet you have to break a few eggs.”

18-1 on October 6, 2009 at 9:53 PM

The Doctor beat me to it – it’s Whoopi and not Oprah that uttered the infamous defense.

This is a very good explanation of rationalization in general and the circular logic used by Polanski apologists. Your first explanation, that of the artistic intelligentsia believing themselves to be Nietzchean overmen, is probably closest to the truth.

I must say, though, it’s more than a tad unfair to lump in creationists and opponents of socialized medicine with supporters of a child rapist. I get you’re trying to make a larger point, but it’s too harsh and too broad a brush for the others.

Wellsy on October 6, 2009 at 9:56 PM

The creationist begins with a premise that is logically equivalent to the conclusion he seeks.

Yes, but for a “creationist” there is no need to explain the impossible/illogical/tautological/whateverical, he needs only to believe. But, but, but belief in Creationism is illogical! No, duh…

Knott Buyinit on October 6, 2009 at 11:18 PM

Interesting variation on that concept: didn’t some Hollywood dingbat argue the exact reverse – that great artists like Polanski necessarily have some degree of inner evil, which should be indulged because it helps them create great art

I have often heard it said that an artist needs to be able to confront his own inner darkness. I believe this to some extent. Almost all art relies on some form of tension in order to work. But there’s a huge difference between “confronting” or “acknowledging” one’s darkness, and acting on it.

That said, I think a lot of this can be explained by the simple “banality of evil”. The fact that Polanski was capable of this act does not mean that evil was the totality of his being. He made some great movies, and within Hollywood circles was probably a very likable guy, with a lot of friends.

Now, think about your friends for a moment. If one of them did something horrible, you’d probably have a tough time believing it. You would perceive a huge gulf between the likable and “good” person that you know, and the horrible person he would have had to be to commit the act. In order to reconcile these two disperate images, you’d have to do one of three things:

1. Decide he was, in fact, evil and “throw him under the bus,”

2. Deny the offense actually happened, or

3. Minimize the offense to something a “good” but fallable person might do. A “mistake”.

Most of Hollywood – probably led by people who know Polanski personally – has tended to go for options (2) or (3).

Farmer_Joe on October 7, 2009 at 8:38 AM

Rejecting evil is not “throwing someone under the bus”.

“Throwing someone under the bus” is when you KNOW of their wrong doing, and do nothing about it or facilitate it- but when exposed (a la Van Jones) you reject them, or when you use a person close to you to elevate your position by vilifying them (my grandmother is a racist).

To your your point, Polanski was a manipulator, it is part of the job of a director to manipulate. But being a director is just a job, leave it at work. You are incorrect in thinking he is not evil. There is a reason that even in the society within our society – a prison- those prisoners that are incarcerated for sexually abusing children receive from the other prisioners, the punishment that civilized society won’t meter out. Even criminals recognise that people like Polanski are the totality of the evil they do. Incurable, unrepentant murderers of childhood.

Mr. Prager misses a third point, the defenders that are Hollywood traders & sell-outs; trading their support for perhaps a future role, a favor, or repaying a favor, maybe not to Polanski but to one of his close associates. Prager wants to see it all as esoteric, but it is just as likely a good portion of them have set their “price”.

batterup on October 7, 2009 at 11:45 AM

I believe you are over-analyzing motives and belief systems. These are (presumptive) adults who spend their lives pretending to be someone else or telling someone else how to pretend to be someone else. Their lives have little to do with reality. When reality intrudes, it must be denied.

mchristian on October 7, 2009 at 3:26 PM

I think that this is similar to what happened when Supreme Court Justice Felix Franfurter was told the truth about what was happening to the Jews of Poland in 1942 by Jan Karski. The following quote is from any of a large number of google sources. After saying “I cannot believe you”, the Polish ambassador vouched for Mr. Karski’s honesty. Franfurter replied

‘I did not say this young man was lying. I said I cannot believe him. There is a difference.’

He knew that the young man was telling the truth, but the cognitive dissonance was just too great. In the end the conflict paralyzed him and he refused to help accomplish anything. We cannot know how many could have been saved had Justice Frankfurter been moved to action.

sabbahillel on October 8, 2009 at 5:54 PM