posted at 7:58 pm on October 6, 2009 by Dafydd ab Hugh
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:
- To produce great art, a person needs a great soul (or spirit, for the atheists);
- A great soul cannot be associated with the basest and most despicable of carnal crime; it’s impossible by definition;
- 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:
- Man is more than just an animal; he has a soul.
- The soul is of the spirit, not of the flesh.
- Flesh cannot transform into spirit; it’s impossible by definition.
- Thus, a human being cannot evolve from non-human animals.
- But it seems absurd that evolution could explain the creation of all species on the planet but one.
- 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:
- Capitalism is the greatest engine of wealth creation ever invented; it’s also the most just system of distribution of wealth.
- 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.
- So any and all constraints on the Market are wrongheaded and should be abolished.
- 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?
- The violent drugging and multiple raping of a thirteen year old girl was really some strange (but perfectly understandable) version of consensual sex.
- 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.”
- 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?
- 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.
- 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.
- 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…