Hol­ly­wood’s idea of moral­ity

The Washington Times Weekly - - Commentary -

“In de­fend­ing the di­rec­tor (Ro­man Polan­ski), the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try faces a risk that it will seem out of touch with the audiences it seeks to con­nect with at the movie house.” — The New York Times, Sept. 30, 2009

What is im­por­tant in the Ro­man Polan­ski is­sue is not whether the renowned film di­rec­tor should be ex­tra­dited from Switzer­land to the United States. Given the long amount of time that has elapsed, the op­po­si­tion of the vic­tim to pros­e­cut­ing Polan­ski, that his preg­nant wife, Sharon Tate, was butchered by Charles Man­son’s mon­sters, and that his mother was mur­dered in the Holo­caust, a le­git­i­mate case can be made for Polan­ski’s not re­ceiv­ing jail time.

What is im­por­tant is the re­ac­tion of the film world to what Polan­ski did to a 13-year-old girl in March 1977 when he was 43 years old. Ac­cord­ing to the girl, Polan­ski gave her a com­bi­na­tion of cham­pagne and Quaaludes, a seda­tive drug, and “de­spite her protests, he per­formed oral sex, in­ter­course and sodomy on her.” She claimed to have said ‘no’ to each act and re­peat­edly asked Polan­ski to stop.

As vir­tu­ally no one has ever sug­gested the girl lied, it is uni­ver­sally ac­knowl­edged that at age 43, Ro­man Polan­ski raped a 13-year-old girl.

One would think that any­one with a func­tion­ing con­science would con­demn the ter­ri­ble act. Or to put it an­other way: If a mid­dle-aged man rap­ing a 13-yearold girl is not ob­vi­ously ter­ri­ble, what is?

Yet, lead­ing mem­bers of the film world in Europe and Amer­ica world do not see it that way.

As Bri­tain’s Guardian news­pa­per wrote: “The list of sup­port­ers giv­ing Polan­ski their im­pas­sioned sup­port read like a Who’s Who of the cream of the moviemak­ing world. It in­cluded, among many oth­ers, Woody Allen, Martin Scors­ese, David Lynch, Har­vey We­in­stein, Pe­dro Almod­ovar and Ethan Coen.”

In ad­di­tion to sign­ing — along with over a hun­dred other mem­bers of the film in­dus­try from Europe and the United States — a pe­ti­tion on be­half of Polan­ski that never men­tions his crime, pro­ducer Har­vey We­in­stein made a com­ment that is as stun­ning in its im­moral­ity as it is in its heart­less­ness. In an ar­ti­cle for The In­de­pen­dent of Lon­don, he wrote that “what­ever you think about the so-called crime, Polan­ski has served his time.”

Oral and anal rape of a 13year-old by a 43-year-old man is dis­missed by We­in­stein as a “so­called crime.”

This was echoed by the ac­claimed French philoso­pher (in France, lead­ing philoso­phers are like movie stars) Bernard-Henri Levy: “Per­haps he had com­mit­ted a youth­ful er­ror.”

And Whoopi Gold­berg said that “I don’t be­lieve it was ‘rap­er­ape.’”

How is one to ex­plain the film world’s con­science? Here are two pos­si­ble explanations:

First, as An­thony Mora, founder of a lead­ing Los An­ge­les­based pub­lic re­la­tions firm, noted, “the dis­con­nect be­tween Hol­ly­wood and the rest of the coun­try seems enor­mous.” This was echoed by an­other Hol­ly­wood in­sider, Michael Levine, also prom­i­nent in PR: “Hol­ly­wood peo­ple re­ally don’t see the world in the same way as av­er­age peo­ple[. . .]”

Many of the peo­ple who in­habit the up­per ech­e­lons of the film world (and some other arts as well) do not have the same moral val­ues as the rest of so­ci­ety. They seem to be­lieve they are uber­men­schen — a form of Ni­et­zschean su­per­men and su­per­women — to whom nor­mal stan­dards do not ap­ply.

New York Times re­porter Michael Kim­mel­man wrote a fine piece on this dis­con­nect and the self-adu­la­tion of Hol­ly­wood types. He noted, for ex­am­ple that af­ter call­ing the rape a “so-called crime,” “Mr. We­in­stein, in all ap­par­ent se­ri­ous­ness, told The Los An­ge­les Times that “Hol­ly­wood has the best moral com­pass.”

Hol­ly­wood’s view of its su­pe­rior moral­ity is prompted by two fac­tors: the ex­ces­sive adu­la­tion it re­ceives from the pub­lic and from one an­other (in what other area of hu­man en­deavor do peo­ple give one an­other as many awards?); and the be­lief that mak­ing art ren­ders one a morally su­pe­rior hu­man be­ing.

As noted by many ob­servers, imag­ine if Polan­ski were a Ro­man Catholic priest — or a Repub­li­can politi­cian — ac­cused of the same crime. All hell would have fallen on the man’s head. The Bos­ton Globe cited the Rev. James Martin, as­so­ciate ed­i­tor of Amer­ica mag­a­zine: “If Polan­ski were in a col­lar there would be no boo-hoo­ing about his re­cent plight. There would be zero pity for him. [. . .] Can you imag­ine a pe­ti­tion be­ing cir­cu­lated among ac­tors, direc­tors, and pro­duc­ers in the United States to have a Catholic priest re­in­stated in his parish af­ter he had abused a 13year-old child? If you be­lieve this about Polan­ski — that his good deeds off­set his guilt and that enough time has passed — do you be­lieve the same about pe­dophile priests?’’

Sec­ond, Hol­ly­wood specif­i­cally, like the film world gen­er­ally, is a co­coon. Rather than cos­mopoli­tan, most of those who in­habit this rar­efied world are ab­nor­mally pro­vin­cial: Their worlds are in­hab­ited with like­minded, equally pro­vin­cial, equally self-ab­sorbed types. They dine, so­cial­ize and party with clones of them­selves and pro­tect one an­other right or wrong.

Once again, Michael Kim­mel­man in the New York Times: “In Poland, where the di­rec­tor is also a ci­ti­zen, Pol­ish film­mak­ers ap­pealed to Pres­i­dent Lech Kaczyn­ski to in­ter­vene, say­ing their col­league had fled the U.S. to es­cape ‘a lynch­ing at court.’ The pres­i­dent of the Ger­man Film Academy, echo­ing Mr. We­in­stein, spoke about the need for ‘sol­i­dar­ity among prom­i­nent peo­ple’ and be­moaned how Mr. Polan­ski had been ar­rested on his way to a film fes­ti­val, as if film fes­ti­vals were em­bassies or churches.”

We have rea­son to be grate­ful to the Polan­ski af­fair. It of­fers that most needed of virtues: clar­ity. It has made the av­er­age ci­ti­zen aware of how bro­ken the cul­tural elite’s moral com­pass is. And it has il­lu­mi­nated how equally dis­torted their self-im­age is. They see them­selves as morally su­pe­rior. They see them­selves as worldly when in fact they are pro­foundly in­su­lar. And they see them­selves as coura­geous artists when in fact the rarest films are those that in­volve any moral courage (for ex­am­ple, how many films about Is­lamic ter­ror and the world that in­cu­bates that ter­ror can you name?)

But the great­est ben­e­fit of the Polan­ski af­fair may be that the next time you see the Hol­ly­wood elite come out on be­half of or against some pub­lic is­sue, you can most likely as­sume the op­po­site is the morally cor­rect po­si­tion.

Den­nis Prager is a na­tion­ally syndicated colum­nist.

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