Roman Polanski’s arrest on September 26 continues to breed stories in the news and spurs me to write. In addition to the more publicized support garnered for Polanski from Hollywood (see The Guardian and NY Daily News), the writer Bernard-Henri Lévy (in The Huffington Post) has gathered signatures of celebrities, writers and artists on an informal petition to the Swiss courts to free him. His argument for why Polanski deserves freedom are: the “principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings” and because “good sense, as well as honor, require it.”
Then on October 4, on ABC’s “This Week,” journalist Cokie Roberts said “Polanski is a criminal. He raped and drugged and sodomized a child. And then was a fugitive from justice. As far as I’m concerned, just take him out and shoot him.” The foment of opinion is on as each side battles its position.
Also making the news last week (The Guardian) was the shuttering of the Richard Prince exhibition, “Spiritual America,” withdrawn from London’s Tate Museum when Scotland Yard warned that the nude photograph of ten-year-old Brooke Shields, wearing full make-up and a necklace, could violate obscenity laws. Prince’s photo is of an original 1975 photograph shot by Gary Gross, a pose authorized by Shield’s mother at the time for which she received $450. When Ms. Shields was 16 years old, she attempted and failed to legally suppress the further usage of the pictures.
It’s a travesty that Shield’s mother would have ever agreed to such a photograph of her child, regardless of the fee, and to me it’s not so different from a 45-year-old Polanski giving a 13-year-old child champagne and Quaaludes before raping her, regardless of the victim’s understandable now-adult-wish to “put it behind her.” Plainly both were despicable acts of adult abuse against children.
It’s easy to become polarized on these two situations; I myself tend toward Cokie Roberts’ opinion, though without the deathwish. There are many stories out there about Polanski and the discussion of art and genius over criminality; less about the Tate show closing. For me, it was the convergence of these two stories that brought to fore how celebrity and fame “in the name of art” can warp even the primal relationship of mother and daughter, so it’s not so surprising that the same would warp the judgment of a writer and self-claimed French philosopher—and the writers Salmon Rushdie, Milan Kundera and Paul Auster—who declare that “honor” is at stake. Both children in these cases, for they were children at the time of the crimes, have been denied justice. Don’t we, as adults then and now, have a social responsibility to protect their honor?