Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, Jim Lindgren exhumes this quote from George Orwell 1944 essay, "Notes on Dali":
In an age like our own, when the artist is an altogether exceptional person, he must be allowed a certain amount of irresponsibility, just as a pregnant woman is. Still, no one would say that a pregnant woman should be allowed to commit murder, nor would anyone make such a claim for the artist, however gifted. If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear.
Emphasis added by Lindgren, who notes,
When Orwell says that even a reborn Shakespeare couldn't get away with "raping little girls," he was either reflecting the mores of the times…or he forgot about Hollywood.
Yesterday's post on the disturbing apologies for Polanski.
Update: As Gawker's Richard Rushfield notes, over 70 film folks have signed a petition asking that Polanski be set free. Among the signatories:
Michael Mann, Wim Wenders, Pedro Almodóvar, Darren Aronofsky, Terry Gilliam, Julian Schnabel, the Dardenne brothers, Alejandro González Iñárritu, Wong Kar-Wai, Walter Salles and Jonathan Demme. Actors Tilda Swinton, Monica Bellucci and Asia Argento, as well as producer Harvey Weinstein have also put their names on the petition. Yesterday, Weinstein stated he was "calling on every film-maker we can to help fix this terrible situation".
On The View, Whoopi Goldberg (assisted by guest host Melissa Gilbert) explained, without much in the way of facts about the case, that Polanski was not guilty of "rape-rape."
And one-time Reason cover pinup and ostensible human-rights activist and philosopher Bernard Henri-Levy boasts (yet again at Huffington Post) of a petition published in his journal La Règle du jeu that reads:
He risks extradition to the United States for an episode that happened years ago and whose principal plaintiff repeatedly and emphatically declares she has put it behind her and abandoned any wish for legal proceedings.
Seventy-six years old, a survivor of Nazism and of Stalinist persecutions in Poland, Roman Polanski risks spending the rest of his life in jail for deeds which would be beyond the statute-of-limitations in Europe.
We ask the Swiss courts to free him immediately and not to turn this ingenious filmmaker into a martyr of a politico-legal imbroglio that is unworthy of two democracies like Switzerland and the United States. Good sense, as well as honor, require it.
Among the signatories to BHL's petition are Salman Rushdie and Milan Kundera, who know repression but, alas, not the rule of law.
To bring it back to Orwell: First, to call a statutory rape "an episode" is a weasel word, to be sure, especially given that Polanski pled guilty to the charge of unlawful sex with a minor. Second, to harp on Polanski's awful life experiences and supposed aesthetic ingenuity (please, really, consider his filmography in full) is to miss the point that such special pleading is irrelevant to the moral questions involved. As I asked yesterday, would these same people be backing Polanski if he were a Catholic priest?
More updates: Leftys split on issue. Katrina "The Nation" vanden Heuvel tweets that she agrees with Polanski apologist Anne (It was a long time ago and he had a tough life) Applebaum of the WashPost but please "Don't call me apologist for Polanski." Meanwhile Clara "Mother Jones" Jeffrey tweets "Polanski ADMITTED crime of anal/oral/vaginal drugged rape of 13-yr-old. His minor irritant of living abroad in luxury might end. Boo Hoo." and "Seriously, all it takes for smart lefties to believe Polanski not be punished for child rape is agitprop documentary? Pathetic."
Even more update: Polanski, who holds dual Polish and French citizenship, should be glad he's not being arraigned in contemporary Poland. As Foreign Policy reported yesterday:
Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner called on U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to stop the extradition. Kouchner called the arrest "a bit sinister." In these countries, Polanski is widely regarded as an exceptional filmmaker and a victim of the overzealous American justice system….
But Sikorski's defense of Polanski comes at an awkward time: Poland is in the process of implementing much-harsher punishments for people who commit sex crimes. Last week, all but three of the 460 members of Poland's lower chamber of parliament voted to punish certain sex offenders with chemical castration. People convicted of raping a person under 15 (the crime Polanski pled guilty to) or a close relative would be given drugs to diminish their libido, under the new law. On top of chemical castration, there are increased penalties for incest and pedophilia. Trying to justify pedophilia would also be criminalized.