Friday, October 09, 2009
If ever I commit a serious crime, you don't have to defend me
Even if you liked my books.
There's been a lot of discussion about the Roman Polanski case recently, including the fact that a lot of his friends - including some artists I, like millions of others, admire - have signed a petition asking for his release after he raped a thirteen-year-old girl in 1977. Probably other people will have said anything I can say and better - the ever-reliable Jay Smooth being my top recommend (check out the links he references as well as what he says) - but it's still throwing up some interesting conversations. Be advised, this blog post is not exclusively about the Polanski case; much of it is about questions of how we relate to art and artists, considered in a much more general context. This is not meant as an act of disrespect to any of the people involved: there's been so much discussion that I feel there isn't much more I can add, and as I'm not someone who's going to influence the outcome of the case one way or another I don't feel that authoritative statements about it from me are either necessary or appropriate. But if you feel it's too soon to be talking about the case as an example rather than as an issue in itself, or if you're feeling raw about Polanski right now and not in the mood for someone to spin into digressions, heads up; watch Jay Smooth instead.
I've read the transcript of the victim's statement, and it's heartbreaking. The case of rape is completely clear: not only was she thirteen years old, not only did he ply her with alcohol and Quaaludes, but she kept on saying no and he chose to ignore that. With a little girl so young she described his performing cunnilingus on her as performing 'cuddliness.' That mishearing tells you pretty much everything you need to know about her vulnerability, and it's enough to make you sit down and cry.
I can understand the desire not to go to prison, but nobody wants to go to prison and we don't usually take that as a reason not to send them. If Polanski feared being assaulted and sexually abused in prison that's understandable and that shouldn't happen: a society that doesn't make a serious effort to prevent its prisoners from assaulting each other is failing. Committing a crime shouldn't put you outside the body politic or revoke your citizenship: prisoners are members of society, and if they get assaulted in prison, we are failing to protect society from crime. Some people seem to enjoy the idea of prisoners punishing other prisoners, but apart from being sadistic, the attitude is also fundamentally unlawful. If we outsource our punishment of criminals to other criminals, we're handing over execution of the law to people who, by the very nature of their situation, have conclusively proved they don't have much respect for the law. And when we do that, it's time to hand in our civilization certificate and pick up a change-to-barbarism form on the way out.
So I don't relish the idea of anyone in prison, and I certainly don't think prison should be a place of unbearable trauma. But here's the thing: if you commit a horrible crime you ought to be sorry, and if you're sorry, that includes acknowledging that you are not the person who gets to decide when you've been punished enough. (Including deciding that a couple of months under psychiatric observation is adequate penance for rape.) A rapist who insists on freedom from consequences is a rapist who feels sufficiently justified that he sees no need to make reparation, either to his victim or to society.
There's something ugly in the idea of an old man going to prison. Less ugly than the idea of a little girl getting anally raped, mark you, but putting him in prison won't turn back time and the victim herself has stated that she'd rather let the issue drop and get on with her life. This may well be an act of moral heroism and admirable recovery on her part, and it feels ugly to override the wishes of someone whose wishes were so hideously overridden all those years ago. It's a complicated and painful case, and the law's failure to hand Polanski the long sentence he deserved at the time has created a mess. But bottom line, fleeing justice should not be rewarded with a free pardon. Polanski has to face the music, and the best thing to hope for would be a media that respects her privacy and a judge who can hand down a sensible sentence.
But what about all the people who signed the petition to free him or who think he should be let off? Where do they stand in this?
One argument is to say that they're rape ennablers, protecting one of their own whatever the cost, blinded by celebrity or by the belief that an artist should be immune from the law, or uncaring of what happens to little girls. I don't think we can know what's in people's minds, and as there's enough hate and anger in the world I for one would prefer to disagree with the signatories and supporters while giving them the benefit of the doubt. Possibly the fact that he pled guilty to a lesser charge is leading them to believe he should be assumed innocent of the greater charge until proven guilty. Possibly the fact that there was some supposed breaches of ethics by the judge means they think the case should have been dismissed on legal grounds. Possibly in the wake of the Bush administration people are uncomfortable with American pressure on other nations. Possibly they feel they have to stick up for a friend or for someone they admire. I don't think there should be a petition and I don't think people should be supporting Polanski's right to escape justice, but I'd rather not assume evil motivations of anyone without better proof.
But there is, of course, the fact that I love Roman Polanski's movies, and saying I think he ought to go to jail, or at least face some kind of punishment, is an uncomfortable position. It feels ungrateful somehow, inconsistent, as if I should either burn my DVDs or take his side. And I think this take us into an interesting question. Leaving aside people who may have petitioned for Polanki's freedom because they're defending a friend, what of the discomfort those of us who are Polanski fans feel in loving his work but wanting him to face justice? Who owes who what? This is a question that goes beyond a specific case and into the heart of the relationship between artist and consumer. (And this is the point where I'm going to stop talking about the Polanski case as a criminal issue and talk about audience emotion as a cultural phenomenon and go into personal reminisciences, so if you don't want to hear me going on about that, here's the place to stop.)
When I was in my teens, my father liked to recommend movies for me to watch. An intellectual man who loves good stuff, he put a lot of classics on the list, whether drama, thriller or comedy, and a lot of his recommendations became favourite movies of mine, movies that I watched repeatedly, absorbing their rhythms and beats and immersing myself in the work of really good directors. Besides the enjoyment of these films, what I most remember is the feeling of expectation and compliment: the sense that my dad thought I was old enough and smart enough to appreciate this stuff. I felt excited, nascent, on the edge of something great, a whole world of fine experience ready for me to reach out into it.
This, of course, was an expression of love on my father's part, the desire to share favourite things with a family member and to nurture the brain of a kid who looked like she might turn out bright. It was good parenting, the artistic equivalent of taking care to put nutritious meals in front of me, and like a well-nourished child I thrived on it.
One of the directors he put before me was Polanski.
I still remember the day we went to the Chinatown-Knife In The Water double bill. I remember the movies, my earnest concentration to expand my mind around these new challenges, the sense of occasion, like I was being shown some entirely new secret. I remember the Italian meal afterwards, the way my dad talked to me about the movies and asked me what I thought, the feeling of interest and approval from him all through the day. I was in my mid-teens, I think, very young really. Young enough that the movies definitely were a challenge I had to rise to and felt proud of meeting. I was older than the girl Polanski raped. Had raped when I was a baby, in fact, but I didn't know anything about that. I was safe with my dad, the man who a few years later would read my first short story and say, 'You could be a proper writer,' and he was taking me out to dinner.
None of this means anything when we talk about Polanski the man. But when I think of Polanski, I remember that dark old cinema. I remember being curled up on the sofa watching Rosemary's Baby. I remember being so well protected that I could run into the wilds of art and thought and play wherever I chose.
So I love Polanski's films. I love them because they're great films, and I love them because when I watch them, I remember people who loved me.
And I think that if justice had been done, he would have been in jail the day my dad took me to that cinema.
And when I try to reconcile those opposites, even though intellectually I believe they're compatible, the emotional part of my brain wants to know what on earth is wrong with me.
What happens between artist and consumer when you consume the work they've created?
On the most basic level, you usually make some kind of financial transaction. You pay the price of a ticket, a DVD, a book, a CD, or some other sum that gives you access to whatever physical form the work of art has been rendered in. The amount you pay is almost always way less than it cost the artist or artists to create it, whether in actual expenses or in man-hours. Trust me, it cost more than £12.99's worth of groceries to keep me alive long enough to write In Great Waters. The thing you buy is usually not the work of art itself, unless it's a painting or a sculpture; usually you buy either a mass-produced reproduction or recording of the stuff that goes to make it up, words, images, sounds or whatever, or you buy permission from the owners of a cinema to go into a room where you will be able to see a mass-produced reproduction of a recording of the images and sounds.
As an interaction, it's fairly straightforward. But it's also intangible. When my dad bought me dinner the day of the Polanski outing, the food arrived on plates, we ate it until it was gone, and that was the end of it. But when he bought us tickets, it wasn't two little pieces of paper he wanted. If that was what we'd been looking for, he could have bought a whole roll of them from a supply shop and saved himself some money. What we wanted was the experience of the films - and once we'd seen them, we could carry on remembering them. When I later bought a DVD of Rosemary's Baby, it wasn't the disc I wanted, it was the ability to watch the movie - and in theory I could have the same experience every single day without paying an extra penny. I can think about any of those movies without being charged for it, and thinking about them is an essential part of the consumption process.
Similarly for the artist, the object I bought was not the object they created. My DVD box doesn't contain the streets of New York and a youthful Mia Farrow, after all, nor even a roll of film. The recent Hollywood writer's strike included the protest that writers, ridiculously, earned less per DVD than the guy who made the box - but why does this strike us as ridiculous? Because it's the content rather than the physical object that we want to consume, and the content comes from somewhere else.
The purchase of any item is a closed transaction. If you want a copy of my latest book (and you do, I assure you), you pay Amazon £9.09 at the time of writing, and assuming they deliver the book to you in the time frame and condition promised, that's it. They can't threaten to take it away unless you give them more money; you can't expect them to send you anything else unless you give them more money; if you change your mind and return it, all you get back is £9.09. If you choose, you need never deal with Amazon again: you haven't created a relationship with them. You paid, they delivered, you can both walk away. No hard feelings. No strong feelings at all.
But when it comes to works of art, sometimes we find it hard to stick to the closed-exchange model.
In his book about football consumption, Fever Pitch, Nick Hornby reflects on the fans' comparable tendency to feel betrayed when they find their beloved clubs raising prices beyond the fans' means:
It is interesting and revealing that opposition to these bond schemes has taken on the tone of a crusade, as if the clubs had a moral obligation to their supporters. What do the clubs owe us, any of us, really? I have stumped up thousands of pounds to watch Arsenal over the last twenty years; but each time money has changed hands, I have received something in return: admission to a game, a train ticket, a programme. Why is football any different from the cinema, say, or a record shop? The difference is that all of us feel these astonishing deep allegiances ... Over the years we have come to confuse football with something else, something more necessary, which is why these cries of outrage are so heartfelt and so indignant.
Hornby perceptively observes that every financial investment he has made in his beloved product has been a closed transaction: you pay your money, you get exactly what you paid for, and if you believe your money purchased more than was advertised, reality will prove you wrong - or at least powerless to enforce your view. But somehow it's hard to see the money as just money. To a greater or lesser extent, we can see the money as buying something more.
Does the money you spent buy you any expectations of, or indeed duty to, the people whose work you've spent it on? In most cases the answer is an obvious no, but when it comes to matters of real passion like sport or art, our instincts get confused.
My last birthday a friend of mine gave me a book by psychologist Dan Ariely called Predictably Irrational. In it, the good professor - himself motivated to study psychology less for abstract reasons and more from the experience of terrible pain when nurses peeled the bandages too fast (for what reason, asks the study?) off the wounds inflicted by severe burns - considers two different kinds of interaction. These he refers to as 'social norms' and 'market norms':
Social norms include the friendly requests that people make of each other. Could you help me move this couch? Could you help me change this tire? ... Instant paybacks are not required: you may help move your neighbour's couch, but this doesn't mean he has to come right over and move yours. It's like opening a door for someone: it provides pleasure for both of you, and reciprocity is not immediately required.
The second world, the one governed by market norms, is very different ... Such market relationships are not necessarily evil or mean - in fact, they also include self-reliance, inventiveness, and individualism - but they do imply comparable benefits and prompt payments. When you are in the domain of market norms, you get what you pay for - that's just the way it is.
Ariely points out that such norms can coexist peacefully when kept separate, but cause tremendous social friction if you try to play one by the other. A man who expects sex because he bought his date dinner, for instance, has shifted from a social to a market norm and is liable to get neither sex nor his money back. If I tried to pay my father for his time in taking me to the movies, I'd be insulting him.
Social norms can actually increase profits. Companies that encourage a social-norm atmosphere with employee benefits and free take-aways once in a while are more likely to have employees who repay in social kind by working late and committing more creative energy. But once you've moved from a social to a market norm, especially if you do it suddenly, not only do often create a sense of betrayal but you shift the other person into market norm mode in response (your employees' efforts drop down to exactly what you pay them for, say, so no more staying late to finish a job, no more double-checking, no more taking work home). And, too, once you've moved into a market relationship, the social relationship is extremely difficult to get back. Now it's about money, and appeals to social instincts fall on cost-benefit analysing ears.
Now, when it comes to art, on the face of it it's a financial transaction, a market norm. As Nick Hornby would say, every time you spend money you get what was promised: a ticket, a DVD, a book. But the thing is, you have to use the things you buy - and to do that, you need to invest emotion. You could buy a ticket and then throw it away; you could buy a DVD and never play it. To actually consume the work of art - encoded on the film or screened in the cinema or printed on the pages - you have to do something beyond just putting your money down. You have to invest time, and you have to invest feeling. You have to pay attention.
The same applies to anyone who creates a work of art. An artist who invests no emotion at all in their work is going to produce a work of art nobody wants. It's not just a question of billable man-hours. I've worked a variety of jobs besides writing, and compared with schedule-juggling or till-checking, writing is exhausting. It demands a concentration of feeling so intense that some days you can't get it working properly at all. Art is not something you can make absent-mindedly.
In a market relationship, we exchange goods for money. But investment of emotion is for social relationships. Because of that, it can be hard not to feel as if some kind of relationship has been struck up between artist and consumer. You don't know each other personally, but the artist has enriched your emotional life, and generally that's the job of your friends, family and loved ones. When a stranger does it without ever being in your actual presence, the brain gets confused. Rationally you know you don't know them, but some corner of your mind can end up whispering, 'Friends don't demand friends go to jail.'
Having seen the exchange from both the artist and the consumer point of view, though, I don't think this is the way to go.
Looking at things on a social plane can cause curious complications. A couple of examples spring to mind, one more serious than the other. Margaret Atwood caused a lot of annoyance, if I remember right, by suggesting that she could use a remote machine to sign her novels rather than doing it in person, which involved more travel than she felt she could take. Personally I wasn't bothered by this, and remembering my explanation, I said something along the lines of, 'She's already enriched my life with her writing more than I had any right to expect; if she doesn't want to sign my book in person she doesn't have to, she doesn't owe me anything else.' I was talking in social-transaction terms, it seems, but at the same time I was used closed-exchange market logic: she's done her job, done it superbly, and if I want more I ought to give more. Those who were angered by the idea, I suspect, were seeing the relationship between writer and reader more in social terms: they felt that as readers they had invested the same good will in wanting an autograph that they would in paying a visit, and that a remote visit did not reciprocate that good will.
Of more political import, the science fiction writer Orson Scott Card caused a lot of anguish amongst his fans by arguing passionately and not very coherently against same-sex marriage: the gist of the anguish was that Card's books argued for tolerance (a contested claim, actually) and that consequently it was a painful shock to hear him espousing such intolerant views. There's an interesting essay by one science fiction fan discussing the essay of another here, the two of them taking different viewpoints about whether Card's pronouncements should mean an end to loving his work. Though they differ in their conclusions, what unites them is passion. The fan renouncing Card lamented: 'It was as if that kind, gentle and understanding father figure had casually mentioned over breakfast that today he was going to skin a couple dozen squirrels alive and watch them twitch helplessly on the ground ... I cried, because this person that taught me that understanding was everything, this person that taught me to accept people, to embrace life, to understand - this person was not a person who understood, or accepted, or embraced anything wholeheartedly and without judgement.' The person who felt renouncing Card's works unnecessary replies, 'Sometimes you have to let your heroes turn human, which is a stage of maturation, and then you have to find a way to forgive them for it,' recalling how he wept at the death of his favourite author, Robert Heinlein, knowing he would never get to 'meet' or 'thank' him. The depth of emotion in both essays knows nothing of the closed exchange: the interaction between consumer and artist didn't end in the minds of these consumers, and would never end, because the effect of the art had influenced them so much that it was a permanent part of their identities.
Obviously deciding you've dragged your tail through enough airports is not as bad as opposing basic civil rights for your fellow citizens - I have every sympathy for the former, myself - and neither is as bad as raping a child. But the fact that people get so distressed when a favourite artist does something they don't like - more so than they would if a stranger did the same thing - shows us in an odd light. If we've loved an artist's work, we can end up wanting the artist to be worthy of that love; in a sense, we feel that by being the kind of person we want them to be, the artist is coming as close as a stranger can to loving us back. They might not be bringing us the paper in bed, but when the paper comes it tells us good things about them. They're doing what a loved one does: being the person we need them to be when we need them to be it. As journalist Donna Minkowitz says of interviewing Card, a literary hero she found impossible to like in person: 'When he says provocative things I agree with, he's my brother.' The language is once again intimate, familial, struggling to find some way to hold on to the sense of kinship she felt when reading the book, to escape the feeling that the emotion she poured into the work wasn't being thrown back in her face by the behaviour of the writer.
What to make of this from the artist's side? Because while I feel for the pained fans, as a writer I'd be unnerved at such a weight of expectation being placed on me.
Some people who consume my art turn up here or e-mail me. That's socialising, and it's nice to do: I get to hear from pleasant people who want to pay me compliments, and who doesn't like that? So I enjoy socialising with the people who consume my art. But do I feel socially connected, really, with the artists whose work I've consumed? No. Because I know from experience that I don't know the people who consume mine - or if I do, only through the distant contact of e-mail or letters. I experience my relationship with artists, on the whole, as a hopefully cordial business transaction; I hesitate to assume they owe me anything - or at least, owe me more than any citizen of the world owes any other citizen of the world, like the duty to be a reasonable human being.
Those are, after all, the explicit terms of the contract. The sticker on my latest hardback says '£12.99', not '£12.99 and a FREE! promise that Kit won't say or do anything you hate,' and I've never seen such a sticker on anyone else's book either. I'd rather not do hateful things, but that's not because people buy my books. If I need sales to motivate me not to be hateful, I'm kind of a jerk. And to be honest the idea of total strangers expecting me to be their sister or mother would be a bit threatening, and I suspect I'm not alone in feeling that.
But since emotion is a necessary part of the artistic process, what to do with it?
There is, to begin with, a practical issue: social relationships are reciprocal, and the relationship between the artist and the consumer is not, or not in the same way. However social I felt with my dad that day, it didn't make Polanski any kind of father figure to me. The father-feelings I have about his films are about my actual father. Showing me stuff to draw out my tastes was his way of connecting with and praising me. Not the only way - it's not as if we had one of those awkward relationships where you can only communicate obliquely by talking about shared interests - but watching a Polanski movie, or a Kurosawa or a Woody Allen movie, I was not only listening to what the director was trying to say but to what my dad was trying to say too. I was trying to learn what my dad was trying to teach me with his suggestion that I watch these movies, and underlying this was a sense of being deeply complimented he thought it was a lesson I could understand.
In the irrational parts of my mind it's possible to get the two mixed up; to feel that one of the messages Polanski put in his films was, 'Kit, your father loves you and respects your mind.' When an artist is heavily associated with a particular relationship, we can conflate the two - and conversely, an artist we discover on our own can be associated with the message, 'You're an independent person who makes their own decisions.' Or 'You're not alone; other people think like you.' Or whatever message we most desperately wish somebody would come along and give us.
This is fine: it's a way of taking care of ourselves. It's just that it's a message we're telling ourselves through watching the movie, not a message the artist put there for us. We can parent ourselves with art, seeing a father or mother figure delivering to us the messages we want to hear, when in fact it's our own act of seeking out these messages, finding confirmation of what we most deeply want to believe, that's the act of nurture. On an interpersonal level, the credit, or indeed the blame, lies with the person who introduces or chooses the art rather than with the artist. The artist wasn't there.
However much emotion I invested in watching Polanski's movies, he doesn't know about it any more than I know exactly what emotions my stuff provokes in the people who read it. Faces may be familiar from photographs, but we're all strangers to one another. Conceiving and consuming a work of art are both essentially self-contained experiences, and the sheer weight of numbers and anonymity means that whatever emotion flows from the consumers to the art never actually reaches the artist. It simply carries on circulating within the consumer. Likewise, whatever emotion the artist invested was not addressed directly to the consumer, not personally, and social relationships are personal.
Rather than encountering each other as members of society, the artist and the consumer relate to each other only incidentally. In both cases, their ultimate relationship is with the work. The artist pours their energy into the work; the consumer pours their energy into the work, but the work is not a permeable membrane. It absorbs energy and bounces it back. Inanimate objects based on abstract conceptions are not very good communicators of what the other guy said about you: the work of art acts not only as a connector between artist and audience but as a breakwall.
I invested emotion in watching Polanski's movies, but does that mean he owes me anything? No. Does it mean I owe him anything? I think it depends what market we're looking at.
I don't think I'm morally obliged to support anything any artist does, no matter how much they enrich my life. I think I owe an artist-as-human-being exactly as much as I owe any other member of society: the benefit of the doubt, and the expectation, should they commit a crime, that they be judged appropriately. To expect an artist to be held to a higher standard of ethics than anyone else is unrealistic, but to hold them to a lower standard of ethics is not only irresponsible but insulting, a failure to judge them as an adult.
But the art does give me something, and something I didn't pay for. A DVD of a good movie costs the same as a terrible one: the money didn't buy the experience. That was the artist's gift.
I don't think I'm obliged to pay it back. I think I need to pay it forward. If my dad took me to the movies, I should be nice to him, but if Polanski's work influenced me either as a person or an artist, I learn from that and put it into what I write and what I do. That, at least, is reciprocating in the same coin: creating beautiful works of art was not a personal favour to me, and while there would be no reason not to pay it back in a personal favour if appropriate, there isn't an obligation. The obligation is to make good use of what you were given.
What about market retaliation? If an artist does something you object to, by this logic, does that mean we can't boycott their work? No. Refusing to put money into the coffers of someone you disapprove of is a basic social as well as market tactic. While I agree with almost everything Jay Smooth ever says, I don't think buying bootleg copies of an artist's work is a good way to express your disapproval: that's kind of stealing, and stealing from someone you don't approve of is not a good tactic in most societies. I think if you want to vote with your wallet to express your disapproval, that doesn't entitle you to break the law to save yourself inconvenience; no one ever died of waiting for a movie to come out on television, or not watching it at all.
Polanski is more talented than me and so I may not be the yardstick by which to judge. But as a small artist judging a big one, I don't think art makes you an exceptional citizen - by which I mean it doesn't make you an exception to the rules of civilisation. The ability to create something doesn't make you anything other than a human being. If I did something wrong and found a fan of my books arguing that I should be let off the hook because of what a great writer I was, I think I'd be kind of insulted. It would be objectifying, a reduction of complex humanity to a mere cypher who could only be judged as a producer of stuff, not as a person and a citizen. If it was a choice between being objectified and being imprisoned I'd probably go with the latter - but if I commit a terrible crime, that's no longer my decision, and if I didn't know that when I committed the crime, I should have.
So I'm just saying here and now: if at some point in the future I commit a serious crime and there's no question that I did it, you don't have to take my side even if you liked my books. The financial deal is simple and closed, and unless you actually introduce yourself, any social relationship we have is with the work. You don't owe me any more than I owe you.
I don't know what's going to happen with Polanski. Mostly I hope the girl, now woman, he raped is left alone in privacy, and that we as a society can get a whole lot better at dealing with rape.
But when it comes to judging criminal behaviour, the basic rule is very simple: art has nothing at all to do with it. Those feelings about the artist? We put them there ourselves, and it's to ourselves, ultimately, that they have to return.
I think the problem is that while you are clearly intelligent (and articulate) enough to separate Polanski the director from Polanski the rapist, and state that while you like his films, you don't agree with what he did and don't think he should get away with it, many other people aren't. See for example, Whoopi Goldberg claiming that 'it wasn't rape-rape' - what else was it? Seriously?.
This issue of famous / rich / talented people getting away with committing crimes BECAUSE they are famous / rich / talented has been going on for years (eg OJ Simpson, Michael Jackson, premier league footballers etc) BECAUSE people (be it the police / jurors / the press / the general public) can't distinguish between the person who committed the criminal act and the person who represented something / created something they felt strongly about. Which is sad and rather pathetic and speaks volumes about the intelligence of the average person.
That was a thought-provoking post, Kit. Thank you for sharing. I particularly like what you said about how the artist and consumer each relate to and invest in the work of art, not each other. Of course, I'd note that taking that perspective requires the ability and willingness to "separate" the artist from the art. Not everyone has that ability or desire.
As an example, I remember getting into a discussion of Orson Scott Card's comments regarding same sex marriage on one of the sites that monitors and reports on the "ex-gay movement." A number of people there were announcing that they were getting rid of their copies of Card's books and would never spend any money on him again. I myself questioned this, suggesting that if they got something out of the books, it seemed strange to turn their back on it. Some insisted that Card's views inherently poisoned them beyond redemption. In fact, one person admitted that they believed that Card's views would taint even a cookbook if he chose to write one. (I'm still mystified how one's views on same sex marriage could possible effect one's ability to create delicious food, but there you have it.) According to some, people who say and do terrible things can't create good art.
It seems to me if some people supporting Polanski might be working from that same assumption, but in the opposite direction. They love Polanski's movies and consider them great art. Since they know people who do terrible things can't create good art, they find themselves trying to explain away, justify, forgive, or otherwise get around what Polanski did.
I can see, actually, losing your desire to read books by someone whose views you find abhorrent - if that undercurrent of intolerance starts becoming more visible to you in the writing. The first time I read Florence King's Memoirs of a Failed Southern Lady, for example, I basically read it as comment/comedy with a few bits I didn't agree with. Reading more of what she said elsewhere, the stuff I didn't agree with leaped out more - and some of it was really ugly. (Again, in fact, shrugging at rape.) It didn't make me throw out my copy or stop respecting her as a stylist, or decide that I had to disagree with everything she ever said, but it did throw other comments of hers into a new light, and diminished my enjoyment somewhat.
So, for instance, I never liked the ending of Chinatown, where world-weary resignation precludes any attempt to rescue a teenage girl from her rapist father-grandfather, or the scene in which the hero keeps hitting a woman. I like them even less now I've read about the rape case, and I'm actually not in a hurry to watch Chinatown again.
So I can see losing an interest in the work because you think the energy the artist put into such work is corrupted: if it was created out of corrupt energy, there's the possibility it'll be a corrupted work. I can see refusing to put any more money into their pockets as well. I just don't think that consuming an artist's work puts us into a personal relationship with them. Polanski didn't betray me by raping a child; he betrayed her and he betrayed every sound moral code in the world, but any personal feelings I have about that beyond those of a concerned citizen are my problem, not his.
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just curious about one thing: Has he actually been convicted of rape? He pleaded guilty to sex with a minor, but not to drugging and abusing her without her consent.
I am just asking because, having read a couple of blog posts about the subject, people seem to argue either from the point of "he raped a 13-year old girl, the bastard" or from the point of "he had voluntary sex with a too young girl". And while both are crimes, there is, at least in my mind, a huge difference.
To me it doesn't seem right that to assume that he is either guilty or innocent of the such a strong charge. That is a question for the courts to decide. The only discussion the general public should be having is whether he should be extradited or not. (Which in my opinion he should, of course).
Please correct me if any of my facts are wrong, as living in Norway I don't get all the exposure to the case as I might like.
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