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Note to conservatives: thanks, but your help is not needed

By Amanda Marcotte
Tuesday, September 29, 2009 14:09 EDT
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I didn’t want to write anymore on the Roman Polanski thing, but I feel I should, because I’ve been absolutely floored by the number of people who’ve come to his defense, and how shrill they are. And if I’m surprised, then that means something, since I’ve been someone who follows rape cases and the public reaction closely, and have seen every vile kind of rape apology out there, including those issued by the MRAs who want to make rape de facto legal.* But I cannot fucking believe how many people are willing to say upfront that famous film directors should have the full right to rape children, and if you try to stop that, you hate art or something.

Amanda Hess collected some of the most common Polanski defenses—interestingly, it seems no one has come right out and said that 13-year-old girls aren’t human beings, but toys to be used and discarded by whatever famous men wish to do so, though of course that’s what they mean—and I have to say that the weirdest one was (where else?) at Huffington Post. Kim Morgan claims she’s setting aside her arguments for the right to rape children, and instead does some film criticism of Repulsion in an effort to suggest that Polanski can’t be a rapist, because he understands women, and their dark desires—hint, hint, his 13-year-old victim was asking for it when she cried and said no and begged to go home. Polanski knows women better than they know themselves, she says. He knows, apparently, that 13-year-olds are dying to be raped, even if they continue to say no after the fact by pressing charges.

Of course, if you’re going to judge what Polanski believes about rape from his movies, I’d point out that Tess in the movie titled Tess kills the man who raped her, so perhaps Polanski isn’t actually 100% on board with Morgan’s insinuation that rape is some secret desire of women everywhere, and especially of junior high school girls. (By the way, that movie has a lot of flaws, but I always thought the murder scene was an awesome scene, since you don’t know what she’s done until you see the pool of blood from the second floor seep through the ceiling on the first.)

Morgan doesn’t even note that Polanski has done a number of movies where sympathetic female characters are unjustly objectified and ruined by the world, and I’ve often thought there was a strong feminist reading of these movies. Rosemary’s Baby in particular reads as a meditation on how the patriarchy—characterized not just as evil, but as Satanic—wears women down, and uses their most human instincts (such as love for your children) to gain women’s compliance. That movie features a horrifying rape scene, and there’s no doubt that it’s rape, and that there’s something more than a little fucked up about the way Rosemary feels obliged to shrug it off. It’s interesting to contemplate why Polanski did Tess while on his champagne and caviar exile tour, since of course it’s based on Tess of the D’urbervilles, Thomas Hardy’s story of a woman whose entire life is ruined because she’s raped by….wait for it…..a rich, powerful, older man who is therefore shielded from justice while all the blame is shoved off on Tess. Is he mining his own life for inspiration while still refusing to submit to justice? Trying to suggest that he gets the struggle of rape victims? Who knows? It was an uneven movie, and the book deserves better.

None of this changes the fact that he raped a child and has decided he should have had the right.

If we wanted to, we could make an incredibly long list of artists and writers whose ideas espoused in their work were not lived in their lives. Anyone who considers themselves a film critic who can reconcile this reality needs to turn in their film critic card.

But I couldn’t account for the passion behind the defenses of Polanski—not from the French or from Hollywood—until I happened to pop on over to Hot Air, and saw that the conservative bloggers are all of a sudden deeply concerned about rape. Was there a moral epiphany, I thought, and can we count on them to stand firmly against rape in the future? Or is this just an exception because of the youth of the victim?

I think it’s a little of the latter, but reading Allahpundit, I realized what was going on: He compares it to Chappaquiddick, singles out Hollywood, sneers at art, and all of a sudden I realized what was going on. The defenders of Polanski are people that conservatives hate no matter what they’re doing: lovers of arty film, the French, Hollywood, people who travel to foreign countries and people who speak multiple languages. And just as conservatives couldn’t give two shits about a young woman who dies in a car accident when anyone but a liberal politician is driving, I’m afraid we have another opportunistic faux outrage so they can strike at the real villains: art, foreignness, Hollywood liberals.

If the French elite and other Polanski defenders see him as a victim of provincial, sexually repressed assholes, it’s because the provincial, sexually repressed assholes see this as another scalp to collect, now that they’ve got Van Jones. I kind of wish that the conservatives were leaving this one alone, because the louder they scream, the more Polanski defenders can paint the opposition as a stereotype of the worst kind of Americans, the sort that snarl at the idea of watching a subtitled film, and think that two wine coolers and some experimentation with cunnilingus is walking on the wild side.

The truth is that most of us that want Polanski to pay for his crime are expressing the best parts of American culture, the belief in the rule of law and equality. Like many artists, we don’t live up to our ideal of treating every citizen like they deserve the protection of the law, and holding every citizen (no matter how rich) accountable for their crimes. But punishing Polanski is a step in the right direction, a signal that we do not believe that rich and famous men can rape whoever they like, as long as they stalk the relatively powerless.

*They’ll deny this, but they tend to believe that rape—unlike any other crime—should result in an immediate prosecution of the victim for “lying” if the rapist isn’t convicted. The vast majority of the time, when there isn’t a conviction, it’s because there’s a lack of evidence, not because a crime didn’t occur, and that’s why we don’t prosecute victims of crimes if the criminal gets away with it. Murder victims don’t see their families prosecuted, mugging victims aren’t sent to jail if they never catch anyone, etc.

Obviously, the practical effect of a law like this is no one would ever press charges for rape ever again, since doing so likely means going to jail, or at least being prosecuted yourself. Therefore, MRAs who push for this support the legalization of rape, at least in practice, even if it stays technically legal but completely unenforced. Functionally, this suggestion is no different than in those countries that require four male witnesses for a rape conviction, and jail women who come forward as victims for fornication.

Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte
Amanda Marcotte is a freelance journalist born and bred in Texas, but now living in the writer reserve of Brooklyn. She focuses on feminism, national politics, and pop culture, with the order shifting depending on her mood and the state of the nation.
 
 
 
 
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