I hate it when this particular bullshit is pulled. The Roman Polanski case is pretty simple: Polanski drugged a girl, then shoved parts of his body into parts of her body. (Here’s the Wikipedia rundown for the unfamiliar reader.) Since Samantha Geimer was under the age of consent, it was statutory rape; since she was drugged, she couldn’t give meaningful consent and therefore it would have been rape even if she had been over the age of consent. That’s the law, and if you break the law, the state punishes you.*
There are two common arguments about Polanski, both of which Mitchell uses and both of which are bullshit. The first argument states that very bad things happened to Polanski in the past, therefore Polanski cannot be punished in any meaningful way for the very bad things that he did to other people. Coren trots this out when she writes:
Then you read about the life of Roman Polanski. How shameful and how pointless to punish him with violence, even in the imagination.
This is just bizarre. Basically, it means that if Charles Manson had kept on sneaker pimping and stayed away from Sharon Tate, Roman Polanski should have served time for rape, because then jail would have… hurt more? Because his wife wan’t dead? Polanski had a hard-knock life, you guys, therefore he’s already been punished for his crimes in the past and doesn’t need to be punished anymore! Also, Nazis! In his past! It’s a time machine argument and it’s so, so stupid.
The second argument is that Polanski made some pretty movies, and therefore he what he did is somehow more complicated and worthy of sympathy than rape by somebody who used a movie camera to videotape his kids’ Christmas play. As Mitchell writes, “A second complicating factor is that Polanski’s work is filled with beauty and humanity.”
That’s nice. Lots of people contribute in various positive ways to this world, but guess what, that doesn’t mean that their crimes are any less, well, criminal. For example, I just wrote this fucking awesome essay about how Victoria Coren Mitchell writes bullshit. But if I get pulled over tomorrow for speeding, the cop’s not going to let me off because I wrote something that two of you out there thought was interesting (I hope) and therefore in the big scheme of things, it’s a wash. I’m still going to pay a fine. That’s because speeding is a crime, just like rape is a crime.
I understand that rape cases aren’t always clean-cut, just like every other type of criminal case. But I don’t sympathize with Polanski, and even if I did it wouldn’t mean that what he did is somehow beyond punishment. This is really one of life’s few easy ones. Let’s leave it that way.
* Of course, there’s always the question of whether the state’s laws are just and whether the state should even be involved in certain areas of life—in this case, the criminalization of sex acts. I really doubt that Mitchell is trying to take her argument to that point, but maybe she’s got some libertarian woo that she wants to unleash, which I’d frankly find more interesting than this half-hearted Polanski nonsense. Take it to the next level, Mitchell!