Roman Polanski and the Politics of Remembering

By Gareth Higgins 09-30-2009

I'm reluctant to comment regarding film-maker Roman Polanski's arrest and the attempt to extradite him to the U.S. to face charges stemming from his admitted sex offence against a 13 year old girl in 1977, because the issues are complex and probably better handled in conversation where dialogue partners might arrive at a truth together. But the issues are also important, so I'd like to invite such a conversation in the comments below.

It seems to me that BOTH the extremes of "lynch mob" politics and the "oh he's an artist and European so it doesn't really matter" tendency are missing part of the story. The calls for Polanski's punishment dabble in self-righteousness; but the attempts to mitigate his behaviour are ridiculous (witness the utterly absurd article published in The Huffington Post that called for a boycott of Swiss chocolate, and asserted that his actions didn't matter because the age of consent in California was 14 then, and is probably 13 now [this is not true, by the way]).

One hopes that the fresh interest in the story can allow space for serious discussion about the issues at the heart of the case, and not just whether or not one man should or should not be punished for his particular crime. Some of these issues, I believe, include the following:

1: The sexualisation of children in our culture; the fact that the 13 year old victim in the case was being photographed for a magazine spread is surely part of the problem. The groundwork for what happened at Jack Nicholson's house in 1977 was laid by an entire subculture of the industrial-entertainment complex. Polanksi is not the only guilty party; nor is the girl the only victim.

2: The role that trauma plays in the behaviour of people who abuse others. No one would doubt that the loss of family members in the Holocaust, vagrancy and homelessness as a young man, and

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