|Polanski dines with Clive James during an interview|
Prompted by the recent revelations about Jimmy Savile, and Gore Vidal's take on the Roman Polanski case, I'm analysing the excuses we make for rich, famous or talented offenders; the ways in which we forgive, look away from, or simply deny their vices. A sample:
Polanski was... an internationally recognised director, with the cash, status and connections to escape arrest for decades. And his skills were continually coupled to his crimes - as if the former somehow excused the latter.
At the time of his first arrest, for many in the European press he was, as Brenneman put it, a "tragic, brilliant historic figure." After his arrest in Switzerland in 2009, Irina Bokova, now the Director-General of UNESCO, said that Polanski was "a world renowned intellectual," and that the arrest was "shocking." "He is one of us," said painter Arnaud d'Hauterives, from the French Academy of Fine Arts, "and we maintain our esprit de corps."
Within the United States, Polanski also has friends. Producer Harvey Weinstein, for example, writing in The Independent, praised him as "a man who cares deeply about his art and its place in this world."
The point is not that Weinstein is wrong - Polanski's films speak for themselves. The point is that the director's talent and fame are often used to mitigate the gravity of his crimes.
Polanski's defenders are not unusual. We are, unfortunately, blinkered and easily-blinded animals. When it comes to excusing powerful figures, any valued quality will do: fame, talent, wealth. Actors and singers who assault, politicians who allegedly pay teenage prostitutes– for many in the public, the crimes are somehow dimmed by the light of glory or grandeur. We make excuses. We blame the victims. We laugh it off. "Everyone deserves a 24th chance," said convicted spousal abuser Charlie Sheen, advertising his new sitcom.(Photo: youtube)