The Magazine

The Nobel-Hollywood Complex Implodes

Polanski, Letterman, and the Norwegians make conservatives' day

Oct 26, 2009, Vol. 15, No. 06 • By NOEMIE EMERY
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Three times in the past several weeks, fortune has seemed to beam on conservatives, in unexpected and unprompted ways. Not that they've won much, but their tormentors keep losing. Three days in fall 2009 damaged or neutralized three liberal institutions, whose powers have now been curtailed.

Break number one came on September 26, when Roman Polanski, on his way to collect a lifetime achievement award from the Zurich Film Festival, was intercepted by Swiss police and tossed into prison, pending extradition to the United States, which he had fled 30 years earlier to avoid a jail sentence for drugging and raping a girl of 13 (a crime he had pleaded down to unlawful sex with a minor). This outrage--the arrest, not the rape--stunned the global artistic community, which quickly drew up a petition in protest, signed by la crème de la crème of stage and screen, including Salman Rushdie, Mike Nichols (Mr. Diane Sawyer), Martin Scorsese, Isabelle Huppert, Diane von Furstenberg (Mrs. Barry Diller), and Woody Allen, famous for having married his former flame's daughter, whom he seduced when she was still in her teens. The excuses were many, and flew very fast. Whoopi Goldberg exonerated the French-Polish director on the grounds that it wasn't "rape-rape" and thus not important. French sage Bernard-Henri Lévy, who organized a petition of support, called it a "youthful indiscretion" (Polanski was 43 at the time). Debra Winger, the Zurich festival's president, called the arrest "philistine collusion" with puritanical America and typical of the persecutions that beset artists everywhere.

In defending their friend, the points made by his allies amounted to these: (1) The crime wasn't that bad; (2) it was bad, but it was so long ago that it no longer mattered; (3) Polanski had suffered already: Family members had died in concentration camps, and his wife and unborn child were murdered; and (4) it might have mattered if it had been done by a lesser creative talent, but middle-class standards of law and of morals do not apply to artistes such as he. Their attitude was prefigured by Tom Shales of the Washington Post in a sympathetic June 9, 2008, review of a sympathetic HBO documentary, Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired: "Polanski belongs to a rarefied subculture: celebrities hounded by the state."

In the same vein Harvey Weinstein, the Miramax mogul, said Polanski deserved to be cleared of all charges, as he so deeply cared for "art and its place in the world." But on a sliding scale (assuming one accepts this warped logic), if King Lear and the Sistine Chapel ceiling should get their creators cleared of grand larceny, filming Frantic and China-town might be worth leniency on a parking infraction. And if making Ghost (Whoopi Goldberg) and Legal Eagles (Debra Winger), or inventing the wrap dress (Diane von Furstenberg) conveys moral authority, so does teaching an art class, writing a legal brief, and mopping floors. But not to worry, this crowd does have morals, if it does says so itself. "Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion," said Weinstein, which means that it sometimes writes checks to a really posh charity, while mere human beings are often disposable. Katha Pollitt, speaking for the non-pedophile left at the Nation, pronounced herself enraged at "superstars who go on and on about human dignity and human rights [and] don't see what Polanski did as rape, or don't care." She wasn't alone. "The brutalization of one young girl," said the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson "leaves Hollywood's big heart awfully cold." It's a good sign when not all on the left buy into this sort of rubbish.

The second break came on the night of October l. David Letterman started off his opening monologue not with some straying governor's problem, but with a problem much closer to home. As he told his audience (which laughed and clapped, as it thought he was joking), he had played around with a great many women who were in his employ, and a CBS news producer had tried to extort him, threatening to go public with numerous scandals unless paid $2 million. Among the details which surfaced quite quickly: Dave and the producer had been sharing a woman, which made this affair slightly more creepy than that of Governor Mark Sanford of South Carolina, though less so than those of John Edwards and former governors Jim McGreevey of New Jersey and Eliot Spitzer of New York.