Back in March, we discussed part of a transcript from a 1978 Raiders of the Lost Ark story session in which George Lucas thought it would be “interesting” if Marion Ravenwood had been 12 years old at the time of her “affair” with Indiana Jones. It sparked debate, disgust and defense as commenters speculated about Lucas and his thinking process. Between the transcript and the fact that Marion was being written as a love interest who had a romantic past and future with Indy, it’s difficult not to infer that, as PocketNerd put it, Lucas “thought Indy could screw a little girl without really being a bad person.”
If he did think that (and I stress “if” because I certainly don’t presume to know his mind), he wasn’t alone.
In 1977, the year previous to this story session, Roman Polanski was arrested for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl. Specifically, he was charged with “rape by use of drugs, perversion, sodomy, lewd and lascivious act upon a child under 14” but his lawyers got that knocked down to “unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor.” Don’t ask me what difference the state of California thought/thinks there is between sexual assault/rape and “unlawful sexual intercourse.” On my planet, it’s either rape, statutory rape, or it’s sex.
If Lucas was confused, no wonder. People think of rape as a form of sex – a bad form, but a form of it nonetheless. Really, sex and rape are two different things, in much the same way that going for a swim and being dumped in the river with concrete bricks tied to your feet are two very different things. But our language – particularly the language of the law and courtrooms where people’s rights get decided – continues to fail to reflect this. And a lot of people over the years have argued, in so many words, that Polanski screwed a little girl without really being a bad person.
Polanski fled the US before he could face charges. He’s been a fugitive ever since, sticking mostly to travel in countries that don’t like extraditing people to the US. Recently, his lawyers tried to get the 32-year-old charges dropped altogether. The L.A. Times reports that L.A. authorities nabbed Polanski in Switzerland this weekend when he made a public appearance at a film festival. Everyone is stunned that a rape fugitive can’t appear in public, publicly, with loads of publicity, without the people who charged him showing up to bring him to justice. The festival spokeswoman didn’t see it coming. Polanski himself was shocked – he’s been living and working as a free man all this time, what the hell? From the L.A. Times online article, bold emphasis mine:
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner told France-Inter radio that he and Polish Foreign Minister Radek Sikorski asked Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that Polanski be released on bail, calling his arrest a “bit sinister.”
French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand was quoted in French media as saying, “In the same way that there is a generous America that we like, there is also a scary America that has just shown its face.”
Hey, I’m the first to admit the U.S. does scary shit that other nations have every right to be upset about. Arresting rapists is not a good example of this, though. More from the article:
Robert Harris, a British novelist who had worked with Polanski, said in a statement that he believed the arrest was “politically motivated.” “I am shocked that any man of 76, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion,” he said.
I’m shocked that any girl of 13, whether distinguished or not, should have been treated in such a fashion as Polanski treated his victim.
Since 1977, Polanski has settled a civil suit with his victim, Samantha Geimer, who forgave him publicly. An HBO documentary has suggested that the judge and a prosecutor mishandled the original proceedings, and Geimer has said she wants the case dropped – understandably. Now Polanski’s lawyers are claiming L.A. authorities never attempted to enforce the warrant in all this time, and L.A. authorities are claiming they did once or twice.
The bottom line is, what happened to Geimer was not prosecuted in a way that suggested it was really important to anyone but her. Because it wasn’t. Maybe if Polanski had raped a little boy, things would be different – oh, not because we care about little boys anymore than little girls, but because people would mistakenly conflate that crime with homosexuality. But because the gender and class dynamics of this particular rape happen to coincide with those our society considers ideal and correct for all humans (empowered male has sex with powerless female), we think there’s room to consider the possibility that Polanski isn’t really a bad person, he just mistakenly fed a thirteen-year-0ld girl champagne and quaaludes before accidentally taking her into his bedroom and forcing a variety of sex acts upon her while she said “no” a lot and pled for him to stop (which I’m sure he simply didn’t hear or something).
It’s really not the purview of the law to decide whether Polanski is a bad person or not. The law is not about judging people, it’s about judging their actions. Polanski harmed a young girl, willfully; he finagled his way out of being punished for it; and the authorities really haven’t demonstrated anything beyond self-interest in the whole affair. Now, if there is any justice, it sounds like it will come at the cost of Samantha Geimer’s peace of mind. But I doubt there will be any justice. There will be lots of media attention, and the L.A. District Attorney’s office will strut around, and Polanski’s lawyers will get their faces on cable news, and the upshot will be that everyone decides Polanski’s really not a bad person, and anyway, being forced to spent thirty-two years making a lavish living with the respect and admiration of his peers without being able to travel to the U.S. is punishment enough.