File under "The Right Sort of Roman."
or "Why I look to the Guardian for information of child molestation."
The Guardian tells us:
Whatever his crimes, Roman Polanski deserves his awards
Roman Polanski's lifetime achievement award reminds us that art should never be judged by the morals of the artistThe Guardian article explains:
Remember that bit at the end of The Pianist where Adrien Brody's character plays the piano for his Nazi captor? Didn't that make your skin tingle? Didn't it bruise your soul to think of all the cruelty and destruction of the Holocaust, and didn't the juxtaposition of the music flood you with hope at the way art elevates us all? Or maybe you were too busy thinking about the fact that the person who directed the film was guilty of having sex with an underage girl, and felt unable to enjoy something he had created.
Today Roman Polanski, director of award-winning films such as The Pianist and Chinatown, goes to Zurich to finally collect his lifetime achievement award, two years after it was given to him. His late acceptance is due to the fact that he was arrested and held in custody first time round, with the intention of extraditing him to the US and making him serve the sentence he fled from over 30 years ago.
I think it's wonderful he's going to get this award, but I will not in any way defend him as a person. Many people are apologists for his behaviour, encapsulated by Whoopi Goldberg's famous line "It wasn't rape-rape", but they are missing the point. I haven't met him and I am not going to comment on his apparent intelligence or solemn grace. If he did rape or seduce this little girl in 1977, then that is repulsive, despite his pregnant wife being murdered in 1967, or his surviving the Holocaust in Poland as a child, when nearly 90% of the Jewish population was murdered, including his own mother.
None of that actually matters to anyone other than him; in regards to this award, his personal history is entirely irrelevant. Art should never be judged by looking at the artist. It is vital that we separate the two, otherwise it would have terrible implications for creativity. If we wiped out all art created by morally reprehensible people, we would lose some of our most treasured songs, paintings, buildings and books.
In his 1967 essay Death of the Author, the French philosopher Roland Barthes argued that when a writer creates his work, it is born. It is a separate entity, and capable of living an unpredictable life, much like a child. It is beyond the author's control, and vice versa. Just as you shouldn't judge a person by looking at where they came from, or who raised them, so too with works of art.
I think people are generally good at doing this. Amy Winehouse was a serious drug user and self-harmer and had a notoriously violent marriage. Not exactly a good role model, but she is rightly lauded as having one of the best voices of her generation. TS Eliot was an antisemite, but was studied at my university, where professors unapologetically called him a genius. Einstein was a philanderer, but this week he's been discussed with fondness and admiration for his contribution to physics.
Would it be right to suddenly stop praising the works of these people just because they had committed crimes or had hateful views? Of course not. But none of these crimes are as bad as child rape, and anyway all these people are dead, which makes it different, right?
Wrong. The music industry is still rife with questionable characters. Chris Brown, an artist renowned for domestic abuse of Rihanna, has won multiple awards since his conviction. One of the most celebrated stars of all time, Michael Jackson, was involved for years in a child molestation case, and exhibited terrifying behaviour towards his own children.
The music industry has obviously decided that the dubious personal lives of these artists are not to be taken into account, and the film industry is following suit. By rewarding these people for the things they have created, they are not forgiving them their crimes. Polanski deserves this recognition. He's contributed greatly to the cause of film, and that is all that matters. Whoever he is, whatever he did, one thing is for certain: he made art, for art's sake.