"If Shakespeare returned to the earth to-morrow, and if it were found that his favourite recreation was raping little girls in railway carriages, we should not tell him to go ahead with it on the ground that he might write another King Lear."When the great film maker Roman Polanski was arrested in Switzerland for a crime he committed three decades ago (he pled to sex with a minor, but the victim's grand jury testimony would indicate it was coerced -- ie., plain, ordinary rape) my first reaction was to think that the case ought to be dismissed, for a number of reasons.
George Orwell, "Notes on Dali"
But everyone I respect among the people who have taken a stand on the issue (including Eugene Volokh, Megan Mcardle, and Nick Gillespie) have taken the "do the crime, do the time" position. I have only found one person on the other side for whose legal and moral judgment I have much respect, and that is Anne Applebaum. (Sorry, but the French Minister of Culture, along with novelists and Hollywood glitterati who are solidly backing Polanski do not count. And Applebaum's judgment is tainted in this case by the fact that she is married to a Polish politician who is actively lobbying for the Polanski, who is of course of Polish ancestry.) This gives me pause.
Let me comment on just one of the issues involved here. Should Polanski get some special consideration because he has created some cinematic masterpieces? Artsy cognac-sipping Europeans say yes. Prudish American Philistines say no. I guess I have to agree with the Philistines on this one.
Beethoven's friends, it is true, put up with his making potty jokes over dinner, along with much worse behavior, because they loved his music and loved him for creating it. On the other hand, it was still true that he was a jerk. (To see him at his worst, read this.) The jerky behavior and the sublime music were traits of the same person. He was both of these people, and many others besides. That's what human beings are like: complicated.
If you are deciding whether to accept a dinner invitation, or buy a ticket to a concert or a movie, you have to weigh the good and the bad and make your own decision. On this issue I side with the artsy types. I love the arts and creative people in general. I would give up a lot to have dinner with Beethoven, fart jokes and all.
But that's only relevant when I am spending my own time or money. If the legal system is involved, that is a completely different matter.
Here it is not a matter of disposing of what rightfully belongs to me, but of the rights of the weak and the innocent. We have no right to dispose of that because we think Chinatown was a great movie.
If Richard Wagner, not satisfied with writing insane anti-Semitic rants like Das Judentum in der Musik, had attacked a Jewish girl, I would have said (though very regretfully, I admit), "do the time," even if it meant he would never complete The Ring.
We knew all along that we would have to give up something in order to have a world where basic rights are protected. Like freedom, justice isn't free.
Breaking news: The French government seems to be turning around on this issue.