Polanski and etc.

“Do successful artists get a pass for their moral failings or crimes?” asks the NYT Room for Debate blog in regard to the Roman Polanski affair. Gee, ya think?

Not only do they get a pass for their moral failings — they’re often celebrated for their moral failings, which are too easily mistaken for virtues. At the most recent Oscars, Robert De Niro hailed Sean Penn for his supposed human rights advocacy, and yet Penn is a stenographer for two of Latin America’s most antidemocratic leaders. Other examples are plentiful (although I do admire other Hollywood figures like George Clooney and Angelina Jolie for some of the stances they take).
In regard to Polanski, shame on Debra Winger for denouncing his arrest as “philistine collusion,” as if the refusal to forgive a clear instance of rape shows a lack of proper aesthetic appreciation. “We stand by him and await his release and his next masterpiece,” says Winger. See above: He gets not just a pass, but a rhetorical wet kiss.
While I’m on the subject of Sean Penn and Hugo Chavez…
I’ve been getting lots of emails from The Nation imploring me to “oppose militant ignorance,” which I admit is an excellent description of the current rightist campaign to derail health care reform (with help from pliable “moderate” Democrats, but that’s another story). Sadly, The Nation continues to serve as a platform for ignorance of the hard-left variety — not only with the publication of Sean Penn’s “interview,” but now also NYU professor Greg Grandin’s “interview” of the Venezuelan strongman as well.
Marc Cooper gets it right: This is beyond nauseating from a publication that claims to champion democracy. A couple of semi-critical questions from Grandin toward the end, but it’s all couched in obsequious, robotic language: “What you have achieved inspires many.” This is indistinguishable from FOX’s Neil Cavuto interviewing George W. Bush.
Not a word about Chavez’s overt alliances with Putin, Mugabe, Ahmadinejad, Lukashenko and other irredeemable thugs. Not a word about his summary expulsion of two Human Rights Watch representatives in September 2008, after which he declared: “Any foreigner who comes to criticize our country will be immediately expelled.” Nation editors: Are these the political values you wish to support?

2 Responses to “Polanski and etc.”

  1. Rebecca says:

    And just imagine how the Nation would be all over the Israeli prime minister if he were to say the same thing about HRW researchers in Israel!

  2. Michael J. West says:

    The Polanski thing is frustrating beyond words for me – particularly because, while but-he's-an-artist defenses of him are essentially limited in the U.S. to his peers and colleagues, in Europe it's coming from government officials and whole societies.

    These are the countries I've always thought America had so much to learn from when it came to placing art in its proper cultural context?

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