A THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD girl is given champagne and illegal drugs, forced to pose nude, and taken advantage of by a 40-year-old man. The girl is an aspiring model who was promised that her shoot would appear in the pages of French Vogue. The man is an acclaimed director who is said to be brilliant, but a little unstable. This sounds like something out of the newspapers, and it is. However, it happened a long time ago – 1977, to be exact.

The furor over the arrest in Switzerland of filmmaker Roman Polanski, who jumped bail in the late 1970’s and fled to Paris where he had based himself until his arrest, is quite surprising. We are so used to shocking news about famous people—heinous crimes, eccentric lifestyle choices, bizarre sex stories—that we have become desensitized. What’s worse, we seem to expect this sort of behavior from famous people. Polanski’s situation is pretty common by Hollywood standards. If everyone in the movie industry would be carted off to a rehabilitation facility or a place for treatment, the Kodak Theater would be an empty place come Academy Awards season. And so it goes—famous people, if caught being naughty, have a shield from getting ostracized by the rest of the world.

Their protection, rooted from fame, is ironically the very thing that should compel them to adhere to higher standards of behavior.

Polanski is just a part of a string of notorious people who have hidden behind their fame to justify appalling behavior. Elliot Spitzer, the infamous Client No. 9, was a vehement conservative before the world found out about his extramarital trysts. He has since worked on getting his family’s trust back and is now a columnist. French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterand, a supporter of Polanski’s, and openly gay, had some dubious-sounding passages in his memoir in 2005. He wrote that he “got into the habit of paying for boys,” and also said “the abundance of very attractive and immediately available young boys put me in a state of desire.” Later, he angrily defended his words, and said that he couldn’t imagine anyone misconstruing what he said to mean something inappropriate in the lady doing protest too much.

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What does fame bring, after all, but money to cover lawyers’ fees, and other famous friends to rally behind your back? More than a hundred “friends” from the entertainment business signed a petition against Polanski’s arrest, including Martin Scorsese and Woody Allen.

Something bothers me more than the public support of people who should know better. It is the fact that all of this is very normal to us. It is so normal, indeed, for people to be washing their dirty linen in public, that an entire television genre is dedicated to it—reality TV. There are some people on TV who thrive on the kind of attention that Polanski is now receiving, and it is what keeps them famous. Shows these days need not promote values, they just have to be entertaining. And who can get more entertaining than people like Roman Polanski—survived the Nazis, murdered son and wife, charged with rape and now facing the prospect of life behind bars, all the while being one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Incredibly disheartening, isn’t it?

What is more frightening is the fact that this is the mirror of our society—this, ladies and gentlemen, is how we live our lives. Someone pass me the tissue.


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