No applause as Hollywood debuts Polanski defense

Roman Polanski raped a 13-year old girl. After plying her with Quaaludes and Champagne wasn’t enough to make her succumb to his charms, he ignored her protests and did what he wanted.

This was not a consensual affair, or a misunderstood romance. It was a wealthy, powerful man, doing what he wanted to a powerless young girl.

Yet Polanski had — and still has — important defenders. Leading directors, including (amusingly enough) Woody Allen, but also such heavyweights as Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Michael Mann, Mike Nichols and Neil Jordan signed a petition in his defense.

Whoopi Goldberg, who has sometimes styled herself a “child advocate,” opined that it may have been rape, but it wasn’t rape-rape.

And film mogul Harvey Weinstein chimed in to argue that — by going after a multidecade fugitive — the government was the one “acting irresponsibly and criminally.” Weinstein went on to opine that “Hollywood has the best moral compass, because it has compassion.”

Yet Hollywood’s compassion is peculiarly narrow. They’re still trying to decide whether to forgive Elia Kazan for naming communists in Hollywood over half a century ago.

Though self-righteous moralism has been Hollywood bigwigs’ stock-in-trade for decades, the evidence suggests that, overall, their moral position is nothing to brag about, and the Polanski affair may bring this home in a way that earlier scandals have not.

Indeed, the Hollywood response to the Polanski affair suggests that, in Hollywood’s estimation, artists enjoy a sort of droit de seigneur by virtue of their talent or acclaim.

It’s easy to see why an industry founded on the casting couch might feel that way, but it’s surprising to see such alleged experts in communication state their position so bluntly.

So will this blow over? Hollywood has faced scandals before, going all the way back to Fatty Arbuckle, and it has survived and even flourished. But those were the old days. Hollywood controlled the press’s access to stars, and by doing so also controlled the press to a large degree.

And the press controlled people’s means of communicating their views about Hollywood. That made it easy for them to float a storyline — like the “it was a long time ago, and besides, he’s suffered enough” line being pitched for Polanski — and have it control the public discussion.

Now, thanks to the alternative media, not so much.

Also, the old Hollywood understood that it needed the goodwill of the people who saw its films — they were worried about what the Arbuckle scandal might do to the audience’s love for movies and those who made them.

The new Hollywood takes that love for granted, as narcissists generally do. Yet the audiences today have more alternatives than they had in Arbuckle’s day, from videogames to the Internet, to homemade movies posted on YouTube.

Why hand your money to a bunch of obvious moral cretins? Technologically and market-wise, Hollywood is in the weakest position it’s ever been, and yet it is also more arrogant than it was in its Golden Age.

Such circumstances seldom end well.

Some have seen the danger. Former screenwriter and director Roger Simon — who worked with Woody Allen on Scenes From A Mall — blogged:

“The mess is metastasizing and seems to be headed for something extremely dangerous for the entertainment industry (or part of it) — the further alienation of the audience. These filmmakers are more than ever lost in their own narcissistic bubble, unaware that the public does not share their sympathy for Polanski. (Even in France, according to a poll in Le Figaro, the public was 70 percent against him.)”

I think they’re beginning to notice, but the damage is done. For decades, conservatives have been calling Hollywood soulless and amoral, but not one of those critics has done as much harm to Hollywood’s image as Weinstein, et al. have done on their own. Congratulations, guys.

Glenn Harlan Reynolds blogs at InstaPundit.com and hosts “InstaVision” on PJTV.com.

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