Sunday, October 04, 2009

The Missing Apologist

This is, either regrettably or thankfully, depending on one's stance on the issue and one's ability to tolerate my ranting, the last post I'll be making on this topic, at least until there are new developments.  I'm not getting caught up in an argument over whether or not it's right or wrong for a forty-four year old man to give a thirteen year old girl a Quaalude and some champagne, then turn her around and anally sodomize her.  I know that's wrong.  I'm 100% sure of it. I do not need you to agree or disagree with me.  If you agree with me, fine. If you disagree, please excuse yourself at once, then run -- don't walk -- to the nearest mental health facility, because you are a danger to society. This is one of those moments in life where there is no moral ambiguity.  Sex with children is just wrong.

This whole Roman Polanski situation came at a pretty interesting time in my life.  I was mulling over going back into entertainment legal, because for sixteen years, that's how I paid the bills.  Nothing wrong with that.  I worked in movie studios, helping to draft and administer contracts for actors, writers, producers and directors.  I collected paperwork, I got signatures, I sent out and got back employment documents.  Nothing sneaky or underhanded about that.  Not really.  The people that worked with were -- and are, in many cases -- my friends.  Good, hard-working, decent folks, who, like me, are in it for the dental plan.

But on more than one occasion, that job requires you to brush up against people who have no moral compass.  It requires you often to work with people who have no moral compass.  One or two of them might even be running the company you work for.  One of them might be directing the movie you're working on.  Like the director who made an independent film based on an actual event, and managed to secure nearly every release for her film by lying without compunction to the individual parties involved, all of whom hated each other, and blamed each other for the deaths that were the central focus of the film.  To this young, ambitious director, this was a story... her story... and she wasn't going to let facts, or the actual humans who experienced her story, get in the way of her telling of it.  Unfortunately, those actual humans had lost people -- real people -- that they loved and grieved over.  They'd lost a daughter or a son.  They'd lost a sibling.  They'd lost a lover or a best friend.  One of them lost a mother. This wasn't a story to these people.  This was their lives, shattered, brutalized, full of the blame and rage, the regret and self-recrimination that go along with too-young lives lost in foolish, senseless acts of violent brutality.

It was after I'd spent two weeks arranging a screening of this film for one of the people on whom a main character was based, then spent several minutes on the phone listening to the real mother of another main character (who was one of the murder victims) rage that she'd had enough of her child's death being exploited for the benefit of others, that I began to realize that what I did for a living, while not actively evil or bad, was morally questionable.

Did I do anything wrong?  Not by any legal standards.  People who felt their first release was a lie got to sign new ones, and were paid accordingly (though minimally).  Nothing and no one could bring back the real young people who were killed, or take any of the pain away for the other real-life people who lived through the experience.  The movie was released, it did well, actors were acclaimed, the director was praised, though she hasn't really had any true success since. A little karmic taint she has to work off, perhaps?  But what about me? I didn't lie to anybody. I didn't take anything from anybody.  But I was in cahoots with those people. I was the one who made it possible for them to pretend that they had done absolutely nothing wrong.

I was, for all intents and purposes, one of their chief apologists, in my role as facilitator, screening-arranger, first telephone responder.  I am a mother who sat and listened to another raging mother curse through bitter tears that she'd been deceived by the director, that she'd been told one story by the eyewitnesses and police, and was getting another story from rumors of the movie's plot (the director rewrote the ending to make it more "dramatically exciting" with little regard to factual accuracy).  Did I not understand, she asked me, that her child was a real person, with a mother and a sister and friends who were still, after more than six years, grief-sick over this tragic loss?  Could I not comprehend that?  I could and did understand.  But I was too busy making excuses -- for the director, for the studio, for the entertainment industry -- to be able to say so.  That was my job, and I did it well.

I was a professional apologist.  "Sorry, but that's the way we do business here." "Sorry, but sometimes we're forced to change certain key dramatic elements for the sake of the film."  Sorry... I'm sorry.... Though I can't tell you out loud, I truly am so, so sorry...  for your loss.... for your grief... for your pain, that still lingers and paralyzes, six years later... but we're just too busy making scads of money at your expense really to give too much of a flying fuck in hell about your suffering.  Sorry....

I keep a one-sheet of that movie in my house, and always will, to remind myself of when -- of the exact moment -- when my job stopped being fun and started being something that made me a little bit uneasy and queasy and anxious.

When this Polanski thing happened, I was just on the verge of going back.  I was all signed up at the temp agency, ready to call in for work.  And then people started speaking out on behalf of a man who likes to have sex with very, very young girls.  "It wasn't so bad."  "She knew how to give a blowjob, so she wasn't a virgin." "In France, people have sex with twelve- and thirteen-year-old girls all the time, and no one says thing."  "He's a genius, after all, and geniuses are different from other folks."

And then came the public pronouncements from Hollywood big-names.  The trouble that I have is, I did work for sixteen years in the industry, with lawyers, law firms, agents and press folks. Nothing is more beloved in Hollywood than the love of good gossip, and it's tough to not hear the rumors of frequent trips to Bangkok for the tasty young morsels.  Rumors? Sure. Proovable? No. But do I believe them? Yeah, I do.  Because I know these people.  And I know that for many of them, morality is something that shifts and rocks and adjusts, based on the last urge, the latest whim.  The reason they apologize and try to dismiss Polanski's bad behavior is that they're trying to dismiss and negate their own. 

The truth is, Polanski probably did receive a less than fair trial, in terms of prosecutorial and judicial malfeasance.  Does that mean he should get off the hook?  Nope.  He needs a new trial, perhaps.  A fresh start.  Sad for his victim, who could have been allowed to put all this away years ago, except that Polanski -- in perhaps his most ultimate and unforgivable act of evil -- has left the wound gaping and open for thirty-three years. I cannot go back to work in this business again.  I'd never leave with my soul intact.

Still, I have ask.  In all of this, where is Polanski?  Of all the apologists, where is Polanski's apology?  Where is his mea culpa?  Where is his "I was drunk and stoned myself, and I'd give anything to take it back and give that girl back her dignity and innocence if I could"?  Anywhere?  No where?  All these years... all these years, he could have rethought his choices and chosen to see things from her point of view.  Instead he chose to hold on to his own position -- that his sexual and personal gratification with very young girls (because don't forget that his next girlfriend was Nastassia Kinski, age 15) -- was the most important thing.

The late Randy Pausch said in his "Last Lecture" that a good apology has three parts:

  • 1) I'm sorry.
  • 2) It was my fault.
  • 3) What, if anything, can I do to make it better?
Note: If 1 and 2 are satisfied fully, it has been my experience that, unless there is a possibility for full rectification, 3 is usually not needed.

I don't know what will happen with Polanski. Since I have no control, I'm letting it go.  He might get a new trial.  The prosecution may decide to drop charges if the original verdict is set aside.  I don't care, really.  But I'd like it -- as a member of a reasonably orderly society where we have chosen (unlike the French, apparently) not to have sex with children -- if Polanski apologized, sincerely and with conviction, for what he did to that girl thirty-three years ago. I'd like to hear him say that he knows what he did was wrong, and that he promises not to do it again.

Then -- after he apologizes and we've accepted his apology -- I'd like him to go to France and stay there. Because, from what I've heard, we need another pedophile in Hollywood like we need a hole in the head.

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