Dankprofessor’s Weblog

A weblog examining sexual politics in higher education and beyond.

Roman Polanski is the painted bird

Sean Beaudoin in his ON POLANSKI post gets it right when he states-

 What does matter, and what I hear almost no one mentioning, is Polanski’s background. Not his artistic background, but his background as a human being. Geraldine Ferraro ignorantly and self-righteously claimed in her recent NY Times polemic that “he’s rich and continues to lead a charmed life.” Ms. Ferraro, apparently not having done an ounce of research since vetting Walter Mondale’s chances of winning more than one state against Ronald Reagan, could not be more wrong. Polanski lived through a horrific childhood, a childhood of truly cinematic brutality and deprivation in the woods of Europe as a Jewish orphan riding out the end of World War Two. His pregnant mother was killed at Auschwitz. Jerzey Kozinski, in fact, based his epic and disturbing work, The Painted Bird, on Polanski’s early experiences. If even a tenth of Kozinski’s book is true, it’s astonishing that Polanski managed to make what he did of his life, let alone expressing a creative vision that wasn’t entirely one of dissolution and madness. Twenty years later, in a quintessentially American example of   brutal irony, Polanski’s pregnant wife, Sharon Tate, was also horribly murdered. Her death, at the hands of the Manson Family, was one of the most sensationalized and bizarre episodes in a decade ridden with war, massive cultural upheaval, and narcotic self-abasement. Should we not at least take into account these factors when determining whether Polanski is a dangerous pedophile or a thoroughly flawed person who may, due to those experiences, have lost a certain degree of rationality and judgment at the time of his crime? This is the problem with adjudicating thirty years after the fact. It is simply unfair, if not unjust, to take any behavior out of the context of its era. Is it morally relativist to think we may not be entirely capable of judging decisions made under the moral yoke of Spiro Agnew, napalm, Owsley, and monthly political assassinations? Certainly any judge or jury or editorial could have then. And they did. A deal was reached, likely in some part because of Polanski’s celebrity, that seems ludicrously lenient now. But there were also unanswered questions that made the prosecution more difficult. Like, for instance, why was this girl made up to look like an adult and then dropped off at Jack Nicholson’s house at night by her mother, who without question knew her daughter would be alone with a notorious director? We can never know the answer, just as we can never know Polanski’s mindset, but what is certain is that we were very different people then. There were no missing child photos on milk cartons. There were no gossip websites or instantaneous cellphone photography to curb public behavior. In the drug-and-libertine haze of early seventies Hollywood there were few limits on debauchery, let alone documentaries about the Jon Benet-style sexualization of young girls,  or the very public Lohan and Spears censure of stage mothers who thrust their daughters into inexcusable situations in exchange for potential careers. If Polanski is to be brought to justice, why are there no similar calls for charges to be filed against the girl’s astonishingly and criminally negligent mother?

Yes, yes and yes again Polanski’s background as a human being is relevant but somehow so many people either deny that his background is relevant or simply avoid looking at his background. Of course, not fully looking at Polanski’s humanity is a form of dehumanization.

And Beaudoin believes that Polanski’s survival experience in Poland was the source material for Jerzy Kosinki’s novel, THE PAINTED BIRD.  Whether or not Polanski was Kosinki’s painted bird is beside the point.  The dankprofessor’s concluding point is that in today’s world Polanski is the painted bird.

November 3, 2009 - Posted by | Jerzy Kosinski, rape, Roman Polanski, sex, sexual politics


  1. Polanski had a hard life true. Go to any prison and talk to the convicted men and women there, majority had horrific childhoods, many at the hands of their parents which Polanski did not go through, and they are serving their time. I am sick of people justifying the horrible acts Polanski committed on a child because he went through trauma just because he made some movies and has money. If he was a gas station attendant who had been brutalized as a child and lost family members to murder he would have to serve his time, without the 30 year hiatus.

    Comment by Des | November 6, 2009 | Reply

  2. Using someone’s childhood to give them a free pass on morality and the law is incredibly stupid.
    So by this logic we should let out about 90% of all felons. Because that back-alley rapist grew up in a violent household. That mugger who held a knife to your throat? Abusive father.
    Let them all go. I’m really glad more intelligent minds prevail when it comes to sentencing.

    Comment by julie | November 14, 2009 | Reply

  3. Denying the importance of ones childhood particularly in terms of the abuse suffered functions as a green light for parents to abuse/degrade/violate their children in any way they wish. Decrease the percentage of abused/unwanted children and you will decrease the number of rapes, violent crimes.

    Of course, I do not believe that the convicted violent offender should just go free. You put words in my mouth that I have never uttered. Society must be protected.
    Prisons should provide said protection. Being imprisoned is a form of punishment. It should not be a license to abuse in terms of degradation, violence and rape. If we really cared about what happens to people in prison, there would be fewer people imprisoned and fewer prisons.

    Enough said.

    Comment by dankprofessor | November 15, 2009 | Reply

  4. The only thing i have to say is that reality now bites Polanski in the ass.His private life has always been a mess and on top of that terrible tragedy and trauma.Some people grow into big selfdestruction and that is the case with Polanski.But nobody can deny that he is a Great film-direktor
    and that is his work and legacy!

    Comment by Walther Metzler | December 10, 2009 | Reply

  5. sorry Sean. I really enjoied your writing and you make plenty of points.

    sorry none of them speak to me as much as “do what you know is right”. I have read the painted bird mulitple times. I really like it’s twistedness and it’s mindset which is not attainable for me. I know this is part of your point,but an excuse is an excuse, and that’s all Roman has, is excuses of why he did something that he obvious knew before and after that was not right.

    if we are going to really move forward, we (and i mean everybody, my state, nation, and human race) need to stop taking excuses …. stop compromising ourselves by jusitfying one evil by another evil …. and stop accepting “deals” when someone offers riches, power, or prestigue to buy of their victim.

    Roman is a guy who had at least one scumbag day he never paid for. I would spit in his face if he addrressed me. I would punch him if he touched me. until he makes proper payment for his action, he SHOULD be a pariah. it is too bad he is not.

    Comment by Tom | May 14, 2010 | Reply

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