Thursday, October 01, 2009

Right and Wrong

James O. Born

Events this week affected this post in a big way. I’d been formulating this blog entry for several weeks and had even made a couple of notes. Then the arrest in Switzerland this weekend of Roman Polanski brought it into even sharper focus. Everyone's got an opinion on Mr. Polanski’s talent, tragedies and legal situation but lost in the shuffle is the bigger issue of what he did that the state of California found so objectionable and frankly so did I. In 1977, at the age of forty-four, he had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl. I'm sorry but that's unacceptable. That's me speaking as a father of a teenage girl, as a law enforcement official, as a writer, as a relatively responsible adult, hell, it's me speaking as a football fan. Despite his obvious talent and the heartbreak he suffered, sleeping with a child is something I have a real problem with.

I know all about the circus courtroom and the publicity hungry judge. I know about the lawyers and the plea agreement and about the now middle-aged victim who just wants it all go away. I could not care less if Mr. Polanski is extradited to the U.S. or dies peacefully in his bed in France twenty-five years from now. The fact that he would consider sleeping with a child makes me shudder.

He is not the only celebrity who seems to be excused for his lapses in judgment because he's wealthy and people like his films. Woody Allen married his stepdaughter. And she was past eighteen and legal adult at the time and they are still married. That doesn’t make it right. At some point she was the sister to his children and a little girl while he was a middle-aged man. Am I the only one that finds this creepy?

Then there's Michael Vick who restarted his career in the NFL this week after being convicted of crimes related to dog fighting. We've heard the accounts of how he tortured and murdered dogs. This goes beyond creepy to me and moves on to sickening. Despite that, he played quarterback on a few plays for the Philadelphia Eagles this weekend. The major difference here, and one that I find hard to argue with, is that Mr. Vick did pay a debt to society by spending almost 2 years in prison. He has clearly stated that he made a mistake and that he will not engage in activity like that ever again. He sounds convincing when I hear him in interviews. I'm interested in giving people a second chance when they admit wrongdoing and have paid for their mistakes, although I must admit this is a stretch in Michael Vick's case.

Another way to look at all three of these instances is to think what would happen if the guy who fixes your garbage disposal had sex with your thirteen-year-old neighbor. Even if she agreed to it and was drunk at the time, I doubt you'd think it was okay. Or what if your second husband, who owns a video store, decided to marry your twenty-one-year-old daughter. Would that be an issue for you? Would you use an auto mechanic had been in the paper for electrocuting a dog?

Sorry to be a little bit of a downer on a beautiful Thursday morning but I've been thinking about this for a few weeks now. I've met too many kids whose lives were shattered because some adult thought thirteen was old enough to make an informed decision.

Talented or not, wealthy or poor, we should each have to face roughly the same consequences if we’re caught doing something really heinous.

Do you agree or am I a blockhead? I’m interested in all opinions but please don’t mention Chinatown as a defense. Thank Robert Towne for an excellent screenplay instead. And forgive Towne for his big lapse of judgement: writing the screenplay for Tom Cruise and Days of Thunder.

(Note, since I wrote this I've seen alot of essays on this. None influenced this blog.)


  1. Great to get your perspective on the above cases, Jim. It seems society (not the law) has always bent the rules for the rich, famous, popular, and talented, and the only place right and wrong can remain clear is in each individual's conscience. That's enough, though, if it encourages people to be their best selves.

  2. Do the crime, do the time.

  3. I, too, have had many discussions about this subject the last few days, and there have been many differences of opinions. My one question, when all the arguments are over, is, "Would you feel any differently if it had been a 13 year-old boy he'd raped?"

    From this parent's point of view, consensual sex between a 40 something-guy and 13 year-old child of either gender is a joke. It shouldn't matter how much money, influence, genius, talent or anything else you were blessed with. It's just wrong.

  4. The man plead guilty. Based on the grand jury transcript, he could well have been convicted of even more serious charges as the girl's testimony indicates rape and sodomy by force (coercion).

    Whoopee Goldberg is wrong. This was "rape-rape."

    Oscars don't matter. Talent doesn't matter. I'm sure some rapists are excellent auto mechanics and school teachers and priests.

    Has the man spent the last 30 years atoning? Has he devoted his life to victims of crime?

    If nothing else....jumping bail is a separate crime.

    Send the man to prison...for a signficant period of time.

    ("Chinatown" is my favorite movie).

  5. It's also important to note that Michael Vick not only fought dogs, but ran a dogfighting business. But he did do his time. I'm Not sure how Michael Vick got mixed in with Woody and Roman. Completely different things. He's a thug, not a sexual predator.
    With Roman Polanski, I think the true issue is that he did flee. He should have to return and face the music. Now what you do with him, I'm not sure, because he did settle the issue in a civil suit, and the machinations by the courts were real.

  6. The man didn't have sex or sleep with a thirteen year old. He drugged, raped and sodomized her. Paul Levine is right, Whoopee is wrong.
    Bring him back and let the legal system deal with him.

  7. James O. Born10/01/2009 2:53 PM

    Mark has summed it up well. And Carson, you are right that I used improper terms.

    Gerald I really liked your book of poetry.

    In al the internet predator cases I've worked on the hardest thing is explaining to people that it doesn't matter if the victim is male or female. You're correct, there is a double standard.

    I should note that Paul provided much of my background material.

  8. I've always found it interesting that the film world continues to support Polanski's work despite his criminal background. You have to wonder if it had been the child of an influential producer if it would be the same.

    I've refused to see Polanski's films ever since I found out about the charges against him and it doesn't surprise me that Woody Allen was one of the first to speak out in his defense.

    As for Michael Vick, as a vet tech student and an animal rights supporter I can tell you that the penalties for animal cruelty nearly never match the crime. The sentence Vick served in no way comes close to paying any debt for the pain and suffering the dogs that he fought and raised for fighting went through. In my opinion, he should not have been allowed back in the NFL, his life has simply returned to normal after a brief blip. Those dogs do not have that option.

  9. Very refreshing article and comments. I work with a lot of French people, and they just don't get it. But I'm glad to see it's not just me who sees this as a clear-cut, black-and-white issue.


  10. The case for Polanski is spot on.Woody Allen while a little grayer is also very accurate.

    Vick is another issue and I'm not sure he can be lumped into the same article his actions are not excusable, but he was started down that path at a very early age by adults. Vick did the time.

    Meanwhile the greatest group of organized pederasts in the world, The Roman Catholic Church, get to hide behind their invisible friends, ghosts, zombies, angels and get away clean. Plus they do not pay taxes to boot. And get millions of hours of free TV time. There is atrocity.

  11. "Polanski originally faced six felony charges related to the drugging and rape... He eventually pleaded guilty to one count of having unlawful sex with a minor, but left the country in 1978 after being convinced that the judge in the case,meant to backtrack on a plea agreement and send him back to prison"
    Yes, he did this, but there's a little more involved to this situation. He was in prison before he was convicted. Not all crinminals go to jail, because of pleas, deals, etc... Let the system play itself out.

  12. I almost feel famous people should have HARSHER penalties. They stand as role models, and would be a deterrent to the invisible people who contemplate the same things.

  13. Yes, his films are amazing. And I still watch them after knowing what he's done.

    But he didn't just commit statutory rape (slept with someone who consented, but was too young to legally consent). He drugged and raped her. And he's spent the last thirty years running from the law.

    I hope he's hung out to dry. Because that's what I'd do with any other guy who raped a child.