Yet just as Polanski was a victim of alleged Sixties excesses, so he was a rapacious product of those excesses, too. Any sympathy for Polanski quickly dried up following his conviction for unlawful intercourse in 1977. This, too, conservatives argued, was part of the degeneracy of the open-minded, open-trousered culture of the American West Coast in the mid- to late-twentieth century; it sprung from Polanski’s and others’ determination to ‘push back the boundaries of sexual liberation’, as one report said this week (4). Some American law enforcers and right-wing commentators seem to imagine that having Polanski returned to the US will finally bring to an end the odious influence of the 1960s on contemporary society and morality. Under the headline ‘Why we dislike the French’, one conservative American columnist asks how ‘liberal’ Europe can ‘support a child rapist’ (5).
Yet if this attempt to write off 1960s sexual liberation and experimentation (some of which was progressive, some of which was solipsistic) on the back of Polanski’s past is bad, then the defence of Polanski by European government officials and commentators is even worse. They are motivated not by anything remotely related to legal norms or questions of justice, but by a snobbish and opportunistic anti-Americanism in which Polanski (who is probably a bit of a creep) becomes recast as a paragon of European decency against hung-up America. So determined are some liberal observers to use L’Affaire Polanski to get one over on America that they have even forgotten about their normal role of stoking up hysterical panics about paedophiles and have re-depicted Polanski’s encounter with Gailey as just a somewhat over-exuberant heavy-petting session.(...)
For many American and British commentators this is all about Samantha Gailey, whom they have transformed into the archetypal and eternally symbolic victim of the alleged great evil of our time, Child Abuse. ‘Remember: Polanski raped a child’, says a headline in Salon, in an article that provides sordid, misery-memoir-style details of what Polanski did with his penis to Gailey’s vagina and anus (9). For European observers, by contrast, Polanski’s actions can be explained by his own victimised past, especially during the Holocaust. We have to understand his ‘life tragedies’ and how they moulded him, says one filmmaker (10). Anne Applebaum, the American commentator who spends much of her time in Europe, says Polanski fled America in 1978 because of his ‘understandable fear of irrational punishment. Polanski’s mother died in Auschwitz. His father survived in Mauthausen. He himself survived the Krakow ghetto.’ (11) (Applebaum fails to disclose that she is married to the Polish foreign minister, Radoslaw Sikorski, who is actively campaigning against Polanski’s extradition.)