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Nina Burleigh

Nina Burleigh

Posted: September 29, 2009 03:59 AM

Genius and Young Flesh

What's Your Reaction?

Genius and the lure of young flesh.

Until recently, in the western world, the right of a Great Man to man-handle a reluctant, pliant young woman was simply not questioned. With the advent of sexual harassment laws, the old order is under attack. It won't go down easily. Novels by and about angry and accused men have been written about unfortunate incidents, movies made. J.M Coetzee's Disgrace, Philip Roth's The Human Stain, even Zadie Smith's On Beauty, tend to greater or lesser degree to sympathize with the accused. These Great Men, it seems, are helpless against their urges. In fact, their genius may well depend upon their consummated desires, and young women are fuel for the fires of their brilliance. And in the end, they are really willing minxes, whether they know it yet or not.

Supporters of the brilliant director are many, and they generally come from the intellectual, artistic world. Their cries of outrage are on this website today, including a petition from that great French feminist, Bernard Henri Levy, signed by equally well-known advocates of women as Salman Rushdie, Mike Nichols, Claude Lanzmann, Diane von Furstenburg (OK, the DVF wrap dress should be considered a great advancement for women).

To these artists and other supporters of the arrested director, the incarceration of the director is the end of a witch-hunt, the persecution of a genius by low-level, un-imaginative legal drones, who wear un-cool suits and wouldn't know a semiotic deconstruction if it smacked them in the face. If Polanski did anything wrong, and some, I think, would even say he did not, he should be forgiven for a single folly, committed way back in the 'lude' and hot-tub heyday of 1970s Hollywood debauchery. The rape of a 13-year old was hardly the worst offense committed at Jack Nicholson's pad.

By this way of thinking, to arrest Polanski now is like arresting a woman for riding a bicycle in public because it was illegal in the 19th Century. But, to arrest Polanski now is also like apprehending a war criminal many years after the fact. The war criminal may be living in South America, tending his garden and making sheep's cheese, and his victims blissfully reaching the age of non compos mentis, but it means something to the world that justice be served.

Comparing a Hollywood child rape to war criminal behavior will inspire outrage, guffaws, ridicule. Bring it on. But first, let's consider this fact: Sexual violence is pandemic on the planet. Some studies in Europe say 50 percent of women have been abused before they become adults.

There will be supporters of the Great Man who say that men and women are different, and that women simply don't have or can't comprehend the desires of men. The philandering middle-aged husband of a friend of mine comes to mind: he excused his romance with a younger woman by explaining that it was all about "the life force." It was the recovery of that force he craved, as much as an easy lay. For women, eternal youth lies not in the bed of a younger man, but at the end of a scalpel. Twisted, right? Where is the older, creative female genius arrested for seducing the boy? There they are: perverted school-teachers. And if you know about them it's because they are in jail. Mary Kay le Tourneau comes to mind. Look inside your hearts, women, and ask yourselves, do you secretly crave a 13-year-old boy? Maybe. The cultural taboo against such behavior is so strong that you maybe couldn't admit it if you did. Would you drug one to get him into bed? Hmm.

Great Men - and other men - sometimes do find pliant, young flesh irresistible. Geniuses are usually forgiven for it. It's a good bet Woody Allen won't be signing Henri-Levy's petition, but he could offer Roman some comfort in a jailhouse visit in Zurich about now. The Woodman's story has a happy ending. So do the sagas of the millions of wrinkled, calloused, old smelly geezers in places like Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia and Africa, where marriage of men 40 and older to girls at puberty is only just beginning to be considered locally - and only by a very, very few - to be, perhaps, not so healthy.

In the end, that is precisely why the arrest of Roman Polanski is a good idea, and should stand. It doesn't matter whether he is a genius. The world will have to live without his lifetime tribute ceremony, at least for a few months more. It doesn't matter whether his victim - 30-odd years on and handsomely paid off - forgives and wants to forget.

What matters is that the rape of a 13-year old girl, in a nation of laws, in a nation where women are striving for equality with men, in world where we are hundreds of years away from that right and good goal, be discouraged, by example if necessary.