UK paperback

A case of morals

The ‘film community’ Unspeaks out

People in the global film “community” have been signing a petition demanding the release of Roman Polanksi:

His arrest follows an American arrest warrant dating from 1978 against the filmmaker, in a case of morals.

A case of morals. (“Do you have morals?” “Yes, I keep them in this fine ebony case.”) Of course, the Polanski affair (in which, to be appropriately pedantic, he pled guilty to and was convicted of “unlawful sexual intercourse”, though many people have been confident in promoting the extrajudicial judgment that he raped a child) is a case of morals, just as is, say, an allegation of murder — the state prosecutes certain actions on the basis of an assumed shared view that they are morally wrong. It is true that morality and law are not coterminous (and nor should they be, as I argue in Unspeak). But to dismiss this case as a case of morals seems to hint at a view that “morals” are what bind the plodding bourgeoisie, and don’t count for much among the free-lovin’, ethico-anarchist “film community”, who are superior to such mind-forg’d manacles.

Do I detect also, in this “case of morals”, an implicit sigh of autres temps, autres moeurs? “But darling, simply everyone was having sex with 13-year-old girls back then!”

  1. 1  Leinad  September 30, 2009, 10:22 am 

    Maybe his non-rape rape didn’t breach moral morals?

  2. 2  Hey Zeus  September 30, 2009, 11:33 am 

    twenty bucks says he beats the rap-rap

  3. 3  Alex  September 30, 2009, 11:53 am 

    “a case of morals” = a translator French-English not good, hein?

  4. 4  Steven  September 30, 2009, 12:03 pm 

    Well, “une affaire de moeurs” does in fact mean “an [affair | case | matter] of [morals | customs]”, so “a case of morals” seems accurate to me, though I agree it doesn’t sound very idiomatic in English.

  5. 5  Other Alex  September 30, 2009, 12:21 pm 

    Does it really count as ‘translation’ to change one phrase used commonly in English into another, even if the first phrase is foreign?

  6. 6  Steven  September 30, 2009, 12:26 pm 

    I’m not sure I’ve ever head anyone say une affaire de moeurs in English, though that might just be a reflection of the kind of company I keep?

  7. 7  richard  September 30, 2009, 7:53 pm 

    well, it was legal to have sex with 13 year olds in California in 1850, so the sentiment autres temps, autres moeurs has some validity. Perhaps Polanski was, how you say, temporally challenged.
    This has set me thinking though: just how far outside the social codes of 70s Hollywood was it, actually? I’m not suggesting that 70s Hollywood should be considered some sort of extra-moral zone, nor do I think there’s a defense to be found for Polanski anywhere, I’m asking relly out of anthropological interest: would his behaviour have appeared astonishing and/or repugnant to his peers?

  8. 8  KB Player  September 30, 2009, 8:41 pm 

    Martin Amis interviewed Roman Polanski in 1979. Martin A isn’t one you’d think would be an old fuddy-duddy as to sexual misbehaviour. He’s pretty disgusted with Polanski. Polanski says, in effect, everyone wants to fuck young girls. Those judges and juries are a bunch of hypocrites.

    Amis comments:-

    “Despite what Polanski says – contra Polanski – not everyone wants to fuck young girls. One cannot hide behind a false universality; one cannot seek safety in numbers. Most people who do want to fuck young girls, moreover, don’t fuck young girls. Not fucking apparently willing young girls is clearly more of a challenge. But even Humbert Humbert realised that young girls don’t really know whether they are willing or not. The active paedophile is stealing childhoods. Polanski, you sense, has never even tried to understand this.”

    (From Visiting Mrs Nabokov)

  9. 9  Other Alex  October 1, 2009, 7:49 am 

    I’m not sure I’ve ever head anyone say une affaire de moeurs in English, though that might just be a reflection of the kind of company I keep?

    Well, there’s you for a start. And 22 thousand people on Google. Does that count?

  10. 10  Steven  October 1, 2009, 7:53 am 

    Yes it does, thanks!

  11. 11  Andrew Brown  October 1, 2009, 9:56 am 

    I’m glad you noticed this, I think the underlying thought is that “morals” are fictive, so that any case of “morals” is merely a disagreement of the “he says, she says” kind. This is slightly different from autre temps, autre moeurs.

  12. 12  Steven  October 1, 2009, 9:59 am 

    Yes, though we could compare the two in terms of synchronic relativism vs diachronic relativism?

  13. 13  Andrew Brown  October 1, 2009, 10:15 am 

    Not really: I think that the assumption in synchronic relativism (the SACD letter) is that “Do what you will shalt be the whole of the law”; whereas diachronic relativism implies that everyone should follow the mores of their given society, whatever these may be.

  14. 14  Steven  October 1, 2009, 10:20 am 

    Of course: I just meant that they are both forms of relativism. Still, I think there is even so a hint of the diachronic kind in the SACD letter too, since they are at pains to point out how long ago this happened.

  15. 15  Other Alex  October 1, 2009, 4:25 pm 

    Having said all that, I have just realised most of those English google results are in French.

  16. 16  Steven  October 1, 2009, 4:27 pm 

    That will teach me to agree with someone without clicking on their Google-search link.

  17. 17  richard  October 1, 2009, 4:28 pm 

    Regarding the term “a case of morals” itself, I think you answered this in a previous post, where “morally” was discovered to mean “not,” didn’t you?

    If so, then perhaps “a case of morals” is analogous to the American “a hill of beans” – a nugatory thing. Or maybe it’s a transitory infirmity, like a case of measles?

    I’m also curious about the US Minister Counselor for Public Affairs recommending “the development of cultural relations between our two countries.” What would such a development be? Might it be threatened by these events?

  18. 18  Tawfiq Chahboune  October 3, 2009, 1:05 pm 

    I’m a bit late in saying this, but welcome back, Steven.

    SP: “…though many people have been confident in promoting the extrajudicial judgment that he raped a child.”

    Kate Harding’s article is slightly hysterical, but it is manifestly true that Polanski did “rape a child”. He drugged and had non-consensual sex with a child. Is that not rape? There is nothing “extrajudicial” in applying this judicial term outside a court room. I find your use of the term “extrajudicial” somewhat curious.

    Other than Hollywoodistas defending Polanski (would they have been so vociferous in their defence had the director been one not so talented – Michael Winner, for instance?), the only thing that is interesting about the case is the timing of the arrest. Apparently, Polanski could have been arrested by the Swiss authorities at any time in the last thirty years: he has a home in Switzerland.

  19. 19  abb1  October 3, 2009, 6:59 pm 

    It’s interesting that all those years he was coming (flying, presumably) to Switzerland, and every time going thru passport control in the airport. But this year Switzerland finally joined Schengen, so there is no passport control for the European flights anymore. So, to arrest the guy they actually had to track him down, dispatch agents to identify him by a photograph or something. It really does seem odd that it happened now. Perhaps it was a part of that UBS deal?

  20. 20  Cian O'Connor  October 5, 2009, 1:52 pm 

    Its extra-judicial in the sense that the court didn’t find him guilty of rape. I agree they should have done given the evidence, but that doesn’t change the facts of the case.

    Given Polanski’s disgusting behaviour towards the girl and her family after the incident, and his obvious lack of remorse, I’m not feeling any sympathy for the guy. Though this is perhaps helped by my not liking any of the post-rape films.

hit parade

    guardian articles

    older posts