On Art and Criminal Behavior

scales of justice

Jackson Pollock made amazing contributions to the art world. He was also a deeply-disturbed alcoholic who cheated on his wife and killed himself and a young woman in his car while driving drunk (speculation is that the incident was not accidental). Sure, he was a brilliant artist. But he was also a crude jerk with no respect for anyone in his life, and he ended up murdering an innocent person as a result of his dysfunction.

I’m the first to admit that Woody Allen makes me laugh. He’s witty, he’s self-deprecating, he’s existential. I get a kick out of his wry notes on life. But he’s also a dirty, dirty man who took nude photographs of and had an affair with his partner’s young daughter, a minor at the time. “The heart wants what it wants,” he explains. In my opinion, that’s not okay. If she was an adult at the time, it would still be mind-blowingly icky, but it would be LEGAL. That she was a child makes it illegal coercion/rape.

Thirty years ago, Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13-year-old girl, and when people found out about it, he then fled the country to avoid prosecution. Now Switzerland, a country with the fortitude to actually hold this man accountable for his actions, has arrested him. A petition for his release has been signed by many Hollywood directors and actors (including – of course – Woody Allen), claiming that an international film festival should be safe territory, especially since Polanski was being honored there.

I’m not a famous director. But I am a media professional, and I do have an undergraduate degree in film. And I have to say, I am extremely disappointed in the people who signed this petition. That would be you, Woody Allen, Martin Scorsese, Tilda Swinton, David Lynch, Jonathan Demme, John Landis, Darren Aronofsky, and Wim Wenders. I’m disappointed that such gifted storytellers feel that artists are above not only the law. We’re not talking about a parking ticket here. We’re talking about one of the most heinous crimes ON THE BOOKS. Even Woody Allen himself seems to understand this on some level. He’s the one that once said so eloquently in an interview, “Some artists think that art will save them, that they will be immortalized through their art, they will live on through their art. But the truth of the matter is, art doesn’t save you.”

Pollock’s drip paintings are not such a contribution to the world that it makes his murder acceptable. Allen’s rape of a child he considered his stepdaughter is not made more acceptable because he has a way with words. And Polanski’s arrest for drugging and raping a child is not unjust because he has directed important films. Just because you have something exceptional to contribute to the art world – or any part of the world – doesn’t purify you of the crimes you commit. I’m a Libra – I know how to balance the scales. Placing your art on one side will not magically create an equilibrium with what’s on the other.

Beth sent me this petition today, and I thank her for spreading the word. There’s also several great posts at Shakesville about the Polanski issue. I know this is a ranty, judgmental post. But I’m perfectly willing to turn this standard back on myself and ask where I am justifying actions in my own life and examine what I’m placing on each side of the scale. At the same time, I think we need to stop validating and supporting artists like these men. If someone – a musician, an actor, a writer – acts in an unacceptable way, we as a society need to push back and say firmly that there are some things that are not okay, and that actions come with some ramifications. Chris Brown recently beat, choked, and threatened to kill his girlfriend, Rihanna. He is facing the legal and media backlash from his actions, yes, but he’s still being taken seriously in the music industry. His fans are still supporting him. Studios are still recording his songs. That says to impressionable young boys and teenagers that domestic violence gets you a slap on the wrist, and then more money, fame, and adoration. We already, as a country and a culture, espouse that domestic violence, child pornography, and rape are unacceptable and worthy of legal punishment. Let’s start applying those basic standards to our artists. Maybe then we might start feeling better about paying $10 for a movie ticket!

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One Response

  1. Hey there, I enjoyed your article. I pretty much agree with everything you’re saying, I just want to clarify one point if I may. Farrow’s daughter was about 21 at the time she left with Allen, so she wasn’t a minor. I don’t think the affair began was she was 17. But Allen still demonstrated a shocking lack of sensitivity and basic grasp of family dynamic.

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