Celebrity sickness – from Polanski to Jackson

I had a problem with one ovation at this year’s Oscars. Roman Polanski, winner of the Best Director award for the Holocaust film “The Pianist” was honored in absentia with a solemn standing ovation by Hollywood powerhouses. Polanski could not accept the statue himself because he is still a fugitive after pleading guilty to illegal sexual intercourse with a 13-year-old girl in 1978. That’s rape, by the way.

What is the rationale for giving a standing ovation to a child rapist who avoided sentencing by going on the lam in Europe, and for playing his work, as was done at Coffman Union a few weeks ago with the showing of “The Pianist?”

Polanski makes good art, the argument goes, and besides, the young girl he raped after allegedly drugging her with champagne and a Quaalude chaser is in her late 30s now. The victim has publicly forgiven Polanski. It happened a long time ago, so maybe I should just loosen up and let it go.

I can’t.

Crimes against children are the most heinous acts in our historical pantheon of human cruelty. Despite the rhetoric of some philosophers and theologians, I believe evil can be delineated, and the top line is held, in every case, by crimes perpetrated by adults against kids.

The candlelight vigils held around the world for Michael Jackson last month, demonstrating support for the performer as he faces charges of child sexual abuse, seep into my conscience, and I can’t shake the mental stench. Jackson’s situation is a bit different from Polanski’s because he has not been convicted of anything (yet), but there is more smoke surrounding the Jackson allegations than there is fogging Polanski’s favorite French cafe.

Let’s assume the fire cannot be too far behind, no matter how much water Jackson’s lawyers or catatonically star-struck fans throw on it. The question, then, is whether we will give Jackson a standing ovation in 20 years as he accepts his Grammy for lifetime achievement via satellite link from San Quentin (best case), or has Macauley Culkin stand in for him because he is hiding in France next door to Polanski (worst case).

Generally, when children are not children anymore, the weight of the offenses against their abusers is not quite so heavy, and the inherent sympathy not as poignant. This moral phenomenon is only fueled when it involves a celebrity with powerful friends and a large following.

My guess is, as with Polanski, many people will let time assuage their outrage and let Jackson’s art and celebrity status afford him a moral pass. The child (or children) he has used for his own selfish and perverted gratification will grow up, like Polanski’s victim, and might even forgive him for what he did. I cannot.

After some time goes by, radio stations will put Jackson back in rotation and fans will put his discs back in their stereos. People will watch “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Pianist” on AMC without knowing (or possibly caring) they were directed by a child rapist.

I can’t.

Whether crimes against children are committed by a Holocaust survivor whose pregnant wife was murdered by the Manson family (Polanski), or a “misunderstood genius” who has performed genuine acts of altruistic kindness for thousands of children (Jackson), their transgressions against the innocent should not be excused or overlooked.

Aaron North is a columnist. He welcomes comments at [email protected]