Saturday, October 3, 2009

More outrage over a fake rape than a real one?

Kate Harding, one of several writers at Salon's feminist blog Broadsheet, hit upon a most amusing/disturbing contradiction in terms of how artists and/or moralists reacted to one child rape over another. In brief, people seemed more in a tizzy last year of Dakota Fanning's implied rape scene in Hounddog than they do over Polanski's actual rape of a thirteen-year old.

"That's the interesting thing about revisiting the Hounddog controversy in light of the Polanski controversy (and the Phillips controversy, and the Shields controversy) this week. What people seemed to object most to was the idea that a 12-year-old girl was allowed to think about rape long enough to film the scene and hard enough to play the character with a degree of depth and nuance nearly every reviewer remarked upon. Fanning was never physically harmed -- or even naked -- during filming, and she believed deeply in what the film said about and to the "children that this happens to, every second." But when people described her as "precocious" at the time, they weren't complimenting her intelligence and maturity; they were lamenting that such a young girl was cognizant of sexuality at all, abusive or otherwise. The idea was that a 12-year-old has no business knowing about this stuff. Which conveniently ignores the fact that 12-year-olds all over the country are living this stuff, and Hounddog was one effort to give them a voice."

I haven't seen the movie, and it may very well be as bad as some of the reviews indicated. But I did note a distasteful whiff of 'how dare her parents whore her out like that?' when the project was first announced (this was followed by variations on 'Fanning must really want an Oscar'). So basically there seems to be more agreement that a twelve-year old actress is too young to consent to a staged and more-or-less offscreen fake rape than whether a grown-up who actually drugged and actually raped a real thirteen-year old should face some form of legal punishment.

As for the whole Polanski situation itself, my thoughts on the matter are pretty simple. It may have been a waste of California's limited resources to pursue this very old case, and it may have been a decision based on pettiness and revenge as some have alleged. But if Polanski was dumb enough to walk into the trap, then why don't we just let due process run its course and let the chips fall where they may. He committed a crime, he went on the lam, and now he's been caught. The fact that he made Chinatown and The Pianist shouldn't mean a damn thing.

Scott Mendelson

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