Sometimes a confluence of seemingly unrelated events inspires interesting thoughts. Last week Roman Polanski was held by police in Switzerland, and my local cable company broadcast the film "A Clockwork Orange." How are they related?
"A Clockwork Orange" was released in 1971. Being a science fiction fan, and having read the novel by Anthony Burgess, I went to see it as soon as I could. I was not disappointed. Director Stanley Kubrick did a masterful job of re-creating Burgess's vision of a futuristic, dystopian English society, beset by drug-fueled youth enchanted with "ultra-violence."
I bring this up because I remember the original feeling of shock the movie elicited in me thirty eight years ago. This glimpse of the "future" was so dark, and so violent. I remember thinking to myself that, as creative as Mr. Burgess's world was, modern, "enlightened" society could never approach that level of mindless violence and moral depravity.
That was then. Watching the movie again last week, I realized that much of the violence and moral depravity contained in the movie had not only been realized, but that most people were no longer the least bit shocked by it. I wonder if today's younger generations would even realize the movie was meant to shock.
Which brings me to Roman Polanski. Apparently for scores of our entertainment elite, the drugging, raping and sodomizing of a 13-year-old child by a 44-year-old man is also no longer shocking. Their rationale is epitomized by Whoopie Goldberg's now infamous quote about how Mr. Polanski's crime "wasn't rape-rape," implying that there's some sort of sliding scale of acceptability regarding forcible sex with a child.
There is an old wives' tale about how to boil a frog. If one tries to put a frog in a pot of boiling water, the frog with leap out immediately. But if one puts the frog in cold water and heats it slowly, the frog will remain in the pot until it's boiled to death.
Our culture has seemingly become a giant pot of slowly heated water, bubbling away our common sense and common decency. An ultra-violent, dystopian society no longer seems abnormal--and for some, the rape of a child can be
morally "offset" by a successful artistic career.
Perhaps mankind's fatal flaw is that virtually anything can be made to seem reasonable if it is dispensed in small enough doses, spread out over time. And perhaps, as shock evolves into acceptance, our last line of defense becomes apathy.
We lose our capacity to be outraged.
There was a time--in my lifetime--when no decent human being would have dared defend Roman Polanski. But we have boiled away decency, one degree at a time. I have no doubt the cadre of celebrities defending Polanski consider themselves to be decent people. It is how they arrive at that conclusion that is the ultimate mystery. We all rationalize some measure of evil (the term "white lie" comes to mind), but when Hollywood petition-signers believe a man who raped a child and avoided justice for thirty years is a victim, the world is upside down.
Or is it? Maybe every civilization has a built-in shelf life in which vice eventually overwhelms virtue. History is littered with the corpses of once-great civilizations whose descents into terminal decline were precipitated by a slide from freedom into license, from virtue into unrestrained vice.
It is somewhat reassuring that the majority of Americans still consider what Polanski did to be an evil thing. It is ironic that the same majority is completely unsurprised that celebrity elitists don't. It is that lack of surprise which indicates an unsettling trend. We are resigned to the fact that there are many people, perhaps too many, who believe we should just "move on" and leave Roman Polanski alone.
Move on? Towards what?
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