Monday, October 5, 2009

Hollywood's "Moral Nihilism"


I am not a cultural crusader in the Moral Majority sense. Christians are strangers and aliens here. American Christians, while valuing religious freedom ought to be more opposed than anyone else to the notion of a state sponsored church. Christians must approach politics very carefully in order to avoid becoming a house organ of any particular politician or party. That said, we are resident aliens. In this sense we should, as Dylan Thomas put it, "rage, rage against the dying of the light." We rightly rage against abortion, violence in our streets, the neglect of the marginalized, and the growing moral nihilism of our popular culture. We rage against these things not in an effort to establish a Christian country. Countries are not Christian. People are. We rage against these things because they are an affront to a God who is holy and good. We rage against these things because unrighteousness degrades and destroys people.

What we have seen out of Hollywood in the last week is that the purveyors of entertainment and therefore shapers of popular culture are not merely morally misinformed but moral nihilists. At some point Christians are going to have to stop giving these people their money.

Gene Veith writes:


Over 100 Hollywood moguls and insiders–including Woody Allen, Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, and Harvey Weinstein–have signed petitions urging the release of child rapist Roman Polanski, who has been arrested after fleeing a plea bargain 30 years ago. What impresses me is that pretty much the rest of America–the whole range of conservatives, liberals, feminists–are on the other side, demanding that Polanski face justice for raping a 13-year-old (not a statutory rape, but forcible sex against her will), even though he is a famous movie director.

The moral nihilism of the entertainment industry manifests itself again in the case of David Letterman, who admitted to being blackmailed to the tune of $2 million for having sex with his staff members. We’ll doubtless learn more about that, but what struck me is who the blackmailer was. Not a pathetic loser snooping from the shadows, but a big-name, high-powered television executive, Robert “Joe” Halderman, a CBS News producer.

17 comments:

Harley A. said...

HUGE topic... Can you imagine early Christians paying money to go and watch the “entertainment” available in 2nd century Rome? I wonder why we give ourselves the license to at home in from of the box or in the theatres (I do). The purveyors are just as godless and barbaric and the spectacle just as destructive. Are we spiritually asleep? I worry that part of my conscience is too calloused and hard to feel the conviction that it should. God help us…

Ryan H. said...
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Ryan H. said...

Agreed that the "purveyors are just as godless", but is "the spectacle is just as destructive," Harley? I suppose it depends on the films in question (whether we are speaking of HOSTEL or MAGNOLIA makes an enormous difference), but I daresay there's been a great deal of cinematic art--either from recent years or years previous--that can be edifying.

Regarding this discussion, it shows that Hollywood is, well and truly, off the deep end (Teachout's description of Mr. Weinstein as a "moral idiot" could not have been more right-on). But I have to say that the almost bloodthirsty "get Polanski!" response that many others have given--with little or no acknowledgment of the legal particularities of Polanski's case--is also a bit unsettling to me. I, for one, am not looking forward to the media circus that will follow the Polanski trial.

Todd Pruitt said...

Harley,

No doubt that in many ways our collective and individual conscience has been blunted. God help us indeed.

Todd Pruitt said...

What I fear more than a media circus is the continued collective yawn over the drugging, rape, and sodomy of a 13 year old girl.

threegirldad said...

But, Todd, it wasn't rape-rape. Remember?

Ryan H., which "legal particularities" do you have in mind? Can you provide details and, perhaps, a link?

Harley A. said...

Ryan, I don’t disagree with you totally. My point was not with the occasional edifying film I’ve enjoyed but rather with the loads of garbage I’ve poured into my mind and soul in the name of wanting to be entertained. In any case, the entertainment temptation probably does more to impede my personal growth and Christian service than any other single struggle – even the “good” stuff.

First, let’s allow Pete Rose into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Then, I think I’d be willing to discuss Academy Award winning Polanski…

Ryan H. said...

Threegirldad, the legal particularities in question are what Polanski's current legal status. He pled guilty as part of a plea bargain with the judge, and began serving his sentence (which was admittedly very meager, though somewhat par for the course at the time in California, and had pretty much been served by Polanski prior to his departure, save for the agreed upon probation period). The judge, though, illegally conferred with the prosecution, and then decided to change the terms of the deal. That's when Polanski fled. Looking at the facts, Polanski was undoubtedly mistreated by the legal system.

That's not to say he got what he "deserved." What Polanski did was reprehensible in the extreme, and deserved far worse punishment. But his agreement was reached legally, and we must respect the legal rights of even the most despicable individuals.

As a result, I don't think Polanski's case, when re-opened, is going to really throw the book at him. He's going to get something, no doubt, if only for running rather than trying to work things out through the legal system itself, but I'm skeptical that we'll see the law really laid down because of the events that have transpired.

The whole affair has been a failure of the American legal system from the get-go. First, in being originally too lenient with Polanski, second, in mistreating him during the course of his case, and third, in failing to make a significant effort to detain him (and waiting a ludicrous 30 or so years to do so).

All this material is relatively verifiable, and I'll try to find a link that summarizes the Polanski case and the legal situation.

Harley A. said...

RyanH –

I’ve researched the case. It appears to me by your assertions that maybe you haven’t read the transcripts. I would advise you to read the plea transcript before you jump to conclusions about “legal particulars” that are undocumented assertions by an unrepentant and desperate man. What happened, in fact, was a gross miscalculation by Polanski’s lawyer based on the fact that the judge did in fact allow a 90 day period of time for him to finish a movie he was working on. That’s it – no promises were ever made to him in court (or likely elsewhere). And, from that point on they ASSUMED the judge had a lenient bent, but he did not. In fact, I applaud the judge and I think we need to be careful that we don’t malign a judge who, in fact, was in the process of actually carrying out justice in the case. If you read the transcript, you’ll find that the judge was thorough to the point of almost absurdity to document the fact that there were IN FACT no binding sentencing promises being made and Polanski affirmed his knowledge of that fact.

Excerpt from Polanski lawyer’s statement at the beginning of the sentencing hearing – shows the mindset of the defense in the matter:

“This particular offense doesn't have the connotation of rape. It's not even an offense, a criminal offense, in about 13 of our states and in many places of the world… this is a crime that's been committed by policemen; it's been committed by probation officers assigned to counsel girls at a detention school; it's a crime that's been committed by people that have a far higher trust to their victims than did Roman Polanski… I feel he is a criminal only by accident; and that there are many complex social and psychological factors that were involved in this situational event which otherwise was a complete departure from his normal mode of conduct.”

Todd Pruitt said...

Harley,

I have come to the same conclusion in the reading I have been doing.

Polanski's team have done a good job of maligning the judge who, as far as I can tell, acted appropriately.

Ryan H. said...

HarleyA, I've looked over the transcripts (admittedly not in detail). But you won't see what I'm talking about there, since much of what I'm talking about happened outside of the courtroom setting.

The plea bargain agreement with the judge was made in a private conference between the judge, Polanski, and his lawyer, and no, it wasn't just an allowance for Polanski to go and make a film (though that was also part of the deal). The judge only changed his mind about that agreement after an illegal bit of congress between him and the prosecution. No, it's not in the official court transcripts, which is why this bit of hanky panky has only come to light in the last 10 years or so.

I'm not even suggesting Polanski was repentant. For all I know, he's not (though I would say it's perhaps not the best to actually connect his attorney's speech and Polanski's own attitude; the attorney's going to say what they agree is more likely to help his case, rather than what Polanski actually felt at the time).

Now, I'll grant my reading of the situation may be a bit confused. I'm not a lawyer, nor am I an expert in the details. But it's pretty clear things aren't black and white.

threegirldad said...
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threegirldad said...

[left out a key phrase in the process of editing -- Take 2...]

Ryan H.,

I asked you my original question in order to avoid leaping to conclusions about what you meant by "legal particularities." Now that you've explained what you meant, I'll make a few additional comments.

First of all, I was involved in heated arguments about this case as it was happening, because I was in high school at the time. I'm pretty familiar with it -- and so far, nothing new is being said in Act II of the debate...with one notable exception.

This notion of a corrupt judge gaming the system is based entirely on an unsubstantiated accusation by David Wells, the prosecutor in the case, made public just last year in a documentary titled Roman Polanski: Wanted and Desired. There's no corroboration of his claim, nor could there be, because it was supposedly a private conversation between him and Judge Rittenband. Pardon me for a moment while I entertain my own brand of cynicism by wondering aloud why David Wells didn't manage to accuse Judge Rittenband until 15 years after the man had died, and wasn't around to defend himself.

Guess what, though? I don't have to wonder any longer.

Roman Polanski the victim of a corrupt judge's premeditated legal maneuverings?! I rather think not. It turns out that black and white are the only two colors on this canvass after all.

Ryan H. said...

Ah, well scrap all that, then. By all means, throw the book at Polanski.

Though, this still doesn't change my frustration with the legal system's lazy attitude towards Polanski up until this point. That absolves Polanski or nothing, nor should it restrain the hand of the law. This case could have been, and should have been, resolved many years earlier.

Ryan H. said...

One last comment. I just stumbled across this article (entitled "Is Hollywood really a hotbed of support for Roman Polanski?"), and found it interesting.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/the_big_picture/2009/10/is-hollywood-really-a-hotbed-of-support-for-roman-polanski.html

Harley A. said...

I just read that Swiss authorities denied him bail and turned down his request to be held under house arrest at his ski chalet in the Alps. You gotta think his lawyer had to be smiling a little when he asked the judge that one. Judge thought he might be a flight risk. Ya’ think ? Must be maddening to be so close to France….. yet so far.

Todd Pruitt said...

"So close to France yet so far."

Gotta be a song in there somewhere Harley!