And Now Here’s Something I hope You Really Like

You ever see a movie that just blows your mind?

Some people think that a movie needs lots of special effects or lots of bare boobs to be good. This is just not so. Sometimes the most amazing things you’ll see are in black and white, and need no more than a psychotic little girl with steel-toed shoes and a fierce determination to win a penmanship medal.

Ladies and gentlemen, The Bad Seed.

I’m not talking about the updated (I think 70s) version. I’m talking about the original 1956 film adaptation based on the Maxwell Anderson stageplay (based on the novel by William March) starring Patty Mc Cormack as Rhoda Penmark, 8 years of tow-headed evil, and Nancy Kelly as her more than frazzled mother. The Bad Seed may be responsible for launching the sub-genre of “devil child” films, which includes The Omen, The Exorcist, Problem Child, Clifford, and this summer’s enfant terrible tale Orphan. It’s one of those monster movies (and Rhoda is indeed a monster) that you don’t think will stay with you, but it will.

And it does.

The scary thing is, is that Rhoda is the devil you know. She comes off like a pigtailed sweetie who’ll exchange a basket of kisses for a basket of hugs, but inside that child a murderous beast is lurking. When Claude Daigle wins the penmanship medal, that Rhoda thought she had rightfully earned, she clobbers him over the head with her shoes and takes the medal as the boy drowns by the pier. When she returns home, she asks her mother for a peanut sandwhich and tells her mother that watching the boy die was “exciting”. The thing that is all the more disturbing is that we’ve all met potential Rhoda’s during our lifetimes (they turn out to be those people that we went to high school with who think that Faces of Death is a cool movie and continue to do so long after graduating from high school). She doesn’t look like a monster at all. She looks normal.

That’s the thing with alot of serial killers, they look normal.

And make no mistake, Rhoda Penmark is a serial killer.

When the handyman LeRoy runs afoul and crosses Rhoda’s path (by accusing her of having to do with Claude Daigle’s death), she promptly sets him ablaze. When Rhoda decides that her elderly neighbor Monica needs to hand over her lovebirds now, she plots to kill the old woman (we know this when Rhoda asks her mother how long lovebirds live). We also know that Rhoda may have killed another elderly neighbor when the family lived in Wichita.

At the heart of the drama is psychology. The Penmark’s neighbor Monica is a psych junkie. Her rambles on about inherited evil and the exploits of some of history’s most notorious killers, including the evil murderess, Bessie Danker. When Rhoda’s mother, in a flashback sequence that would make Dr. Phil envious, discovers that she is the daughter of Bessie Danker, she wigs out, fearing that Rhoda might have inherited the evil (she eventually atempts to kill both Rhoda and herself).

That’s funny.

Not ha, ha funny, but funny.

Of course, when we talk about things like inheriting a certain disposition, or the idea that one’s future is determined by outside forces, we slip into the realm of the philosopher. The idea that a person’s outcomes are determined by outside forces (genetics, environment, etc) is determinism. The Penmark’s neighbor Monica seems to subscribe to the psychological theory that certain psychological tendencies are passed down from parent to child. As a fidgety parent will have fidgety children, likewise a serial murderer will breed killers. Monica seems to favor what we would call a reductionist view of human nature. Our behavior can be predicted by looking at the various mental and physiological processes that take place within our bodies. If a parent passes what Kurt Vonnegut called “bad chemicals” to their offspring, it is highly likely that that child will also exhibit the same tendencies as the parent. Freud said that “anatomy is destiny”. This is what Monica seems to believe as well. We know that mental illnesses tend to run in families (this is also bolstered by twin studies that find that twins raised apart tend to share physical and personality traits in common). We find clusters of manic depression, depression or schizophrenia in families, as do certain organic disorders such as Alzheimer’s Disease. So, if we believe as Monica believes, the child of Besssie Danker would be a natural born killer. So, ir would not be beyond the possibility that the granddaughter of Bessie Danker would have inherited some strange personality disorder that causes her to kill.

This may be ok for the hard-core determnist, but some people may say no way, they don’t believe that our destinies lie in our genes. We are not merely the products of our anatomy, but we are influenced by other things outside of ourselves. Ultimately, the choice to kill or do anything else is made by the individual — not an impulse that we are incapable of resisting. In philosophy, this is the classic debate of free will and determinism.

When we think of Rhoda, we ask if the little girl perhaps suffered from a broken moral compass – that she may have been unable to legislate morally. But when we watch the film, we see that Rhoda has a moral code — a strict one at that. Her code is strictly egoist. She wants what is best for her. If others stand in her way, that’s their problem.

When I watched The Bad Seed, I thought that the biggest philosophical question that stood out was whether our decisions are a product of free will or if our decisions are determined. But when I looked closer, I discovered that I was thinking about ideas of divine retribution (it ultimately takes and act of God to stop Rhoda Penmark), ideas of karma and justice, and how we should treat mentally ill children? I asked, when God struck down Rhoda, did she get what she deserved? When her mother Christine tried to kill her, was her action morally correct? Would I have felt differently about it if Rhoda wasn’t a child? Was Christine morally obligated to kill her daughter? If there is a real child like Rhoda who has killed or we think may be capable of killing, how are we to deal with that child? In the interest of the greater society, are we obligated to detain them? alter them chemically (like how criminals are “rehabilitated” in Demolition Man?)?should we euthanize them for their own good? Just a few of these questions popped up when I was watching The Bad Seed. I’m sure than there are more to ask. There are a couple of different versions of the story (including the original novel) so I’m sure that each interpretation will stir up a new set of questions.

So my advice is Netflix the movie, nuke a bag of popcorn, and indulge in wishing that God would strike an 8 year old child dead and gleefully cheering when he does for a couple of hours.

But you might want to be careful next time you promise a couple of birds to the neighbor kid.

Especially if you live anywhere near staircases.

White Ford Polanski

Ithink that Chris Hedges says this so much better than I ever will so to hear him say it better, go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch0fl0m60Oo And now for my pathetic take on something important… You know when someone is supposed to be important. It’s when you call them only by their last name.

Nietzsche, Reagan, Christ.

The world of entertainment is no different. We know the greater than famous only by their last names. Which means, conversely, if one is not great we would say the whole name. For instance, if I am watching Die Hard 2, I’m watching a Renny Harlin flick. But cinema belongs to Coppola, Spielberg, Scorsese, Hitchcock, and recently, Tarantino.

You get the idea.

One of the great ones has drawn some attention to himself these days, but not for his filmmaking.

Polanski.

I’m in no way a movie expert but I’ve been told that Roman Polanski is a pretty heavy-duty movie director. They say that before I die, I’m supposed to watch these movies: Repulsion, Rosemary’s Baby, and Chinatown — all directed by Polanski. Well, I’ve seen Rosemary’s Baby (and unfortunately its sequel, which may have started that horrible Hollywood tradition of following up fairly decent movies with sequels that you wouldn’t show to someone you really wanted to hurt). For those who don’t watch cinema, Polanski is probably more (well) known for being the husband of Sharon Tate, who was murdered in 1969 by members of the Manson Family. These things made Polanski famous, but recent attention given to the director has focused on something that made him infamous. Namely, the 1977 drugging and rape of a 13 year old girl at the home of fellow famous person Jack Nicholson following a photo shoot.

Polanski admitted that he gave the girl champange and quaaludes (now that says 70s!), and eventually pled guilty to having unlawful sex with a minor.

As a culture, we tend to look somewhat negatively at people who have sex with kids.

Knowing that this is so, and that he stood to find himself on the bad end of the law, Roman Polanski fled sentencing and went to France, a country that does not have a full extradition treaty with the United States — thus avoiding spending any time behind bars. After 30 years of avoiding his sentence, Polanski was arrested in September of 2009 while on his way to the Zurich Film Festival.

Better late than never.

In a not-so stunning move, the Hollywood community stood up and rallied to Polanski’s defense. Some of Polanski’s fellow Hollywoodites signed a petition calling for his immediate release. Martin Scorsese, David Lynch, Woody Allen, Debra Winger (who you almost have to ask “who?” when you hear her name), and Whoopi Goldberg (who, thankfully informed us of the difference between rape and rape rape) are among the stars who have called for Polanski’s release. Even the governments of France and Polanski’s native Poland have called for Polanski to be set free. Many, including the Swiss and the Los Angeles DAs office, haven’t been swayed by the pressure from our fine moviemaking community. Some have gone so far as to dismiss the chatter as Hollywood’s rallying around one of their own, no matter how awful the crime (funny, I remember a considerable lack of this reflex when OJ was accused of double murder). Although Whoopi Goldberg’s remark may have been another example of celebrity-induced boneheadedness, she brings up a point that most assuredly many have pondered since Polanski’s arrest — was what he did really a crime? Not only that, but if it was, has the passage of time lessened the offense?

Did time heal these wounds?

Some of Polanski’s supporters (and some people in general) say that attitudes were different in the 70s. I suppose that this sentiment has something to do with the fact that, at the tail end of the sexual revolution, sexual attitudes, even concerning children was more laxed than they are now. So, some say that determining whether an actual crime was committed has to do with whether a child is able to consent to sexual activity.

Psychologists say that children much younger than 18 are morally aware (thus responsible) for their actions. Chlidren as young as 9, according to psychologists, have moral distinct sensibilities.

A 13 year old is, according to Freud, in the genital stage of development — a stage wherein children begin to initiate romantic and sexual relations with members of the opposite sex (or same sex if that’s the way you roll). Traditionally, common law recognized that children as young a 14 could be held legally accountable for their actions. And anecdotally, we’ve all either seen or heard of the kid who neither looked nor acted like a child. So, in the minds of some, a child of 13 is more than biologically capable of deciding of she wants to have sex with a grown man.

But this assertion doesn’t sound right to some people (myself included). It can easily be stated that there is a difference between biological maturity and mental maturity or moral awareness. When we say that someone is “mature”, we’re including the idea that he is capable of rational decision-making. Rationality is connected (if not required) to the ability to consent to any activity. So if we bring up the idea of rationality as required for engaging in consentual activity, we must ask when is a child rational? When can a child make decisions concerning sexuality.

I’ve decided to take a look at what Kant says about rationality.

Kant says that moral judgments are products of reason or the rational mind. Rational beings possess rational minds. And having rational minds, humans are rational beings. Rational beings possess a free mind and are capable of deciding according to their free will ( meaning that we are free moral agents). Moral agents must be treated as ends-in-themselves, that is, we are obliged to treat others as rational moral agents and not as a means to our own ends. Although Kant says a great deal about what free moral agents are, he spends little time telling us when a person is a free moral agent — he doesn’t specify at what age a person becomes a moral agent. It is obvious to us that an 18 month old child does not share the same moral capacity as his 28 year old mother. But, if we look at the toddler’s 6 year old sister, the distinction between the moral awareness of adults and children aren’t so clear. We can see that a child of six possesses some capacity to perform moral judgments. But, according to Kant’s view is “some” enough? I think this is Kant’s answer: Kant says that when we interact with others, we must treat them as if they are rational beings — irrespective of whether the individual is in fact a free moral agent.

So, if psychologists say that children as young as 9 can render moral judgments, and Kant suggests that we treat people as if they are rational moral agents, then Whoopi Goldberg may have a point.

Roman Polanski is not guilty of rape rape.

But this still doesn’t sit well with me. I still feel like he has done something wrong for which he should be punished. But I realize that, despite my gut feelings, the supporters may be right. But then, I remember one, small, detail. He drugged her.

We know that when it comes to sexual activity and the law, a person who is inebriated or mentally diminished cannot legally consent to sexual activity. This is why if you give a girl a roofie (even if she said that she wanted to have sex with you hours eariler), you could find yourself facing rape charges. The fact that she was unable to consent to sexual intercourse at the time that the activity took place meant that you performed an unconsentual sexual act with a drugged person. You could not only find yourself facing rape charges, but also charges for administering the drug (I think in some states it’s considered poisoning). Kant’s idea of rationality requires that a person be fully engaged in their decision-making ( which means that in addition to being sober, a person cannot be forced or coerced into moral judgments according to Kant). If a person is under the influence of drugs, Kant would say that the person is not fully capable of using their ability to reason. By drugging the girl, she became a mere means to Polanski’s ends. So, in this circumstance, she could have looked Roman Polanski in the eye and demanded that he make her a woman, but the fact that he filled her full of booze and ludes made her unable to participate in the act as a free moral agent.

So Whoopi is wrong. He is guilty of rape rape.

But still there are others who would hold that Polanski’s arrest is unjust. Debra Winger stated that Polanski is being punished by a “philistine” legal system. The French Culture Minister said that Polanski has been “thrown to the lions”. They feel that he is being treated like a dangerous criminal when he is not. They argue that he is a good man and a humanitarian who has not hurt anyone. Treating a good man like a hardened criminal they say, is a makes a mockery of the concept of justice.

Of course this claim forces us to look a little at what justice (exactly) means.

We ask, what is justice? Some suggest that justice is each getting what he deserves. Others say that justice is equal treatment under the law. Others say that it is acting according to one’s virtues, or that justice is whatever the ruler says that it is. Kant’s theory of retributive justice holds that those who harm others ought to be harmed in return. In short, you get what’s commin’ to ya. But, Kant states, the punishment must be proportional. If an offender commits a minor offense, the punishment must be minor as well. If he commits a major offense, then we must punish him accordingly. In this way, Kant’s justice is much like justice under Roman Law which held that “the constant and perpetual will to render to each what is his due”. In our system of justice, prison sentences are either long or short, depending on the severity of the crime.

So, using Kant’s theory of justice, we can say that Polanski knowingly and willingly gave drugs and alcohol to a child and then had (forced) sex with her ( did I mention that she says that she initially put up a fight and that she said “no” repeatedly?). Kant says that, as autonomous moral agents, we are to repect Polanski’s actions. If we fail to do so, we are not giving him the proper respect that is required for him to act as a free moral agent. Since he acted freely, we are bound to respect his actions. And since he acted in a manner that was (and is) against the law, we must give him the proper punishment for his crime. Failure to do so is not only harmful to Polanski, but also harmful to us as well.

(Here’s the thing… his pals in Hollywood think that they’re doing a good thing by saving their colleague from a corrupt justice system. But in reality what they’re doing is preventing Roman Polanski from being responsible for his own actions. This is what over-protective parents do when thay want to save their children from every harm in the world. Ultimately, all these good intentions serve to do more harm than good, as the act to protect is less protective than it’s paternalistic, thus robbing an individual the ability to make their own moral choices).

So, using Kant yet again, we must see to it that Polanski serves his time.

But, for every Kantian there is an equal and opposite Utilitarian waiting in the wings, ready to say his peace. A utilitarian may say that punishing Roman Polanski now is of little use. So much time has passed and he hasn’t done anything like that crime since. Polanski is not a threat to anyone and that sending him to prison would be a waste of time and money, and it only goes to dredge up old memories that even the “victim” has suggested that we let go. To punish him now would be a negative (as it detracts from the common good, and it wastes resources that could have been spent bringing real criminals to justice, and by incarcerating Polanski we’re locking up a productive, upstanding, creative member of society). On the first notion, that too much time has passed, and that to do anything now would be useless, Entertainment Weekly contributor Chris Nashawaty put it like this: Roman Polanski may be a great director but he’s still a convicted felon. The fact that 30 years has passed has not made the crime any less morally repugnant. If we wanted to argue that time lessens offenses, we can use the same argument to release Manson family member Leslie van Houten, and likewise argue that it was morally wrong to keep a dying Susan Atkins in prison (there are those who would argue that the passage of time has not made the Manson murders any less morally repugnant –even if Atkins was dying). The utilitarian not only has to consider those who are directly affected by the crime, but everyone who stands to be affected (which in te case of the justice system means everyone). If Polanski is released without serving his sentence, the utilitarian must consider the negative effects of that decision as well, including the possibilty that the integrity and reputation of the justice system might be damaged if people percieve that the legal system is unjustly weighing in favor of Polanski. We see justice is a matter not only of conviction but also of serving the sentence. By fleeing before serving his sentence and possibly getting away with not serving one at all the public may lose confidence in the system’s ability to administer justice equally under the law ( as there is already the popular perception that there is a different system of justice for celebrities). Letting Polanski go may seem like the utilitarian thing to do, but may in fact do more harm than good.

And it’s this point of two systems of justice that I would like to end.

Rawls held that we could bring fairness into society if we pursued justice from under a veil of ignorance. Rawls believed that if we made laws that benefitted everyone and reduced inequality that we could maintain a just society.

There are those who believe that this idea is complete bullshit.

When we watch TV and complain that OJ “got away” with double murder, or that Leif Garrett paralyzed his friend in a car accident and served not one day behind bars, or that Robert Downey, jr., pulled off a B&E and we were supposed to feel sorry for him, we often say that it seems that there are two systems of justice — one for the rich and famous and one for everybody else. And seeing Hollywood types like Woody Allen and Steven Spielberg rallying around a convicted child rapist only goes to show that some of our beliefs about a multi-layered justice system are true. We think that the fact that Roman Polanski is a celebrity earns him better treatment than the average barber or computer programmer or some poor undocumented dude who some kid says that he touched her in the park on her way to school. If Roman Polanski were anything other than Roman Polanski, we say, he’d be behind bars before you can say Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby? sucked eggs. Perhaps this is why: maybe the real problem is not that there is no morality in Hollywood, but that the famous operate under a different system of justice than everyone else does. Perhaps their view of justice is Aristotelian.

According to Aristotle, some people, because of their character or virtues deserve more. Unlike Rawls, who seeks to minimize inequality, the Aristotelian thinker sees inequality as a mere fact of life. Some people are, by nature, better than average. Inequality is natural. I remember Sharon Tate’s sister saying that her former brother-in-law is a philanthropist. And we see that if she is correct, he is not only philanthropically-inclined, but as an artist, he gives his art to the people. By doing his natural talent, he is enhancing the lives of all — he contributes to Happiness. Aristotle called these types of men magnanimous. And of magnanimous men Aristotle writes, “… since he deserves most… for the better man always deserves more, and the best man most”.

And perhaps this is it.

It really isn’t a matter whether a child consented to have sex with a man more than twice her age in the home of a mega-star in 1977. It doesn’t matter whether she gleefully and rationally entered into sexual relations with Roman Polanski. What matters, we see, is that people like Roman Polanski are just different than people like me and everyone who isn’t famous. If he had played his cards right, he should have looked the judge squarely in the face, announced that he was better than everyone in the courtroom, and walked out. I’m sure that it would have worked.

I don’t see whay he’s hesitating to do it now.

And if anyone believes that I actually think that he shouldn’t be behind bars, I need only say that I may be an egoist, but at heart I am a Kantian.

They guy shouldn’t know what sunlight feels like for some time.