The French: Not as bad as you think


There's something about the arrest of Roman Polanski that -- even though it's about the 2,749th most important thing going on in the world right now -- makes it the most blog-and-talk-radio-worthy story in years, because it touches how we feel about crime and punishment, art and redemption, and of course how we feel about Hollywood...and France.

The initial word was that "the French" were up in arms over Polanski's arrest, and so of course people started thinking there they go again -- those weak-kneed, Godless, hedonistic (insert nasty adjective), um, French people. Except there's one problem: The stereotypes aren't true. The French are just like Americans. They have braindead public officials and celebrities, but the average person has a similar sense of justice to the majority of U.S. people -- and this has cut across the usual ideological divide -- who think that raping a 13-year-old girl is a just horrible crime, period:

Marie-Louise Fort, a French lawmaker in the Assembly who has sponsored anti-incest legislation, said in an interview that she was shocked that Mr. Polanski was attracting support from the political and artistic elite. “I don’t believe that public opinion is spontaneously supporting Mr. Polanski at all,” she said. “I believe that there is a distinction between the mediagenic class of artists and ordinary citizens that have a vision that is more simple.”

The mood was even more hostile in blogs and e-mails to newspapers and news magazines. Of the 30,000 participants in an online poll by the French daily Le Figaro, more than 70 percent said Mr. Polanski, 76, should face justice. And in the magazine Le Point, more than 400 letter writers were almost universal in their disdain for Mr. Polanski.

That contempt was not only directed at Mr. Polanski, but at the French class of celebrities — nicknamed Les People — who are part of Mr. Polanski’s rarefied Parisian world. Letter writers to Le Point scorned Les People as the “crypto-intelligentsia of our country” who deliver “eloquent phrases that defy common sense.”

Do we have a "crypto-intelligentsia" in this country? Apparently so. The list of pro-rapist celebrities is expanding to include Woody Allen (there's a surprise), Martin Scorcese (that's sad), the husband of your next ABC News anchor Diane Sawyer, and Whoopi Goldberg, whose comment about "rape-rape" is the most idiotic thing to come out of this whole affair, which is saying a lot.