By Dan Gerstein
This weekend's opening of "The Ghost Writer," Roman Polanski's new thriller about a British speechwriter, presents our tribe of scribes with a delicate dilemma. Here you have a rare major film, touted on the front pages of the New York Times Arts and Leisure section, dedicated to our anonymous craft. But it just so happens to be directed by a man who committed a heinous crime a generation ago —and who continues to deeply offend many men and women alike. What's a good ghost to do? See the film for what it is? Or stay away because of whom it profits?
These questions hit particularly close to home for me and our firm over the last few days. We had decided to organize an outing for the New York-based writers in our network —most of whom are as invisible to each other as they are to the outside world —to see the film. We thought it would a good way for them to get to know each other and to share their reactions about how our profession was being portrayed on the big screen. So we sent out a brief heads up to our email list that an outing was in the works. Several writers thought it was a great idea. But a few questioned our judgment, suggesting we were wrong to be promoting the work of a pedophile (in the words of one).
That forced me to confront how I really felt about this case and the complicated issues that arise from such a jarring collision between art, commerce and morality.
I was certainly sensitive to the concerns. I found Polanski's original crime despicable. The same is true for his lack of accountability for it. And in the wake of his recent arrest, I was disgusted by the way so many big-named Hollywood apologists have dismissed or excused Polanski for drugging and raping a teenage girl.
So I understand as well as anyone why some people would boycott this new movie (or any Polanski product) out of principle — and why they would want others to do the same. His actions over time and his lack of repentance are so outrageous, they argue, that he should be shunned.
But much as I can appreciate that argument and the moral imperative behind it, I landed with a different point of view, both in general and as it relates to this case.
Broadly speaking, I think there is a critical difference between consuming and discussing the work of an important and morally suspect artist or public figure, on the one hand, and purposely celebrating the work, profiting from it, or glorifying the creator, on the other.
One telling example of that is Richard Nixon. To me, his crimes were even more offensive and damaging than what Polanski did, because of the impact on the entire nation and the public trust. But after his presidency, he remained a highly relevant and influential public thinker, and I read his books and bought magazines with his essays. I did not believe I was "supporting" him in doing so; I was trying to stay informed and current.
In the case of Polanski, irrespective of his personal conduct, he is widely regarded as a significant director, and he has made a film that shines a very public light on our very hidden profession. Our reason for organizing an outing was not to validate him or his art, but merely to see how our professional community is being injected into the zeitgeist, and then to have an opportunity to meditate on it together among our peers.
But clearly reasonable people can and will disagree about where to draw the line in cases like this and tradeoffs involved. I am curious to hear where others in the ghostwriting community come down. Is it possible to consume the art without sanctioning its creator? Are Polanski's actions so offensive that there is no justification for buying a ticket to his film?
Let us know what you think. Feel free to send us a post of your own if you have something meaty to say. Or simply add a comment below. It's an important debate, and we welcome your input.
© 2008 Gotham Ghostwriters, All rights reserved.