A big conversation got started last week when Mackenzie Phillips’ book was released and she made an appearance on Oprah. Opinions are flying around television, radio, and the Internet, and even some unfortunate jokes have been made about what happened to her. And I mean what happened to her.
I know that many people, apparently Oprah included, consider what happened to Mackenzie following the rape by her father to have been consensual because many of the acts occurred after she was legally an adult. And, under the law, we properly hold adults legally accountable for their acts. Even Mackenzie believes that because she was an adult she consented, and it is courageous of her to publicly accept her part in what happened.
But legal ability to consent is not the same as psychological ability. (I’m not offering a diminished capacity defense here, but Mackenzie isn’t being adjudicated in a court of law for a crime.) Mackenzie and her father were not equals. Her father had power over her for many reasons, not the least of which was due to her drug addiction (and it was John Phillips who taught his then-child how to put a needle into her veins). Let’s not gloss over that he began the abusive relationship by raping her and then telling her they made love. Like many abusers, he cultivated a belief in his victim that her submission was consent, gaining her psychological cooperation in order to maintain his abusive power.
John Phillips failed utterly in the most important role he was blessed with in this life, being a parent. He was the very person who above all others should have been protecting his daughter from sexual abuse, from drugs, and even from harming herself. Instead, he brought harm to her, the worst kind. Phillips had been grooming and controlling Mackenzie long before he forced his penis into his daughter’s vagina, and after he did that he managed to convince his damaged and drug-addled child that she chose to be his lover. Mackenzie was the victim. She is the survivor.
And this is the stuff of jokes? I read someone’s opinion yesterday that all dark humor has a group that will be injured. I understand that, but I’d like to consider that statement further. Sure, we hear comedians joke about celebrities, reality show participants, ethnic groups, someone who has a big mole, or blondes. And, sure, that person or group is poked and could be hurt. Having said that, a successful comedian knows his or her audience. I’m not saying that poking at others is okay, but I understand that it happens. I’m the first person to poke fun at myself, or things about me that I perceive to be a shared human condition. And I’ve taken a joke too far, too. It happens. None of us is perfect. But joking about certain subjects goes beyond dark humor, and even beyond poor taste. Incest falls into that category, and, in particular, jokes about the survivor having choice or enjoying incest ought to be no-man’s land. Would it be funny to joke about the holocaust, murder, slavery, abortion, or 9/11? Incest is never funny either.
Are you dismissing this just a little bit because you’re thinking that I’m an overly sensitive survivor, too hurt to see the humor? Yes, I am a survivor of incest, and sensitive, too. This is precisely why I’m speaking up, and with some authority on the matter. Bless you if you don’t know this first hand, but survivors of incest are statistically a very large group. Survivors are also some of the most resilient and accommodating folks on the planet, sometimes too much so. And they’re some of the funniest, too, as humor is a very powerful coping mechanism. However, joking about incest sends a harmful message to survivors, and encourages everyone else to be glib about it.
Another conversation was started in the media this week about the whole Roman Polanski thing. Yesterday, Whoopi Goldberg said on The View that “It wasn’t a rape-rape.” Having intercourse with an unconscious 13-year-old girl isn’t rape? No, Whoopi, it wasn’t rape. It was child rape. So Hollywood will gather ’round to defend this guy because what? It is more acceptable to have sex with a drugged minor than it is to do it by physical force? Why does Roman Polanski deserve a pass? Is it because the perpetrator is a talented artist and/or an old man now? Because that old man did not pay for his crime under the system of justice in which he committed the acts. Is it because the survivor has forgiven him? Forgiveness by a victim has nothing to do with absolving the perpetrator of responsibility.
These conversations in the media raise a big question in my mind. Is our society more interested in honoring and protecting persons of wealth and fame than our children? It sure seems like it to me.
[EDITED TO ADD IN RESPONSE TO COMMENTS:
Swiss filmmaker Otto Weisser called the rape and sodomy of the 13-year-old child in the Polanski case “a little mistake.”
Polanski gave an interview to the novelist Martin Amis in 1979 (the year after Polanski fled this jurisdiction) that reportedly appeared in the Condé Nast U.K. publication Tatler, in which Polanski said:
“If I had killed somebody, it wouldn’t have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But… f—ing, you see, and the young girls. Judges want to f— young girls. Juries want to f— young girls. Everyone wants to f— young girls!”
So, it seems that this so-called “little mistake” was not only the intentional rape and sodomy of a child, but Polanski said he believes that everyone wants to do that to young girls. Um, no, Polanski, just so we’re clear, only very sick bastards want to “f— young girls.”
This is who Hollywood embraces?
For thirty-two years the victim in this case* has been victimized again and again as the media diminishes the absolute horror that she experienced, and throws support behind the perpetrator. It is completely understandable that she just wanted (and still wants) the case to go away. It’s time for Polanski to go away, where he should have gone thirty-two years ago.]
*Although she’s been identified in the media, for the sake of the privacy she’s said she wants, I will not identify her by name here.