What is Big Think?  

We are Big Idea Hunters…

We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

Big Think Features:

12,000+ Expert Videos

1

Browse videos featuring experts across a wide range of disciplines, from personal health to business leadership to neuroscience.

Watch videos

World Renowned Bloggers

2

Big Think’s contributors offer expert analysis of the big ideas behind the news.

Go to blogs

Big Think Edge

3

Big Think’s Edge learning platform for career mentorship and professional development provides engaging and actionable courses delivered by the people who are shaping our future.

Find out more
Close

Of Privilege and Polanski

October 13, 2009, 6:37 PM
Roman_pola%c5%84ski

The human mind is full of contradictory impulses. For instance, I doubt that many of us want the President to do his own laundry. He's not like us; he has a special talent that we want him to exercise, so give him a pass on the socks. At the same time, we're innately egalitarian, at least according to every parent I know: From an early age, human beings want to be on an equal footing with others. No special treatment for anyone!

As people have both interpretations available, I suppose it matters a great deal how a question of privilege is framed. Do we believe that someone extraordinary deserves to be exempted from what the rest of us go through? Or do we believe the guy is trying to get ``special treatment''? (cue the three-year-olds yelling ``that's not fair!''). Often, the two narratives compete for a while, in a ``frame war'' between a person's defenders and attackers.

Roman Polanski's arrest last month in a 32-year-old sex case is a case in point. His defenders, including the French and Polish foreign ministers and number of great directors and actors say he deserves consideration because of a host of reasons: he's elderly, he suffered in his native Poland under both Nazism and Stalinism, and he is, in the words of France's foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, ``a man of such talent, recognized throughout the world.''

I was inclined to accept those claims, and to put that frame in place for future Polanski news. But then I read this piece by Katha Pollitt. I'm often put off by Pollitt's Upper West Side self-importance and I was creeped out by her vengeful essay about an ex, but she sure set me straight here. Her essay efficiently demolished the ``special treatment'' case.

What weighs on the other side of the scale from the man's traumatic life and artistic achievements is the gravity of the crime, Pollitt notes: He gave alcohol and a quaalude to a 13-year-old girl in order to have sex with her. He never denied this, nor acknowledged that it was a serious assault.

In that, he's in a different position from another of his defenders, France's Minister of Culture, Frédéric Mitterand. After Mitterand issued statements of strong support for the director, some right-wing nutjobs drew attention to Mitterand's autobiographical novel, published in 2005, in which he admitted paying for sex with boy prostitutes in Thailand. Unlike Polanski, though, Mitterand didn't dismiss the offense. in the book, he calls the sight of young prostitutes an ``abominable spectacle'' and faults himself for giving in to the temptation to become a John. He also said none of the ``boys'' were under age. We have only his word, of course, but no one's disputed him yet.

It looks as if the Culture Minister will keep his job, then. However, his government, and Poland's, have dialled way back on their defense of Polanski. My guess, which of course could be colored by my own change of heart, is that Polanski's lost this frame war. After three weeks, most people who know about the case seem to see it in terms of equality and fairness, rather than in terms of talent claiming its fee from society. It's hard to imagine how that can change now.

 

Of Privilege and Polanski

Newsletter: Share: