I will admit to having been a little upset about the news when I first heard it. Vidal after all was an extremely quotable writer. I found the following quote from him to be particularly incisive:
At any given moment, public opinion is a chaos of superstition, misinformation, and prejudice.
However, that quote took on a decidedly ironic overtone, when I came across the following statement that Vidal had made in an interview with The Atlantic (published in 2009) in response to the question the interviewer had asked regarding Roman Polanski raping a 13 year year old girl:
I really don’t give a fuck. Look, am I going to sit and weep every time a young hooker feels as though she’s been taken advantage of?
Honestly, I am not sure where to begin on this one. The facts of what Mr. Polanski had done were well established at the time of this interview.
First off, the individual in question was 13 years old at the time of the incident. A little young to be engaging in sex work, one might think.
Second, I must have forgotten to read the memo that says that sex workers give up their right to refuse consent when they are working.
Third, the thirteen year old victim was drugged by Polanski before he raped her. The victim was with Polanski, as Polanski had promised her mother that she (the victim) would be photographed for an edition of Vogue. Which is another memo I must have lost, the one that argues that getting photographed for a non-pornographic magazine is the equivalent of engaging in sex work.
What makes Vidal's defending Polanski so reprehensible is that Vidal makes it very clear that this comment was not simply off the cuff, he genuinely believes in what is saying.
As the interview in question proceeds, Vidal goes on to claim that Polanski's persecution was motivated by antisemitism and had nothing to do with, you know, Polanski raping a 13 year old.
I am reminded here, of when I doing research on Harry Hay and finding out that he had, at one point defended NAMBLA (North Atlantic Man Boy Love Association) an organization that essentially promotes pedophilia. And while doing research for this article I found out that Allen Ginsberg had also defended the organization.
It seems as if you can't knock too hard on the door of anybody's closet, without knocking out a skeleton or two. There is a line between defending sexual activity between consenting adults and defending sexual activity with those too young to give consent. Too bad there are pro-queer activists who were unable to make that distinction.
I am also reminded here of the response to the Sandusky scandal at Penn State and the revelation that many members of the Penn State elite -- such as Joe Paterno -- had covered up for Sandusky. Consider also, the cover ups that occurred within the Catholic Church over numerous incidents of sexual assault by priests against children.
Coming back to Vidal, it is worth noting that he was not the only celebrity who had defended Polanski. Over a hundred of Hollywood's elite signed a petition to demand the release of Polanski following his arrest in Switzerland while he was traveling to a film festiveal.
It seems that as a species, few of us are immune to the desire to stick our head in the sand and ignore any problem that is shoved in front of our faces. But a problem cannot be solved through ignorance, nor by blaming the victims.
While Gore Vidal may have been a talented and progressive author (he did after all write one of the first major pro-queer novels in the United States) I cannot defend, his slut-shaming, rape defending, comment. Nor do I think it should be dismissed. By claiming that a 13 year old, who had been drugged and raped by a man in his 40's, was a "hooker" who had simply felt she had been taken advantage of, Gore Vidal committed a sin too ugly for description.