The world is made up of strangers. Due to proximity and luck, we get various opportunities to make a handful of these strangers into friends or acquaintances. We fill the empty spaces with people we "know" only from a distance.
Whenever we connect with a piece of art, in any form, we also take on a love of sorts for the person or persons responsible for creating it, as on some level, we believe that we know them, simply because their work seems to speak directly to us. It springs from a desire to be understood, I guess: we project our own emotions on to an album, or a film, or a novel, and we assume that whoever made it feels and thinks and believes the same things we do, if only to feel like someone out there gets what we're going through.
So this week, when several celebrities signed off on the "Free Roman Polanski" petition, it wasn't at all surprising to see the level of disappointment in the comments. People mentioned feeling "hurt" and "betrayed" by several celebrities, including Wes Anderson and Whoopi Goldberg, for their support of Polanski following his arrest, and the same phenomenon seems to be happening, albeit on a much smaller scale, following the revelations that David Letterman was having affairs with several of his staff members.
It should be noted that the defense of a man who raped a child and the revelation that a grown man had consensual relationships with his staffers are two very separate things, but the disappointment that we feel when a celebrity takes a position or engages in activities that surprise us is somewhat similar, in that it's hard to ever view the celebrity the same way again once we know something we'd rather not know about them. In talking with Anna about this yesterday, she mentioned that it was a bit like a celebrity death, and I agree, in that there's that weird numb feeling you go through before you realize that the person who created the things you loved is gone, and all you are left with is their work. Sometimes, it's hard to watch a film, or listen to a song, or read a novel without the ghost of that person looming over the experience for a while, and so we need to step away for a bit.
As far as the Polanski apologists go, we're stuck in a position that places us in the denial mode of his defenders, who are clearly valuing the man's artistic contributions over the fact that he raped a 13-year-old girl. When this story fades away a bit, will we all be able to go back to watching Wes Anderson films, or Martin Scorsese films, or anything Natalie Portman stars in without thinking, "This person is a rape apologist?" Or will we end up shutting out the realities of things in favor of the work itself? It's hard to say at this point, though in many ways, I suppose, the experience of seeing any of the work created by those who signed the petition will be tainted.
I suppose in the end the hurt and disappointment we feel comes mostly from the revelations that we don't know these people at all; all we know of them is what they choose to show us. In many ways, they're coasting on very glamorous Facebook profile pages, with carefully selected photographs, soundtracks, and quotes. And just like we do with anyone we have a crush on, we connect to these images and sounds and fail to realize that these people are all just as flawed and messed up as everyone else—and that sometimes, they do unspeakably horrible things. There are two modes people go into when someone breaks their heart—for Polanski's defenders, it seems they've chosen denial. For the rest of us, there's the other option; hurt, anger, disappointment, sadness, and eventually, walking away for good and spending our time (and money) elsewhere.