Monday, July 31, 2006

Mel Deserves A Break

The things Mel Gibson is alleged to have said about Jews during his arrest for drunk driving are terrible, repulsive, utterly disgusting examples of anti-Semitism. In light of the feelings Jews already had about the actor in response to his film, "The Passion of the Christ," this latest episode only confirms to them that Gibson has some true anti-Semitic feelings. As someone who is sensitive to the suffering of Jews, and aware of the ceaseless efforts to demonize them in so many quarters, my defense of Gibson might seem strange, but I think the man deserves a break.

I don't think there's any question that Gibson's true feelings came to the fore when he was intoxicated. He was hysterical, complaining, swearing. One suspects he'd just had some run-in with someone, perhaps a Jew. While it's absurd that anti-Semites are so often blaming a Jewish cabal for all the world's ills, it is true that Hollywood has a very high proportion of Jews in positions of authority. So it's no stretch to imagine that the actor may have had his share of conflicts with Jews. And it seems well established that his father was an anti-Semite. Those attitudes probably did rub off on the son. But that doesn't mean Mel Gibson is a hate monger. For a parallel, I look at my own youth. I grew up in a black neighborhood with white grandparents who truly loved many of our black neighbors. Several of those neighbors are considered members of the family to this day. Yet I also remember times, particularly moments of anger, when my grandmother let loose with "nigger." I recall plenty of racist jokes being told, and lamentations that I was dating black girls. Those sentiments bothered me, but I always knew they were not rooted in hatred. Rather, they were the residue of social training and ignorance. My grandfather never actually used any derogatory terms for anyone, as far as I can remember. But my grandmother had a mouth like a sailor. She was full of piss and vinegar, but she was not full of hate.

Most people are pretty complicated. We can hold opposing ideas in our minds, feel things we know are irrational, want what we know to be wrong. If we were single-dimensional, we'd never feel shame, remorse or regret. It seems logical that Mel Gibson does have some anti-Semitic feelings, but that he also recognizes those feelings to be wrong, to be wicked. He is no worse than the rest of us who may keep our tongues in check, but have within us the capacity for evil as well as good.

At least Gibson's apology was on the mark. So often when a celebrity, athlete or politician says something offensive, they qualify their apologies: "I'm sorry IF my words offended," or "I'm sorry my words were taken out of context." In other words, they don't actually acknowledge totally that they were wrong -- just that some people might have interpreted their words as such. In Gibson's case, the actor was very contrite, and called his words "despicable," which indeed they were. If the man were a Kennedy, he'd just deny the incident. If he were a Democrat member of Congress from Georgia, he'd blame the police for their unprofessionalism. But Gibson seems to be a stand-up guy, though no one can dispute that his underlying anti-Semitism is something he needs to deal with and defeat if he expects to be re-accepted in Hollywood.


At 8:24 PM, Blogger Len said...

Interesting post, John. Given the situation in Israel it is feasible that many people already share Mel's sentiments. It saddens me that people's intolerance of Jews, whether conscious and deliberate or otherwise, is so pervasive. Indeed, a recent poll in France revealed that 75% of Frenchmen believe that Israel is solely responsible for global terrorism. Gibson's drunken diatribe aptly highlights the fact that Israel, and the Jews in general, must continue self-advocating. As for the continuity of Mel’s career- in Hollywood, as with any other industry, money talks far louder than words.


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