Friday, August 04, 2006

In vino veritas

Two very contrasting verdicts on Mel Gibson’s shame:

Mel Gibson deserves pity, not pillory
By Andrew O'Hagan in the Telegraph

The world at present is many kinds of daft, but one of the idiocies we never seem to comment on is the worldwide propensity to knock everything out of proportion. Gibson is not an admirable man (nor, in my view, a very talented actor) and his opinions on most things, from Christ to homosexuality, have always seemed pretty bonkers. But I don't understand why he must now be crucified himself for saying the kind of stupid thing that stupid people say all the time.

If we peel back the layers of the Gibson fiasco, we see something much darker and more troubling, not about him - he's just a fool - but about the society which needs to produce a scapegoat in him.

Dangerously worded as it was, Gibson's drunken comment was, it could reasonably be argued, a statement against the arrogance of the Israeli military: "They started all the wars in the world." Isn't it that which is making America call for his head?

In the present Middle East crisis - and since the horror of 9/11 overall - it has become pretty impossible to make any remarks about Jews or against Israel which are not immediately seen to be either monstrously anti-Semitic, or indicative of supporting terrorism. The thought-police are out in force in almost every publication in America, and to suggest that the Israeli lobby has an undue weight on American foreign policy - as two writers did recently in the London Review of Books - can cause a storm of protest, much of it insinuating that the authors or the publications concerned hate Jews.

You can't police thoughts; and only a fool would seek to police the rantings of a drunken actor. Hollywood Jews, in the last century, were often the very people who fought for liberal freedoms - of speech, of thought, of political complexion - and their recent oversensitivity to insult puts them in the seat of their former enemies, the McCarthyites who once sought to silence so many of them.

Mel Gibson's Meltdown
He is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.

By Christopher Hitchens

I was just in the middle of writing a long and tedious essay, about how to tell a real anti-Semite from a person who too-loudly rejects the charge of anti-Semitism, when a near-perfect real-life example came to hand. That bad actor and worse director Mel Gibson,
pulled over for the alleged offense of speeding and the further alleged offense of speeding under the influence, decided that he needed to demand of the arresting officer whether he was or was not Jewish and that he furthermore needed to impart the information that all the world's wars are begun by those of Semitic extraction.

Call me thin-skinned if you must, but I think that this qualifies. I also think that the difference between the blood-alcohol levels—and indeed the speed limits—that occasioned the booking are insufficient to explain the expletives (as Gibson has since claimed in a typically
self-pitying and verbose statement put out by his publicist). One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all.
There's a lot to dislike about Gibson. He is given to furious tirades against homosexuals of the sort that make one wonder if he has some kind of subliminal or "unaddressed" problem. His vulgar and nasty movies, which also feature this prejudice, are additionally replete with the cheapest caricatures of the English. Braveheart and The Patriot are two of the most laughable historical films ever made. (Englishmen don't form picket lines outside movie theaters when "stereotyped," but still.) He has told interviewers that his wife, the mother of his children, is going to hell because she subscribes to the wrong Christian sect (a view that he justifies as "a pronouncement from the chair"). And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.

This is not just proved by his twistedly homoerotic spank-movie The Passion of the Christ, even though that ghastly production did focus obsessively on the one passage in the one of the four Gospels that tries to convict the Jewish people en masse of the hysterical charge of Christ-killing or "deicide." It is validated by his fealty to his earthly father, a crackpot who belongs to a Catholic splinter group of which our Mel is a member. This group more or less lives off the stench of medieval anti-Semitism. Allow me (as one who has Mel's father's books to hand) to give you an example. In an attempt a few years ago to heal the breach between the Vatican and the Jews, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did his best to make nice. Jews did not accept Jesus as savior and redeemer, said the man who is now the pope, but they did originate monotheism. Therefore, Judaism could perhaps be regarded in some ways as an "elder brother" of Christianity. The response of Gibson senior was to say that Abel also had an elder brother. … You know what? I think that this qualifies as anti-Semitism, too.

I do not believe for an instant that (as God told Moses) the sins of the fathers should descend to later generations. But when asked about his old man's many effusions on this subject, from the cheery view that the Jewish population of Europe actually increased in Hitler's day to the no less upbeat opinion that persons unknown brought down the World Trade Center, the younger Gibson stonewalled consistently by saying that "my father has never told me a lie." At the time he said this, I was impressed despite myself. He was being invited to disown a raging Jew-baiter at the same time that he was trying to cash in with a Hollywood epic. And he wouldn't do it! All credit for true and staunch conviction.


At the time when The Passion of the Christ was being released, many nervous evangelical Christians tried to get the more horrifying bits of anti-Semitic incitement toned down. (The crazy scene where the rabbis demand the blood of Jesus on their own heads was taken out of subtitles, for example, but left as it was in Aramaic.) Many conservative Jews, from David Horowitz to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, stuck up for Gibson as a man who defended family values against secular nihilism. And the Muslim world allowed the movie to be screened widely, though from Ben-Hur to King of Kings it had prohibited the physical representation of any "prophet" mentioned, as Jesus is, in the Quran. (Don't ask yourself why this was, unless you want to feel stupid.) It was even proudly announced that Gibson's next big project would be about the Holocaust.

Whether Gibson tries this last catch-penny profanity or not, it is time to lower the boom on him. Those who endorsed his previous obscene blockbuster are obliged to say something now or be ignored ever after. But this should not be yet another spectacle of the "offensive" and the "inappropriate," swiftly succeeded by rehab and repentance and perhaps—who knows?—a joint press conference with Elie Wiesel. Gibson did not "misspeak"; indeed according to many trustworthy reports, he nearly copped the customary celebrity "get out of jail free" card and had his remarks stricken from the record. (When will the sheriffs decide to release the evidence?) No, he spoke his "mind," and in case anyone wants to burble about political correctness, it should be added that he spoke this way because of his religion, not just his warped personality. Let him keep the fortune he made from a pogrom movie, and let him by all means continue to sponsor his Latin Mass sectarian church in Malibu, where sinners are thick on the ground. But there was another touch of in vino veritas when he tearfully told the cops that "my life is f---ed," and this inadvertent truth ought to be remembered in all charity as the last words we ever want to hear from him.

I’m with the Hitch (and not just because, as I explained here, Braveheart is among the worst movies ever made).

Gibson is not being pilliored for saying, as O’Hagan suggests, “the kind of stupid thing that stupid people say all the time.”

The Passion caused a furore because it looked suspiciously like it was motivated by a deeply disturbing anti-Semitic ideology. Gibson’s outburst doesn’t exactly sit well with his subsequent protestations of innocence.


Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I have a number of thoughts about this incident, or what it reveals, despite the fact that I have never seen a Gibson movie and barely know who he is.

The first is, on what grounds do we pretend that when people say something, they don't mean it? Iranians gather in their tens of thousands every Friday for a quarter century to chant 'Death to America.' They don't mean it? Slip of the tongue? O, that's just their way of speaking?

Yet when I mildly suggest that we ought to take steps to deal with people who say they want me (and us) dead, I am accused of all sorts of racism and bigotry.

How come their words are at a discount and mine at a premium?

Well, leave it at that for the moment.

August 04, 2006 10:23 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Well, I suppose the relative justification of those accusations would depend on exactly what and who you mean by 'mildly', 'take steps' and 'people'.

August 04, 2006 10:55 AM  
Blogger Reel Fanatic said...

Though what he said was purely vile, there is a lot of hyprocisy coming from his critics .. as for me, I haven't seen many he's been in (think The Patriot, Payback, Bird on a Wire, What Women Want) simply because they suck, which is much more important than what he spouts when drunk and stupid

August 04, 2006 3:56 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

Out here in Lala Land, it is all Mel all the time.

Mr. Hitchens has it right: One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all.

Alcohol affects my ability to convey what I think, but it adds no thoughts that were not already there.

As on local newscaster said: Pour alcohol in, and the truth pours out.

BTW, while this may not get much play outside LA, in the station he referred to a female Sheriff's depute as "sugar tits."

All on a BAC of .12

August 04, 2006 8:00 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

To my surprise, even the antiMelites at timblair have been willing to overlook the alcohol talking.

I don't see it. As I said there, if I got drunk, I might say unpleasant things about people (most likely Muslims, but I do that sober), but it would never occur to me to talk about effing Jews.

Although I have little interest in Gibson, I am interested in ambiguity. His remark 'My life is fucked,' allows for quite a range of interpretations. Not all of them related to being pulled over.

August 04, 2006 8:10 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...

IHO of another prominent blog, this could be the latest entry into the bulging portfolio "Anti-Semitism, or applied Christianity."

August 05, 2006 9:28 AM  
Blogger David said...

I have to say that I find the whole thing a litte bemusing.

First, there are the people who argue that, despite having said these things, Mel isn't, or isn't necessarily, an anti-semite. I don't think that the word means what they think it means.

Second, there are the in vino veritas people. I don't think that what people say when drunk is a direct insight into their souls. What they do when sober is just as important. (I understand that, in Japan, part of the reason that workers go out and get stinking with the boss is so they can tell him off under the cover of irresponsible drunkeness.)

Third, and this seems to include both of the above groups, is the group that thinks that, if Mel were an anti-semite, it would make him the worst person in the world. Lots of people are anti-semites, or mild racists or viciously anti-religious and are perfectly fine members of society and even good drinking companions.

Fourth, it's just nuts to think that this won't, and shouldn't, change what people think about TPOC.

August 05, 2006 6:07 PM  
Blogger Hey Skipper said...


Mel isn't, or isn't necessarily, an anti-semite. I don't think that the word means what they think it means.

You are right, it doesn't. That is to say, the word, doesn't, but the meaning the sentence intends to convey remains intact: Mel Gibson hates Jews.

If there was any intellectual integrity to be had, the term "reflexive, rabid, Jew-hater" would predominate. As well, if there was any intellectual integrity, both Christianity and Islam would own up to their malfeasance in this regard.

I don't think that what people say when drunk is a direct insight into their souls. What they do when sober is just as important.

Change the terms of those sentences just a bit, and you go right to the heart of how pointless it is to pass judgment on people for their beliefs, as opposed to their actions.

August 05, 2006 9:01 PM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

Despite having been raised a Christian, I just don't get anti-Semitism.

Luckily, the Catholics I grew up with considered themselves persecuted by the Baptists, so they didn't go looking to make fights with people who scarcely existed in our city. (Although they existed in my neighborhood. We were right next to the Standard Club, the Jewish country club set up because they couldn't join the Piedmont Driving Club. The setting of the play 'The Last Night of Ballyhoo,' if you've ever encountered that.)

Still, having grown up, rejected Catholicism and learned that, in places where Catholics had more social confidence, they do preach Jew-hatred, I still don't get it.

I mean, why didn't the early Church fathers treat Judaism is a misguided elder brother (as I understand Pope Benedict puts it)? After all, the same men were able to treat both Aristotle and Vergil that way.

Possibly it's because I also don't get what its adherents must think of as positive religion, but I absolutely do not get negative religion.

I could understand it if the Jews really did kill Christian children to get blood for their rituals. I'd object to that. But what agent of an alleged Religion of Love would make up a story like that?

August 06, 2006 10:19 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

I never saw The Passion, but the whole thing made me very uneasy. Gibson was trying to tap Christian mysticism for a popular, undisciplined audience, which is an extremely dangerous thing to do. It is one thing to travel the mystical road under the close supervision and direction of a very wise and experienced mentor, quite another to try it alone at the age of twenty while munching popcorn in a dark theatre.

Hitchens' credibility in this area is about as strong as--oh, say, Harry's--and I'm not sure he (of all people) should be relying too heavily on in vino veritas arguments, but Gibson should have done a lot better explaining himself when the film came out. ("I am not, and never have been, an anti-semite.") But, as David hints, this whole debate is very modern. Like with racism, misogyny etc, the stain of anti-semitism is defined today by what we supposedly really, really, really, really, really think after all those psychological layers are peeled back to reveal the essence deep within, rather than how we behave and act. Not unlike the Inquisition, as a matter of fact. Gibson's problem is he seems to fail both tests.

August 07, 2006 4:33 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

BTW, I don't think it is true that alcohol just loosens the tongue and doesn't actually form our opinions, at least not among heavy or problem drinkers. Are you suggesting the guy who shoots his wife in a drunken rage really hated her and just found the "courage" to do what he always dreamed of?

August 07, 2006 6:52 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

I don't know why I wouldn't be able to spot an antiSemite same as other people.

August 07, 2006 5:21 PM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Alcohol loosens inhibitions, as in "candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker", so while being drunk doesn't automatically make one start speaking the truth, it does facilitate letting slip that which one might rather remain hidden.

But you'd probably have to know the drunk to get a sense of whether they're just spouting off, or speaking from the heart.

August 07, 2006 8:41 PM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...


Nothing personal, old sport, but if you hold that a certain faith is the source of anti-semitism and that anti-semitism has been intrinsic to it since the beginning two thousand years ago, you may a little fast off the mark to pin anti-semitism on the director of a film glorifying that faith, no? Here is Brit: The Passion caused a furore because it looked suspiciously like it was motivated by a deeply disturbing anti-Semitic ideology. If that was Mel's motivation, he could have done a lot better than just a few quick shots of scowling rabbis.

Leaving aside the interesting question of what a not-so-disturbing anti-semitic ideology would look like, I find it interesting that anti-semitism didn't even seem to register with most of those who saw and liked the film, but was front and center for those who didn't or who didn't even see it. Bad taste does not an anti-semite make and, as David has pointed out before, it would be no mean trick to make a film about The Passion where the pharisees are the good guys. Anti-semitism is far too serious and threatening an evil to be tossed around as a euphemism for anti-Christian.

All of which would be wonderfully theoretical and nuanced if we didn't live in a world where most of The Passion crowd are firm supporters of Israel while the mainstream anti-religious secular left roots for her mortal enemies and muses darkly about Jewish influence in Washington.


I think alcohol does more than loosen inhibitions, at least in a lot of cases. It distorts reality and causes character changes. If you are right, we would have to conclude the "bad drunk" was one sorry misanthrope if he was just losing control of the "real" him, and I think that those who stop drinking do more than just regain control over their instincts and deepest feelings and desires.

August 08, 2006 3:03 AM  
Blogger Harry Eagar said...

That might be OK if I had expressed any opinions about 'Passion,' but I don't have any. Never saw it. Never had any curiosity about it, any more than I did about the 'Jesus' movie that showed up in my and many other million mailboxes a few years ago.

If I hadn't known anything at all about Gibson -- which is pretty close to a fact, I guess I know less about him than just about any other American -- I'd still have come to the same conclusion.

'Effing Jew' cannot come out unless it's in there in the first place.

In college, we used to have the argument about whether alcohol brought out the real person or the reverse. One of my roommates for a semester was a particularly weepy drunk, and he took the position that he actually was a tough Marlboro man and that his bahavior in drink was the opposite of the real him.

In fact, he was moony sober and pussy-whipped to boot.

That great philosopher Ann Landers was fond of saying 'we all have thoughts that would shame hell,' (which I don't think was original with her), and I would buy the proposition that alcohol can strip away the defenses we keep up against those thoughts.

But generally, most of the time, I think alcohol just enhances what we brought to the party.

I've quit drinking, but when I did, I went to sleep. Which is pretty much my inclination when I'm sober, too.

August 08, 2006 9:26 AM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home