Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Mel, Odious

I still haven't seen The Passion of the Christ. For the most part I'm entirely comfortable with that. But in the wake of all this ludicrosity (because that's a word) surrounding our Mr. Gibson, I've started to be curious.

Elementary school teachers divide questions on a book into three categories: factual, interpretive and inferential. As I've emphasized on this blog perhaps sixty thousand times more than was strictly necessary, art inhabits an ethical universe; a movie can be anti-Semitic and its content does have implications about the authors involved. If The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn's place on the list of banned books in the United States proves anything, it's that American audiences have a rough time distinguishing a work of art that contains offensive views from a work of art that espouses them. Most of what I've heard about Passion of the Christ veers closer to the latter, but nevertheless based upon his work, until recently the question "Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite and a misogynist?" was at its worst an interpretive question, at its best an inferential one.

Apologies or no apologies, I think it's fair to say that's the case no longer.

This cracks me the fuck up. If anyone should know from "in vino veritas," it would be Christopher Hitchens. But it is a simple point, and I've never heard it put quite that well: the reason that you don't say things while drunk that you don't want to say while sober (a view I've espoused for years without knowing why) is because when you're drunk, you're just not compos mentis enough to make the things up. They must, therefore, have been there already. The worst alcohol can do is cause leakage—drunk dialing if you're a college student recently dumped, anti-Semitic and anti-woman comments and epithets if you're Mel Gibson.

It does take some guts and some self-knowledge to check yourself into rehab immediately and publically. I will give him that.

There is, of course, the important question, do I want to live in a world where, Mel Gibson indeed being an anti-Semite and misogynist, he's not free to verbally express such hatred? As a writer, I've never been of the sticks-and-stones-may-break-my-bones-but-words-will-never-hurt-me persuasion, I'm fine with the existence of the term "verbal abuse," and I believe that Gibson's comments, particularly in today's political climate, are capable of doing actual harm. But is the severe chastisement of Mel Gibson de facto censorship of his views? I don't want to go the "the man's got so much money he *can't* be censored" route, whatever truth it holds; I will, however, say that statements and backlash therefrom are pretty much the cornerstone of freedom of speech. Offer freedom of speech as an absolute from a legal standpoint, and you're stuck with any number of views and conversations and humans that are fucked. We will, at some point, have to have a discussion about whether the capitalist system itself can fairly be said to limit free speech (Gibson's apologies must stem in large part from a desire to protect his paycheck), but the short answer is: I do not want to live in a world where Gibson can't express such hatred, but I want even less to live in a world where people can't respond to it.

And now our Mr. Gibson wants to reach out to the Jewish community for help in dissuading him from his anti-Semitic persuasions. I'm not sure what exactly the trajectory of this might be. If a good thirty years of working in an industry with a substantive Jewish presence, with Jewish associates, employees, and superiors a constant, have not dissuaded him from these views, it will be at best an uphill battle. It's also noteworthy that he didn't say much about his insults to the female officer present on the scene, though certainly "Sugar Tits" is much less sweeping and egregious than "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in this world."

As my stunningly wonderful sister put it on her Facebook profile, "Don't worry, Mel. We'll help you."


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