The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, July 31, 2006

Mel Gibson and entrenched racism

By now, everyone has heard about superstar Mel Gibson’s alcoholic meltdown, and the anti-Semitic comments caught on tape by the Malibu PD. Understandably, his "Jews run the world" comments, follwowing the controversial "Passion of the Christ" (considered by many to be anti-Semitic, or capable of stirring such...passions) are raising eyebrows around the world.

I am certainly not Jewish, so it requires a thought experiment to really get into this: I asked myself: what would I think if he had, say, made a gigantically popular Civil War era film suggesting blacks were happily and appropriately enslaved, and then followed up with a tirade about “Niggers are ruining this country, and polluting our women.”

It would be reasonable for me to suspect that on some level, that was exactly what he actually thought. Alcohol is no excuse—it releases monsters of the id, but those monsters had to be in there to begin with, didn’t they? In this case, I suspect they were monsters of the Superego—programmed attitudes given him by his father, which he has struggled against his whole life.

In the aforementioned case, my first response would be to speak to black people who had worked with Gibson, to see what their experience had been. If it had been positive, I would assume that Gibson, like most of us, is dealing with very serious issues that scramble his perceptual equipment. He’s been known as an ultra-Conservative Christian, and anytime someone swings strongly to one extreme or the other, it is reasonable to suggest that they are viewing reality through a powerful belief filter. Such filters are generally tucked into place with our bedtime stories, long before conscious, rational thought can evaluate them.

So, I believe Gibson’s protestations that anti-Semitism is unChristian. I also believe it to be quite possible that he has warred with it all his life. You know, I have an interesting attitude about alcohol. The first time you do something crappy under its influence, you have an excuse: you didn’t know. After that, you CHOSE to use a substance that you KNEW would make you violent, profane, promiscuous, whatever. You chose that. And as a result, you can no longer blame the substance quite so readily. My guess? Gibson will have several very, very grim huddles with Jewish friends, and members of the Jewish community. Groveling apologies will be made, donations offered, public service arranged. Perhaps his production company will make a film about the Holocaust. In time, Hollywood will forget most of this, because it is profitable to do so. But you can believe that many of his Jewish fans will not. Nor should we.

I think it is vital not to point the finger: who among us does not have ugly thoughts and voices lurking in our heads? We must be vigilant, especially those of us with access to media. The country is so divided right now. The world is in such turmoil. We really didn’t need this. But since it happened…let it trigger healthy conversation about the depths of the human heart, and how we might best come to live together. Stardom elevated Gibson to god status. It is best we remember that he is just a man, heir to the same fleshly and spiritual failings that devil us all.

But Mel…there is a limit to my understanding and compassion. Third time’s the charm.

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