Mel, Mel, Mel …
I spent a few trillion 0’s and 1’s a couple of years ago defending Mel Gibson against the anti-Semitism charges over THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. I love the taste of egg on the face. Gibson was officially charged Wednesday on three counts — including an open-container charge.
Obviously, as a religious and purely-moral matter, Gibson has apologized for his anti-Semitic remarks — “Fucking Jews … The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world … Are you a Jew?” Gibson knows how to apologize properly (i.e., without any “if I offended” conditionality) and with due deference given to the need to make amends — best comment-field post is at Beliefnet: “Mel ranted like a maniac but is repenting like a mensch.”
And many Jews have responded well. The ADL accepted the apology (Gibson’s second). Gibson has been asked to speak at a synagogue on Yom Kippur — a good idea if it’s consistent with Jewish liturgical rules; and I have to assume the Rabbi in question knows them.
My bud Rod Dreher already has noted that the Jew Michael Medved, while speaking from within Judaism, has a sounder grasp of Christian teaching on grace and forgiveness than the Catholic Andrew Sullivan, who has acted like an opportunistic little git. (The Photoshop above is the work of Allahpundit). Sullivan says: “I’m not interested in hounding human beings for their personal demons. We all have them. We have all behaved in ways we regret at times. I sure have.” More on that below, but Sullivan has an odd way of showing it. Eleven of his 12 post-noon posts on Tuesday were about Gibson, (Ace of Spades said his “true feelings for Andrew Sullivan would be better expressed by Elton John’s The Bitch Is Back.”) And the left more generally has taken to the story like catnip — check out the commenter runninute noting that the story is taking up half of the Huffington Post). Some of the parodies produced have been funny, some lame and others downright wicked (I won’t link to the one called “Mel Gibson resigns from the Nazi party”; that’s enough info for the curious to Google.
But some earthly consequences will happen — ABC has put the kabosh on a Holocaust miniseries it had been planning with Gibson’s company, although the stated reason wasn’t the arrest. Nevertheless …
ABC spokeswoman Hope C. Hartman … wouldn’t comment further or say whether the decision was related to Gibson’s remarks.
A “no comment” is often a comment.
There’s also talk in the industry about Gibson’s future career (though there’s obviously double standards galore here). The word is still that APOCALYPTO will be released on schedule in December, and Hollywood always forgives you if you make enough money. But if the film flops, Gibson might not get another chance. There’s no point in pussyfooting around here. There is no Vast Jewish Conspiracy, but Jews (note: not “the Jews”) do have a “disproportionate”¹ amount of influence in the film industry. The way I would put it is that in the film industry, the kulturkampf bias finds its currency in the reaction to flops. If you’re one of the good guys, your failures will be forgiven; if not, you’d better bat 1.000.
But there’s also the matter of those of us, like myself, who defended Gibson back in 2003 and 2004 against the anti-Semitism charges, saying among other things, that it was unfair to quote Hutton Gibson’s (nutburger) opinions against his son, that no way exists to make a film of the Gospels that doesn’t engage in what liberal theologians and liberal Jews construct as “anti-Semitism.” Or as some asshat put it:
In any faithful adaptation of the Gospels, almost all the characters, on both sides of the crucifixion, would be Jews. Only the deranged, looking to stroke a pre-existing prejudice (and they can’t set the standard), could see a Jew being killed, to the grief of His Jewish mother and His Jewish followers, by Romans at the behest of a different group of Jews — and come away blaming the Jews.
… and …
[I]f I were Gibson, I’d see no point to cooperating with [Paula Fredriksen] or the ADL, since they’re coming from a theological perspective that’s not mine and one I want no part of. But that perspective also has the gall and presumption to claim to be the arbiter of reason and to claim at least a moral right to be my editor and script doctor. (Is it necessary to do anything more than laugh at an essay in A.D. 2003 that claims to know, in some dispositive sense, about Pontius Pilate’s thought process, while slagging the Gospels as unreliable historical documents because their [disputed] date of authorship [supposedly] lags several decades behind the depicted events?)
In other words, we said there was no or flimsy evidence Gibson was an anti-Semite. That kind of statement can no longer be operative, though obviously, this has nothing to do with THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST as an artistic text and thus all considerations of quality (I have thought it a marvelous film through five viewings).
Now while “anti-Semite” is obviously not an ontological status, it now becomes reasonable to infer that anti-Semitism is part of the ragout of Mel Gibson’s personality, in a way that was not reasonable merely because he had made a film that the ADL and modern biblical scholars didn’t like. Someone on a Catholic site (I forget which one) said “Gibson is an anti-Semite who knows that anti-Semitism is wrong.” Which now, paradoxical as it seems, strikes me as about right. In fact one of my closest Church friends is, to use the same formulation, “a homosexual who knows that homosexuality is wrong.”² As I said above, this doesn’t mean that Gibson (or David) should be hounded to the ends of the Earth for the sin of anti-Semitic words/actions (or homosexual acts). And Gibson has done everything that can be publicly required of him, according to the Church’s teaching and correctly.
But what cannot be inferred is that Gibson’s anti-Semitic words say nothing at all about him. That they are as accidental as eye color. That reasonable suspicion will not rightly attach to anything he says having to do with Jews for quite some time. Or that drunkenness is an excuse, or a mitigating factor. Indeed, some Gibson critics (like the ADL’s first response) have gone so far as to suggest the opposite of this latter — that the fact that Gibson made his anti-Semitic comments while drunk prove what he “really” thinks (“in vino veritas” and all that).
Ironically, two Catholic bloggers with whom I drank frosted malt beverages in the past week have both posted on this latter point in reference to past sins (Rich Leonardi in somewhat vague terms,³ Dale Price much more specifically). Indeed, a commenter on Rich’s site denounced the “static and simplistic view of human nature” that “anti-semitism — among other demons — is something that one is, rather than a malign influence that one can yield to or not, or struggle with.” Contra Sullivan, denouncing someone vigorously for words of drunkenness very much could be “hounding human beings for their personal demons.” Particularly if, as is obviously the case, Mel Gibson was raised by a raving anti-Semitic loon. Who knows what thoughts about The Perfidious Jews were pounded into Mel’s head as a boy?
I would certainly also agree largely with Dale, that “in vino veritas” as an unqualified statement, leaves much to be desired. The American Spectator essay by Clinton Taylor that he links to is very good, and places the whole fight in the context of political philosophy and the implicit anthropology that underlie any such set of ideas deserving of the term “political philosophy”:
There’s a larger question underneath this controversy: let’s assume there does exist an “inhibited” version of us, and also a chemically uninhibited version. Which one is the “real” person, and which is the artifice? … As both a Christian and a conservative, I believe all men are fallen and flawed. The institutions of civilization — Church, family, the law, civil society — help us steer away from our hearts’ jagged shoals. Each of us struggle with our own foibles, and our much more sinister demons — the impulses or attitudes we know to be wrong but cannot exorcise. But out of self-interested careerism, out of love for our families, out of religious obligation, or simply out of a fear of looking at ourselves in the mirror if we fail, we learn, most of the time, to work around the baser angels of our nature.
Then there is the alternative view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, perhaps the ultimate progenitor of modern leftism. … Rousseau believed that man’s true character manifests itself in a state of nature — a pre-civilizational state. He wanted to get back to that authentic, primitive expression of our true selves and rejected the constraints and conventions of civilization as impediments to this goal. Hence the modern left’s emphasis on the virtue of “authenticity,” and on the need to escape from the cruel expectations of society in order to liberate our true being.
While some inhibitions are damaging or irrational, most of them are there for a reason. Our inhibitions are part of us and we ignore them — and suppress them, chemically or otherwise — at great peril. Me, I like my inhibitions. They’re part of me, and they usually keep the rest of me out of trouble.
There’s also two different things to consider specifically about drunken behavior, and they tend to pull in opposite directions. On the one hand, if one were sufficiently drunk, and ill-tempered or nasty in general, one might see that an arresting officer has a Jewish name or otherwise infer that he is Jewish, and, sensing a target, proceed to call him a kike or an effing heeb or say “you lot are the problem with the world today.” And to do so without harboring any general animus toward Jews. It’s not a matter of sobriety exactly, it’s just that you’re handed at that moment a convenient club to wield at that moment against someone whom you have relatively good reason not to like at that moment, i.e., an arresting cop. Such a person could be denounced as a contemptible asshole, but not as an anti-Semite.
But there’s a more-telling detail for me, and it pulls in the other direction: Gibson’s blood-alcohol count was .12. Now I know a thing or two about the effects of alcohol. (See Father Martin Fox for the All The Scandalous Details. And I’ve been told that I can drink my weight in Heineken without losing articulateness.) At .12 BAC, you’re legally intoxicated (which is retarded, but that’s another matter), but you’re not fit-shaced. I know, I know … alcohol affects people differently and sometimes unpredictably, as Taylor notes. But .12, which is the approximate equivalent of three beers, is not a close call. Not for an experienced drinker. It won’t turn him into a frothing incoherent maniac who doesn’t know what he’s doing or saying. And Dale stipulates that on the night he’s describing, he was “blind, stinking drunk.” A .12 BAC will lower one’s inhibitions, tact and “social self.” Relevant to driving, it’ll slow reflexes. But he’s just “buzzed.” He’s still himself — a lower and uglier self, to be sure. But not out of control or blind, stinking drunk.
Point being that only if somewhere in the darkest recesses of his mind, Gibson harbors anti-Semitic thoughts, which he struggles against when sober, would his drunkenness express itself in THIS particular way rather than invitations to fight or a torrent of obscenity. In fact, what has not been noted since the earliest news reports is that Gibson was tossing around the F-bomb as liberally as … well … some drunken Aussie. And yet Gibson can give TV interviews and red-carpet appearances without … um … “fucking” it up. Which makes the same point, by analogy, as I think needs to be made about Gibson and anti-Semitism. It’s part of the specific shape that the “uninhibited personality” and “baser angels of his nature” take in his case. But Gibson seems to recognizes that and so deserves both the prayers of all, the forgiveness of the Jews, while recognizing that sins have temporal consequences, including loss of trust, that cannot be apologized away.
¹ I hate that word, BTW, but no very good alternative comes to me. The reason I oppose any and all racialist “diversity” efforts, including affirmative action, is that I reject the notion that a just society will have every potentially identifiable group represented “proportionately” in every institution in society. I don’t care whether Jews (or Hottentots) have “disproportionate” influence in the film (or any other industry) because I reject the notion in the first place that there is such a thing, morally speaking, as “proportionate” influence.
² David would object to my use of that noun, for reasons I well understand and sympathize with. But please indulge me for the sake of the parallellism. In fact, David’s objections that the use of “homosexual” as a noun is reductive (well-grounded in Church teaching) even reinforce the similarity between calling someone “an anti-Semite” as simply and reductively as referring to someone as “a homosexual.” Neither is an ontological category.
³ Which is certainly Rich’s reasonable privilege, lest I come across as saying otherwise. Speaking personally, my worst alcohol moment was being given a field sobriety test after having been pulled over for speeding, when I was unquestionably legally intoxicated. I kept my poise and passed it easily — I would have spent at least the night in jail (for starters) if I had not.
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