Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Fisking the Gibson Apologists

Friends, contrarians and fellow-travelers are out in force, defending the good name and sexiest-man-aliveness of Mel Gibson in the national and international press. Whether out of pure motives or not, the message is clear: Mel ain't so bad (and hey, he might just be on to something about those Jews).

Hollywood Responds

The LA Times ran a silly puff piece on Hollywood's reaction to the Mel Gibson ScandalTM, choosing to focus largely on his friends and well-wishers.

The author, Mary McNamara, tilts a little to Mel's side, too, referring to the anti-Semitic tirade accompanied by (but by no means caused by) mild intoxication as a "life changing bender." Now, Merriam-Webster defines "bender" as a "spree", which is further defined as "an unrestrained indulgence in or outburst of an activity...; also: a drunken revel." As Gibson's .12 blood alcohol level indicates, he had one too many cocktails. He was most certainly not on a bender, or wasted, or "sozzled" (see below). So, McNamara's opening gambit tips her hand as to the direction of the piece.

The article includes quotes from schlock producer Dean Devlin, a friend of Gibson's who met the anti-Semitic actor while co-producing The Patriot.
"The day this happened, my wife had gotten this long letter from Mel full of congratulations [for the birth of the Devlins' first child] and talking about the joys of being a parent," Devlin said. "She's Jewish. I'm Jewish. If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with us, which makes no sense. But he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said, because there is no excuse, I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."
So, we're asked to believe that Mel Gibson is not an anti-Semite because he makes nice with a Jewish movie producer with whom he's worked in the past and, as an actor, might possibly derive career benefits from such association. But that's just Devlin being naive. The last part is where he gets really dumb. Diseases don't speak, sorry to say. And Mel Gibson's particular disease doesn't happen to be Tourette Syndrome, so that tosses out the "shouting random crap" theory. No, what he said came from the man. Perhaps it was the mild inebriation that allowed him to speak his mind freely in public, but that doesn't mean he hasn't privately harbored such thoughts for a long time (yes, even while smiling at your pregnant wife, Dean).

In fact, it hasn't even really been private. He's just skated around the border of what anybody who's given it a moment's thought already knows. Previously, he'd managed to mask his Jew-hatred behind the cloak of artistic license or fealty to his father. This time, he left himself no out. That's the only difference.

Actress Jodie Foster carried some hot water for Mel as well.
"Is he an anti-Semite? Absolutely not," Foster said. "But it's no secret that he has always fought a terrible battle with alcoholism....

Like Devlin, she does not believe that drunkenness excuses hurtful remarks, but she bristles at accusations in the media that Gibson is using his alcoholism as a "get out of jail free" card from charges of anti-Semitism.

"It is a horrible disease, and it affects everyone differently," Foster said. "I do not have personal experience with addiction, but I have seen it take many paths in people I know. For some, it is a soft slide off the barstool, and some experience true psychotic episodes."
Translation: drunkenness doesn't excuse hurtful remarks, but drunkenness excuses hurtful remarks. Rather than believe what's right in front of her nose, she retreats into psychobabble about addiction and "psychotic" experiences, as if that explains away a lifetime of involvement with anti-Semitic fringe groups. If she did know anything about addiction, she'd know that one of the 12 steps is taking responsibility for your actions.

McNamara then lets us in on an interesting fact:
Even at 50, friends acknowledge, Gibson has a seemingly physiological inability to filter his remarks even when sober; about 14 years ago, he apologized to the gay and lesbian community for homophobic remarks.
So, the problem is not his obscene belief system, but the inability to filter its expression. Just keep it to yourself, Mel, and everything will be just fine. But if you do go off on a rant about the Jews or the fags, don't worry, we know it's just a physiological problem. A few meds might let you keep that hate all bottled up inside where it belongs. It does bear mentioning that Mel's inability to filter out his dark side, even when sober, scuttles the whole "he was just drunk" argument.

A Voice From Right Field

According to L. Brent Bozell III, founder of the right-wing Media Research Center and the Parents Television Council, what does the Mel Gibson ScandalTM reveal? Why, an anti-Catholic bias in Hollywood, of course. Sure, he writes in his syndicated column, Mel was a bad boy, but his accusers are so much worse. Why? Because they didn't speak out vociferously against the Da Vinci Code, Dennis Leary, South Park, Penn and Teller or Judging Amy.
The examples of anti-Christian, anti-Catholic bigotry in Hollywood are seemingly endless. Each and every one is uglier, more mean-spirited than anything Mel Gibson said....

Gibson's statements were awful, and deserved condemnation. But the anti-Catholic bigotry raging in Hollywood is far worse.
I hate to burst L. Brent's bubble (I think it's bulletproof anyway), but anti-Catholic bigotry is not far worse. No one ever tried, using the same reasoning Mel Gibson spouted to the LAPD, to exterminate the Catholic 'race'. Nor did they nearly succeed. There are no Holocaust museums or pogrom memorials devoted to Catholic genocides because none were perpetrated against them. The Catholic Church, however, has apologized for its
long and storied history of Jew-baiting and even in turning a blind eye to the Holocaust.

An attack against the Catholic Church is an attack against a theology—an idea. An attack against Jews is an attack against an ethnicity. There is no comparison and Bozell should be ashamed for suggesting these is, and doubly ashamed for deciding that anti-Semitism is preferable.

Hot Air From the Windy City

Mary Laney used her forum in the Chicago Sun-Times to scold the country for, amongst other things, its rampant anti-Irish bigotry. Really. But first, the obligatory:
This bit about "in vino veritas" doesn't hold water. There is little truth that comes out of a drunk. It isn't what they think; it's what they're feeling at any moment in their haze of booze—and, often times, the next day they have no memory of it.
.12! .12! Not a blackout. Not even a stumble-about. Mild intoxication, is all. Gibson's haze comes from hatred, not the booze.

Then Laney gets indulgent.
Yes, it was wrong to say what Gibson said, including the alleged sexual insult he made to a female officer, but he has apologized sincerely, said the words do not reflect what he truly feels, and has asked for help to overcome any demons he may have inside.
The problem here is that even the most mildly curious person can learn that Gibson does in fact truly feel what he said. He can say he didn't, but that doesn't make it true. Why does defending Mel necessitate abandoning all critical faculties?

Now we get to the good part.
We've all witnessed prejudice. You may be guilty of it as well. Oh, you doubt it? You say you've never said anything prejudicial in your life? Ask yourself this: What do you call the large police vehicle that hauls away multiple people police arrest? Do you call it a squadrol? Or do you call it a paddy wagon? If you are among those who call it a paddy wagon, you are guilty of using a very prejudicial term.

"Paddy wagon" turned up in the lexicon many years ago—during the time when signs were up in Chicago that said, "Irish need not apply."
This is an almost unspeakably stupid comment, but before getting to my main objection, I have a few quibbles. First of all, while "No Irish Need Apply" signs were commonplace in England, there's next to no evidence that such signs were ever used in America. So, what we have is a hotly debated matter among historians being passed off as fact by Laney.

Secondly, the term "paddy wagon" dates from the 1920s or 1930s, well after the golden age of discrimination against Irish immigrants. If NINA signs were ever in use in the United States, they were unlikely to have survived to this late date (and evidence of their existence would be much easier to come by).

Most importantly, Laney's etymology of "paddy wagon" is suspect. While the actual origin is unknown, Wikipedia lists three common theories. The most likely of which is that the "paddy" referred not to the passenger in the back of the vehicle, but to the driver. The term originated in either New York or Philadelphia, where the police forces were peopled largely with Irish Americans. The "paddy", therefore, was the cop behind the wheel. Not the most PC locution, but certainly less offensive than the author's faux-definitive explanation (which is option two). The third theory is that "paddy" refers to the padding in the back of the truck, which strikes me as an unsatisfying explanation. Still, to make her case, Laney has offered up her interpretations of history as if they're fact, despite actual experts in the field who can't say for certain.

After chronicling the horrors of the Irish immigrant experience in America, she climbs up onto her high horse:
Do the Irish protest when they hear this term used by the media, or by a prominent person? No, but perhaps it is time to stomp it out. It is a squadrol. Call it that or you'll be insulting every American of Irish heritage.
This brings me to my central objection to Laney's thesis. Assuming what she says is in fact accurate, very few people know any other word for the "paddy wagon" or are even remotely aware of the origin of the term. For me, prior to reading her article, to say "paddy wagon" would not have been prejudicial in the least. Prejudicial means to pre-judge (obviously), and judgment is not possible if you're totally unaware of the context of the phrase, as most people are. Perhaps one could call it ignorance, but it's a very common form, indeed.

Now, to refer to the "f**king Jews" as being responsible for all wars on earth falls into a slightly different category, I hope you will agree. Laney's comparison is so inapt as to be insulting. I don't mean to minimize the dark years of Irish-American discrimination—one of many black marks on this nation's history—but seriously, are you kidding? If Laney wants to pit the Irish Americans against the Jews in a game of identity-politics chicken, she's going to lose.

The Irish may have had a bad start, but they are now essentially fully-integrated into the fabric of American society. And were, to a large degree, when FDR was sending boatloads of Jewish refugees back to die in Nazi Germany—in part to counter the criticism from prominent American anti-Semites who claimed the New Deal was in fact the "Jew Deal." One of the more well known scoundrels promulgating this slander was Father Charles Edward Coughlin, a Catholic priest of Irish origin who had a popular radio show in Detroit.

For Laney to compare the plight of Irish Americans to Jews is unforgivably cavalier. To make her case for the equal oppression of the Irish, she dredges up distant history and chooses an obscure linguistic vestige to "prove" her point. She is forced to do so, of course, because she really doesn't have a point. Anti-Semitism is not a vestige, unfortunately. It's real and it's ugly and it's widespread. For Laney to come out and say we should just forgive Mel Gibson because, hey, what's the big deal?, just proves that she has no clue what she's talking about and has no sense of history or proportion whatsoever.

Voices From Across the Pond

The Brits, bless 'em, are getting into the act as well. First, let's look at an editorial in the Guardian called "Why are we crucifying Mel Gibson?" This odious piece was written by one Mary Riddell and was published in the Aug. 6 edition. She wags her finger at bad old Mel, too, but she ultimately couches the whole thing in terms of freedom of speech. But first, she indulges in the most common lie of the Mel Gibson ScandalTM:
As the roster of the dead in the Middle East lengthened, the outburst of a sozzled zealot was elevated to a global catastrophe.
Again, with a .12 blood alcohol level, Mel Gibson was mildly buzzed, not "sozzled". I was impressed, though, with Riddell's subtlety as she managed to sneak in a reference to the Middle East. Why focus on the anti-Semitic rantings of Mel Gibson when we can look at Jews killing people, which is not to say that Mel's right, but I thought I would just bring it up. Randomly, as it were.
It is understandable that some Jewish people feel disinclined to champion Gibson. But the uninsulted who cried for his work to be outlawed or banned should ask themselves whether they would have been cheering if the author of the Sikh play, Behzti, had apologised for writing such a shocker. Would Britain be better if Jerry Springer: The Opera had been driven from the stage by Christian protesters dispensing the pique of God? Clearly not.
Name one prominent person calling for Mel Gibson's work to be "outlawed or banned". I've yet to hear that demand. What I have heard is people disinclined to give him the benefit of the doubt (since there's precious little of that) and unwilling to see another one of his movies. The self-righteous often forget that choosing not to listen to something is freedom of speech, too.

Riddell goes on to discuss responses to "blasphemous art" as if an altercation with a police officer during a DUI stop qualifies as performance art. She's so busy condescending to her readers about free speech that she's totally unaware that she's missing the point entirely.
But causing offence is an over-rated sin, especially when free speech is so threatened. Remember the fight to water down the insidious incitement to religious hatred bill. Remember, too, how some imams whipped up global riots over the Muhammad cartoons and the rightful unease in Britain at an Austrian court's jailing of the Holocaust-denying historian, David Irvine.

Free expression should have some limits, but so should outrage. The tut-tutting over Gibson, euphemised as political correctness, is actually a subscription to the fundamentalism that forms the global faultline of the 21st century.
Translation: if you're not behind Mel Gibson, you're with the terrorists. Imagine! Not excusing the bigotries of Mel Gibson's ultra-fundamentalist Catholicism means that we're fundamentalists ourselves. (I wonder if the same theory apples to ultra-fundamentalist Islam.) And this person gets paid to write for a living. Astonishing.

This has nothing whatsoever to do with freedom of speech. Mel Gibson is free to curse the Jews from dawn til dusk if he wants to. All the better to have it out in the open than to have to tease it out of the subtexts of his films. At issue is whether we want to condone bigotry and ethnic hatred. Riddell's apparent position is that we must. Causing offense is fine—an art form, even. Taking offense is something much darker. It's what those Muslims do, after all. (Never mind that Europeans routinely take offense at the proclamations, ideas—even the mere existence—of Muslims.) Yet again, the trope is that cursing the Jewish race in words that echo Adolf Hitler is just no big deal. Suck it up.

Another apologia for Gibson appeared a few days earlier in the Daily Telegraph under the title "Mel Gibson deserves pity, not pillory". In the article, Andrew O'Hagan takes a stab at contextualizing Gibson's tirade.
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?
I'm afraid that "f**king Jews" cannot be reasonably argued into anything resembling a coherent idea. By prettifying Mel's outrageous bigotry, by softening it into the modern-chic hatred of Israel, O'Hagan is doing more than defending Gibson, he's actually agreeing with him. If not in word, then in sentiment.

He goes on to engage in a little sophistry about racial and ethnic identity.
[Hollywood's] response is overbearing and slightly hysterical: if black or Hispanic or Asian people sought action every time a ludicrous remark was made against them by a drunkard, the world would fall to pieces.

We live in a country that, not 50 years ago, used to have signs in many boarding-house windows saying: "No Blacks. No Dogs. No Irish". [God, what is it with the oppressed Irish? -ed.] Nobody liked it, and some took action, but if Irish or black people (or Asians, or Poles) took to heart everything said against them in pubs, our jails would be crammed to the gills with name-callers, even today.
Here, O'Hagan is simply wrong. First off, it's ludicrous to say that racism was widespread in England but "nobody liked it." Somebody sure as hell liked it, or it wouldn't have existed. Just ask the BNP. That's just a pathetic cop out, like saying all of America agreed with the Civil Rights movement in the 60s. (If that were true, then we wouldn't have needed the Civil Rights movement, would we?)

Second, what's this about jails? Both O'Hagan and Riddell are hung up on this idea that people somehow want to imprison Mel Gibson for anti-Semitism. If anything, he'll go to jail for drunk driving. I don't know what they do in England, but we don't jail people in America for being idiots (heck, look at our government officials). Disapproving of someone isn't the same thing as jailing them.

Finally, if Mel Gibson (or any other prominent person) went on a tirade about "f**king n***ers" or some other racial group, of course people would have flipped out. Especially, say, if he had previously written and directed a film about how blacks deserved slavery. The only difference is that writers for prominent British newspapers wouldn't come out and defend him because they know that would be totally out of bounds. Jews, however, are fair game. Especially for European journalists.

Bearing that in mind, it's amazing what O'Hagan comes up with next:
There's a problem here. Jews, and by extension Israelis, are un-insultable in ethnic terms, though everybody else is. I know it's hard to tell a people who saw six million of their number murdered to turn the other cheek, but turn the other cheek they must, unless they want to present themselves as the great unimpeachable race apart.
To quote Kyle Broflovski's mom, "what, what, what?" In O'Hagan's utopia, apparently, all ethnic slurs are welcome. It's simply bizarre to argue that such insults are ok, except for against the Jews. Go to any liberal PC campus in America (or the General Assembly at the UN, for crying out loud) and you'll quickly learn that Jews are about the only ethnic group that it's safe to hate anymore (with the possible exception of white males). That, in and of itself, should be a warning sign. (Extra points to O'Hagan for using an explicitly Christian image to tell the Jews how to act.)

Instead, O'Hagan sees the work of the "thought-police" wherever he looks. And, like his compatriot, he falls back on the specious freedom of speech argument.
Gibson's absurd remark should be like water off a duck's back, but no: in the eyes of American Jews, it is a sin against nature, and he must be punished to within an inch of his life....

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.
Perhaps now is an appropriate time to introduce a quote from another prominent anti-Semite. "The personification of the devil as the symbol of all evil assumes the living shape of the Jew." Yes, Adolf Hitler was more eloquent than Mel Gibson, but he makes the exact same argument. It is this idea—that the Jews are responsible for the evil and suffering of the world; that they are diabolical instigators—that led to the slaughter of six million human beings in the heart of civilized Europe slightly more than 60 years ago. And this is the very same idea that came spewing out of Mel Gibson's mouth. And this is the idea that Mel Gibson's theology—his whole life—endorses.

It is not a minor insult. It is not a trifle. It is the most serious slander against the Jewish people possible. It is the fuel that once stoked the flames of a great holocaust and, wherever it is encountered, it must be disputed with a ferocity that matches the hatred from which it emanates.

The Jews of Hollywood (or anywhere else, for that matter) are not McCarthyites. They're not abusing the power of the United States government to fight against liberal freedoms. Mel Gibson has been visited by no thought-police and his liberty is imperiled only by his choice to endanger the lives of motorists on the Pacific Coast Highway.

But his affront to Jews—and by extension, to a concept of humanity that transcends ethnic enmities—is very real and very dangerous. Those who seek to minimize or explain away the horrible idea he expressed are complicit in perpetrating this ancient and deadly myth. I hope it's due to their underestimation of what he expressed. I fear it's not.
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