July 30th, 2006 14:00 EST
Mel Gibson's Fall from Grace
On Friday night, celebrated actor and director Mel Gibson (Braveheart; The Passion of the Christ) was arrested on charges of driving under the influence, and the case was set to become another satisfying scandal for those who hate him and another trying ordeal for those who love him. But, for all that, it would be an inconsequential thing; these Hollywood types get caught doing this sort of thing all the time, after all, and after a few weeks in the late-night comedy crucible their names emerge beaten and bruised, but much, in the end, as they were. Then, however, evidence came to light to suggest that there was more to this incident than was initially reported. Resisting arrest. Drunken tirades against police officers and others. Sexist commentary. A police cover-up. And, most crippling of all for Gibson, a concrete manifestation of the anti-Semitism he has put so much effort into dispelling.
Yes, the police reports as conveyed by the celebrity sleuth website TMZ make for some very disturbing reading to anyone who supports Gibson, or who possesses the barest human conscience. They read like a Storm Front press release. "F---ing Jews... the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world..." But what are we to think of such utterances? This whole sorry incident should raise a number of questions for anyone who considers it, and it would perhaps be useful to look at those questions here. 1. Did he mean it?
Unfortunately, we may never know. It is often said that the drunken man says what the sober man only thinks, but how true is this? The drunken man also says things calculated, in his inebriated insanity, to cut and provoke. The drunken man has no modesty. The drunken man does not necessarily have any honesty, either. Though we should certainly hold people accountable for crimes committed while drunk, to what extent do drunken rants constitute a fair window into a man`s soul? For his own part, Gibson has apologized for his conduct, declaring, "I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable." It`s up to the general public to be charitable enough to accept this apology, or disgusted enough to ignore it.
2. Did he even say it? This, perhaps, is a much more interesting question. The official police report does not corroborate the story, and neither does any major media outlets. That the purported facts of this case are not currently a matter of public record is the result, say observers, of a literal cover-up on the part of the Los Angeles County Sheriff`s Dept, which suppressed the original, damning police report, instead electing to canonize a sanitized version to spare an uproar.
The proof we have that this incident even took place, let alone as described, comes from four blurry photocopies posted on TMZ (see the .PDF here), and from Gibson`s own subsequent apology. The apology he saw fit to make does not match up with the "official" police report of an arrest without incident, but this does not a conviction make. Now, contributors at TMZ insist that they have additional proof of these charges that they are not, for reasons unreported, allowed to provide for the public. This is the sort of statement that should set off skeptical warning bells in a reader`s head. 3. If he did say it, does it matter?
For some people it would matter a great deal. His Jewish fans, for example, would have every reason to be scandalized. Even non-Jewish and secular fans, who stuck with him through the Passion of the Christ furor, defending him from similar accusations, may now find this to be the last straw. For many of his Catholic fans, who found in Gibson a curious fellow-traveler in an industry all too often hostile to their beliefs, this drunken tirade will likely be a bitter pill to swallow, reminding them of the danger of throwing in their lot with any mere man. On the other hand, it is just some guy saying something hateful. Gibson is hardly in the position - as certain world leaders are - to conceivably do anything about his prejudices. What`s more, do Gibson`s opinions have any impact on the value of his art? Must we now cringe through Lethal Weapon? Burn our copies of Mad Max? Boycott the upcoming Apocalypto? Much as Gibson`s statements, if accurately conveyed, constitute a grave disappointment for this author, at least, it is doubtful that his consumption of Gibson`s media will cease. It is too often the burden of those with genuine artistic talent to be afflicted by grave personal problems, and it is up to the audience to make its choice about what it is willing to accept or exclude.
Finally, we must not forget that there will even be segments of the population who will applaud Gibson`s anti-Semitic statements here, drunken and ill-advised though they are, as accurate representations of the truth. Such is the nature of some anti-Semitic circles, in fact, that we may soon bear witness to the intriguing reversal of an anti-Semite being condemned for his Catholicism rather than the other way around. 4. Were critics right about The Passion after all, then?
It is hard to say. While the charges of an anti-Semitic intent in The Passion have been given more weight by this incident, the defenses of the film as it exists, divorced from its author`s intentions, remain just as convincing (or unconvincing, depending upon your viewpoint) now as they have ever been. There will certainly be many who will now offer reappraisals of the film with Gibson`s purported opinions in mind, but it is doubtful that this will negatively impact those who found the film worthwhile. There will also be many who will question just how much of Gibson`s apparent anti-Semitic sentiment springs from the radical-traditionalist religious views of both himself and his father, Hutton Gibson. The two are subscribers to the principle of sedevacantism ("empty-seat-ism"), whereby it is argued that there has not been a real Pope on the Throne of St. Peter since the death of Pius XII in 1958 (or, occasionally, since John XXIII in 1963). They have no affection for "Conciliar Rome," (post-Vatican II), and are fervent supporters of the old rite Mass. Though Gibson is apparently not as keen a subscriber to sedevacantism as his father is, he runs the risk of excommunication if his slide into the past continues to the point of schism, and may even face it already.
5. Where do we - and where does he - go from here? For this question, unfortunately, there can be no single answer. For this author`s own part, he is inclined to accept Mel Gibson`s apology, though there will likely be a permanent strain on the author`s admiration of the man. Others will have different opinions. There will be many who will pronounce Anathema Sit on Gibson and all of his works, and they are not doing so frivolously. There will be others who will rush to apologize for and explain away the disgusting statements in question, and they are a group that will bear watching.
Apocalypto may suffer for this, of course, as many distributors and theaters may be wary of associating themselves with Gibson after this incident. Only time will tell just how bad the hit will be, but it would be foolish to think there won`t be one.
In any event, whatever the reality of the situation turns out to be, and whatever the content of Mel Gibson`s soul, it must be agreed upon by all that it is just as much of a sin to glory in another man`s downfall as it is to nurse bigotry in one`s heart. We are none of us perfect, after all. We may certainly judge him, but we may not punish him.
Note: The author of this article is no longer affiliated with theSOP.