Saturday, October 14, 2006

Policy of Truth

"What I need to do to heal myself and to be assuring and allay the fears of others and to heal them if they had any heart...wounds from something I may have said...So, this is the last thing I want to be is that kind of monster."

Before the topic gets pounded any further into the ground (before? says the reader, before??), consider Mel Gibson discussing the drunken rant about Jews being responsible for all the wars in the world. He didn't specify which Jews. I have numerous Jewish friends who've been busy recently, so maybe he didn't mean them. Maybe he meant the rest of the Jews. Burton, who refers to himself as The Jew Media from time to time, said that nobody calls him about any world-domination plans and frankly he's a little miffed at the snub.

Around a year ago I wrote about The Passion of the Christ and said that while I didn't like the movie, I didn't think that Gibson's intentions were necessarily malicious. Here's what I said:

I don’t think Gibson’s smart enough as a director to be actively or even subliminally Anti-Semitic. I don’t think he believes that the Jews in toto are responsible for the death of Christ. I think he believes that the guys with the beards in the tall hats killed Christ, like he remembers from those illustrated bible lessons in Sunday school. If he believes otherwise, it doesn’t come across in the film.

It's possible that Gibson is a nutbar and a drunk separate from being Anti-Semitic, and that any Anti-Semitism is sort of the sprinkles on the icing on the crazy-cake which is our Mel. Or he's smart enough to want his crazy cake and eat it too. In the spirit of full disclosure, I didn't watch the actual post-rant Diane Sawyer interview. These quotes are taken from ABC's coverage on the issue. So if I've missed any revelations that ABC's decided not to post on their own webspace, mea culpa.

When asked why he thought that Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world (its not been made clear if he included the war on drugs), Mel sayeth:

"That's fear related, OK? So, you know, you have your own fears about these things...Now, maybe it was just that very day that Lebanon and Israel were at it, you know...Since I was a kid in the '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s and now in the new millennium, you can read of an ever-escalating kind of conflagration over there in the Middle East that...I remember thinking when I was 20, man, that place is going to drag us all into the black hole, you know, just the...the difficulty over there"

Ok. Dance Part 1: A Tapdance. Footwork flies. He's saying that his comment was just an association between good old fashioned armageddon fears and the local news. Theme and variation on t'were Hezbollah, the Israeli army, the Associated Press and the booze talking, not me. It's not a showstopping tapdance, it might even have lead to an apology proper, something along the lines of "I should not have said it, I don't believe it, let me make amends."

However. When Diane Sawyer leads with "...there's a difference between saying that place is a tinderbox and the constellation of things happening there could take us all down, and saying the Jews are responsible for all the wars," Mel starts Dance Part 2: A Tango.

"...Strictly speaking, that's … that's not true because it takes two to tango...What are they responsible for? I think that they're not blameless in the conflict. There's been aggression, and retaliation and aggression. It's just part of being in conflict, and being at war. So, they're not blameless."

He's steered the conversation away from whether Gibson is anti-semitic or not, and it starts to be a meditation on Hezbollah vs. Israel in very broad strokes. He might as well say "You know, war is bad for everyone." It's a simple reading but on the surface, hard to disagree.

According to the ABC page, he's given a few more questions about the Middle East and finally gets back to the issue of whether he truly believes that the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. He says:

"Let me be real clear, here. In sobriety, sitting here, in front of you, national television...That I don't believe that Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. I mean that's an outrageous, drunken statement."

This is as close to a proper mea culpa as he'll come. It's nice to know that there are some conflicts in Asia and Africa that he feels have nothing to do with the Jews. I don't think he'd bring Chechnya into it either. And the various wars on drugs and high retail prices appear to be right out of the picture. So be it. Mel Gibson has made a step towards clarifying his rant. And that step rapidly moves into Dance Part 3: The Martyr Mambo.

" you know, a couple of years ago I released the film 'Passion.' Even before anyone saw a frame of the film, for an entire year, I was subjected to a pretty brutal sort of public beating."

This can be contested, both the 'public beating' and the 'before anyone saw a frame of film' parts. Keep in mind that he was inviting prominent US Evangelical Christians to take a peek at the product before wide release, while not having the time or inclination to share screenings with the ADL or other Jewish organizations. It's not that the film wasn't being seen, it's that it was being screened for a particular audience, the very same audience which made the film a hit.

And to be fair to Gibson, in earlier interviews (and I can't find examples to link to on short notice, feel free to slam me if I'm wrong) he claimed that he made some changes to the subtitles to address concerns from Jewish groups (or probably Jewish individuals who'd managed to see the flick, since he didn't have a formal screening for groups), in particular removing some mention of blood libel. We don't have a rough-cut to judge by, so this can't be confirmed.

"The film came out. It was released, and you could have heard a pin drop, you know. Even the crickets weren't chirping...But, the other thing I never heard was the one single word of apology."

So. Mel's film did not launch an American pogrom, and even despite the chatter of hundreds of media outlets and discussions over whether he did or did not have his script vetted by members of the Jewish community, and a rather dodgy quote from the late Pope over the quality and integrity of the film (the right-wing den mother Peggy Noonan ruminated on the wonder of it all, and was fair enough to follow up and discuss that it was suspect at best) all came down to this: Mel's feelings were hurt and he got drunk and all that hurt came out. Mea not-quite culpa.

"I thought I dealt with that stuff. All forgiveness, but, the human heart's a funny thing. Sometimes you can bear the scars of resentment. And'll come out, you know, when you're overwrought, you take a few drinks...there was anger from that, I think...My resentment stemmed from certain individuals treating me in a certain way."

And the apology about an admittedly Anti-Semitic statement has segued into an explanation of why Mel's feeling a little hurt, and even a gentle admonishment of 'certain individuals' treating him badly.

"...people every day say things they don't mean. And things they don't feel. They may feel them temporarily. I mean we're...we're all broken."

We're all broken, so it's not my fault. My feelings were hurt, so its not my fault. Great chatting with ya. But enough about me, what do you think about me?

It's possible that he will take Abraham Foxman up on his offer for a chat, I'd love to hear what both sides say after that afternoon. I don't think it's going to happen. Gibson has left rehab and has done the ABC gig and made a few appearances to plug his Mesoamerican movie, but there's been no mention of any in-roads with the Jewish community. Unless it's going on behind closed doors, it looks like Mel has decided penance has been paid and he's moving on. He's looks canny enough to not want to be seen as an Anti-Semite, but not quite a good enough actor to pull off contrition. And he's not the kind of person to say 'I am what I am' and fill in the blanks.

There's not a lot left to say. Gibson doesn't think he's Anti-Semitic, maybe he's convinced that he's just pissed off at a few Jews. I'm wondering if Diane Sawyer asked, in as many words, whether Gibson agrees with his father's opinion that the Holocaust has been exaggerated. Gibson has dodged the question in the past, saying that he doesn't speak for his father. We don't know if he agrees or not. He won't say. That, in itself, speaks volumes.

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Mr. Knight said...

I thought that the English were responsible for all of the wars in the world. I guess he filmed Braveheart too long ago to remember that bit. Sorry, just the silly old Scot in me coming out. I'll give him this: Mel can dance.

Anonymous said...

Men are responsible for all the wars!!

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