Sunday, August 06, 2006

The martyrdom of Mel

The brouhaha over Mel Gibson's anti-Semitic slurs emitted during his DUI arrest ("The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world") is just one of those inevitable Hollywood train wrecks, like John Belushi dying young and Liz Taylor getting divorced.

I mean, think about it: Combine a superstar with more money than God, a reputation for erratic and aggressive behavior linked, supposedly, to a drinking problem, and a track record of closeted anti-Semitism. Well, what did you think was gonna happen?

Of course, Gibson has been getting slammed, particularly by Jewish leaders, who found Gibson's initial apology -- which tried to pin the blame on the demon rum -- somewhat wanting:
The U.S. Jewish Anti-Defamation League said that the apology was not enough and that Gibson should be ostracized by his peers.

The group's national director Abraham H. Foxman said, "It appears that the combination of liquor and arrest has revealed his true character.

"We believe there should be consequences to bigots and bigotry. One way to combat bigots is to put a price on bigotry.

"I would hope that if this is in fact true, that his colleagues condemn him and distance themselves from him."

What was immediately clear was that Gibson had a real problem that would affect his bottom line, including his forthcoming role as a producer of a miniseries about the Holocaust:
His most immediate issue is with Walt Disney Co., which is distributing "Apocalypto" and which also, through its ABC television network, has a development deal with his company to make a miniseries about the Holocaust.

Several prominent critics of "The Passion" have stepped forward to suggest that Gibson, who denied there was an anti-Semitic undercurrent in his movie about the last hours of Christ's life, has now shown his true colors.

"Mel Gibson's apology is unremorseful and insufficient," said Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, who added: "His tirade finally reveals his true self and shows that his protestations during the debate over his film 'The Passion of the Christ,' that he is such a tolerant, loving person, were a sham."

Foxman called on Hollywood executives to "realize the bigot in their midst" and "distance themselves from this anti-Semite."

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, urged Gibson to drop the Holocaust project, saying it would be "inappropriate."

Rather predictably, there's been a knee-jerk defense of Gibson in the right-wing blogosphere, as SZ at World O'Crap has detailed. Locally, as TalkCheck has been documenting, radio talk-jock (and former GOP gubernatorial candidate) John Carlson has been telling us that Gibson's rant "wasn't really anti-Semitic."

And what do you know? All of them manage to blame liberals for the problem. Amanda at Pandagon notes:
Forgive me for being a little skeptical of the idea that Mel Gibson got his wild ideas about a Jewish conspiracy from overdosing on Al Franken. As badly as Chavez wants for the criticisms of neoconservatives to be an extension of the long history of rumor-mongering about how Jews secretly control the world, the truth is that criticisms of neocons do not in fact have the markers that coded references to this legend have. In order for her little theory to work, Chavez has to imply that neoconservatism is a mythical entity, as fictional as the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. But the hawkish direction of the Republican party is hardly a myth and it did in fact result in the invasion of Iraq. Anti-Semitic legends generally have the Jews plotting in secret to take over the world; critics of neoconservatives don’t think there’s anything going on in secret and generally have the wealth of articles and policy proposals and conservative rhetoric to point to as evidence of this change in the direction of American conservatism. Oh yeah, and no one seriously thinks either that all neocons are Jews or that all Jews, or even most Jews are neocons.

I've been waiting to see how Gibson's apologies have shaken out before commenting. Obviously, his first attempt came well short of owning up to the problem.

But his followup apology, on the surface at least, appeared to go much further:
"Hatred of any kind goes against my faith," he said in a statement issued through his publicist Alan Nierob.

"I'm not just asking for forgiveness," Gibson said. "I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing."

Gibson said he's "in the process of understanding where those vicious words came from during that drunken display" and hopes members of the Jewish community, "whom I have personally offended," will help him in his recovery efforts.

"There is no excuse, nor should there be any tolerance, for anyone who thinks or expresses any kind of anti-Semitic remark," Gibson said.

"But please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot. Hatred of any kind goes against my faith."

However, the response has been somewhat mixed:
"Anti-Semitism is not born in one day and cannot be cured in one day and certainly not through the issuing of a press release," Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said in a statement. Gibson should read about Jewish persecution and the Holocaust, among other things, Hier added by telephone from Israel.

"When Mr. Gibson embarks on a serious long-term effort to address that bigotry and anti-Semitism, he will find the Jewish community more than willing to engage and help him," he said.

Abraham H. Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said the process requires hard work. "You can't just say I'm no longer a drunk; you can't just say I'm no longer a bigot. You need to work hard at it, and we're ready to help him," Foxman said.

There's a good reason to balk, for now: Gibson has in the past used evasive word games to avoid making clear exactly where he stands regarding a number of ideas that are typically part of an anti-Semitic worldview, and at other times he has grown aggressive and caustic in denying that he is even remotely anti-Semitic.

Those past denials have all been blown up now, and in retrospect look cynical and manipulative. What would make his current apologies any less hollow -- especially since the wording is so similar?

You see, lots of bigots deny that they "hate" the targets of their bigotry. They limit the notion of "hate" to a purely personal and visceral one, and thus find themselves blameless. Many of them are capable of having friendships with members of the target group, but they usually rationalize these friendships as "exceptions" -- and then readily prop them up as proof that they are not bigoted. This, despite their holding beliefs that are part and parcel of agendas that are truly hateful: racist, anti-Semitic, anti-gay, whatever.

A closer look at Gibson's apologies, moreover, reveals one big component missing: What about Mel's dad?

Now, the question here isn't about how Mel feels about his 86-year-old father, nor is this an attempt to drive a wedge between him and his father. (Indeed, it has been by pretending that this is the case that Gibson has so far evaded any serious attempt to answer the very serious questions that linger regarding his associations with anti-Semitic beliefs.)

Rather, it is a question about Gibson's own beliefs: What does he believe about the size and scope of the Holocaust? What does he believe about the role of the Jews in world affairs, both historically and currently? Does he in fact believe in the kinds of conspiracy theories that his DUI rant suggested?

This is largely because of what Gibson has said in the past, particularly when compared to what his father has written and said.

Take, for instance, his 1995 interview in Playboy:
PLAYBOY: How do you feel about Bill Clinton?

GIBSON: He's a low-level opportunist. Somebody's telling him what to do.


GIBSON: The guy who's in charge isn't going to be the front man, ever. If I were going to be calling the shots I wouldn't make an appearance. Would you? You'd end up losing your head. It happens all the time. All those monarchs. Ifhe's the leader, he's getting shafted. What's keeping him in there? Why would you stay for that kind of abuse? Except that he has to stay for some reason. He was meant to be the president 30 years ago, if you ask me.

PLAYBOY: He was just 18 then.

GIBSON: Somebody knew then that he would be president now.

PLAYBOY: You really believe that?

GIBSON: I really believe that. He was a Rhodes scholar, right? Just like Bob Hawke. Do you know what a Rhodes scholar is? Cecil Rhodes established the Rhodes scholarship for those young men and women who want to strive for a new world order. Have you heard that before? George Bush? CIA? Really, it's Marxism, but it just doesn't want to call itself that. Karl had the right idea, but he was too forward about saying what it was. Get power but don't admit to it. Do it by stealth. There's a whole trend of Rhodes scholars who will be politicians around the world.

PLAYBOY: This certainly sounds like a paranoid sense of world history. You must be quite an assassination buff.

GIBSON: Oh, fuck. A lot of those guys pulled a boner. There's something to do with the Federal Reserve that Lincoln did, Kennedy did and Reagan tried. I can't remember what it was, my dad told me about it. Everyone who did this particular thing that would have fixed the economy got undone. Anyway, I'll end up dead if I keep talking shit.

The theory he's referring to crops up all the time on the Patriot/militia far right, particularly among the tax protester/anti-New World Order set (see here for a sample). I first heard it from the Montana Freemen, who seem themselves to have taken it from the notorious anti-Semite, Marvin 'Red' Beckman.

Indeed, the whole "New World Order" theory set is riddled throughout with anti-Semitism, in no small part because that's where it largely originated. Even Pat Robertson's attempts at peddling a slightly sanitized version of it was discovered to have anti-Semitic roots throughout.

When he released The Passion of the Christ, Gibson claimed he is not anti-Semitic by arguing thus:
"Neither I nor my film are anti-Semitic. Nor do I hate anyone, certainly not the Jews. They are my friends and associates, both in my work and my social life. Anti-semitism is not only contrary to my personal beliefs, it is also contrary to the core message of my movie."

But as I've said, anti-Semitism comprises not merely hatred of Jews -- it is also constituted of a willingness to believe the ancient "blood libel" and deicide charges. Holocaust denial is also a significant component.

Then, after the furor erupted over The Passion, he gave an interview with Peggy Noonan that included evasive answers about Holocaust denial:
"I have friends and parents of friends who have numbers on their arms. The guy who taught me Spanish was a Holocaust survivor. He worked in a concentration camp in France. Yes, of course. Atrocities happened. War is horrible. The Second World War killed tens of millions of people. Some of them were Jews in concentration camps. Many people lost their lives. In the Ukraine, several million starved to death between 1932 and 1933. During the last century, 20 million people died in the Soviet Union."

Well, as I pointed out at the time:
It's important, of course, to understand that this is exactly the storyline pushed by Holocaust deniers, namely, that yes, there were many Jews killed in Europe during World War II, but they were only a small part of the total who died in the war, and the "6 million" number is grossly exaggerated. Not only is this exactly what Hutton Gibson told the New York Times, you can find the exact same views at such Holocaust-denial organs as the Barnes Review, the Institute for Historical Review, and the Adelaide Institute.

Of course, these are all organizations with whom Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, has direct and open associations. He gives speeches before them and writes for their various publishing organs. Hutton Gibson speaks at Holocaust denial conferences and has continuing significant associations with such anti-Semites as Frederick Toben of the Adelaide Institute.

Even before The Passion was released, he made headlines by telling the New York Times that 9/11 was actually a Jewish plot:
The actor's father, Hutton Gibson, told The New York Times he flatly rejected that the terrorist group led by Usama bin Laden had any role in the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon Sept. 11.

"Anybody can put out a passenger list," the elder Gibson told The Times.

"So what happened? They were crashed by remote control."

He and the actor's mother, Joye Gibson, also told The Times that the Holocaust was a fabrication manufactured to hide an arrangement between Adolf Hitler and "financiers" to move Jews out of Germany to the Middle East to fight Arabs.

"Go and ask an undertaker or the guy who operates the crematorium what it takes to get rid of a dead body," Hutton Gibson told The Times. "It takes one liter of petrol and 20 minutes. Now six million?"

Said Joye Gibson: "That weren't even that many Jews in all of Europe."

Just as the film was being released, Hutton Gibson gave an interview that included this gem:
To a Jew a Christian commits idolatry every time he looks at a crucifix and says a prayer. You know there in control and they're going to get in control the way things are going. Because they get all of our people...They killed several generations of us Americans (referring to WWWI, WWII)...The Jews weren't in the army much in WWI that because they were fomenting a revolt in Russia. America had no right to fight in foreign wars (in reference to WWI and WWII).

Gee, sounds rather like people who claim that "the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," doesn't it?

Ah, but what does Mel Gibson think about all this? In the same interview with Noonan, he makes clear that he believes everything his pop says:
"My dad taught me my faith, and I believe what he taught me. The man never lied to me in his life."

Amid the Passion uproar, Mel Gibson was interviewed by Diane Sawyer for ABC's "Primetime," during which he offered these thoughts about the Holocaust and his father:
MEL GIBSON: Do I believe that there were concentration camps where defenceless and innocent Jews died cruelly under the Nazi regime? Of course I do, absolutely. It was an atrocity of monumental proportion.

DIANE SAWYER: And you believe there were millions, six million, millions?


DIANE SAWYER: I think people wondered if your father's views were your views on this.

MEL GIBSON: Their whole agenda here, my detractors, is to drive a wedge between me and my father and it's not going to happen. I love him. He's my father.

DIANE SAWYER: And you will not speak publicly about him beyond that.

MEL GIBSON: I am tight with him. He's my father. Got to leave it alone, Diane. Got to leave it alone.

Why, exactly, do we "got to leave it alone"? Because of some ridiculous Hollywood-script-style notion that a father-son relationship is some kind of sacred thing?

As I observed before:
What has been startlingly absent from Gibson's denials so far has been any kind of repudiation of his father's beliefs regarding the Jews and the Holocaust. Merely claiming that one is not anti-Semitic doesn't cut it -- because many, many Holocaust deniers likewise deny that they are anti-Semitic (just as many white supremacists deny that they hate blacks). They only want the truth, they claim -- when in reality, their entire purpose is to bury the truth.

And later:
So while it's fine for Gibson to claim vehemently he is not anti-Semitic, that isn't persuasive evidence in itself, given the wealth of evidence suggesting that he is in fact. What's been strange about Gibson's denials hasn't so much been what he has said, though that's problematic enough. It's what he hasn't said. At no point has he ever actually explained his own thoughts regarding these controversies. His spokesmen have simply said that he and his father "don't agree on everything." And Gibson has warned interviewers away from interfering with his relationship with his dad.

Until Mel Gibson comes clean and gives a full public airing to these issues, it's going to be hard believing anything he says isn't just another cynical PR cover story. And whatever reconciliation he says he's seeking is going to quietly creep down the memory hole.

Unlike most Hollywood train wrecks, which are all about the cult of celebrity anyway, this one, in stripping away the mask of celebrity, actually has meaning beyond mere gossip columns and tabloid titillation. Because the questions it raises cut to the nexus of the culture wars, where truth is constantly under assault by people who want to erase memory and revise history.

As the right-wing conventional wisdom now circulating settles into the system, it'll gradually become Mel Gibson who is viewed as the victim. After all, everything can be blamed on those nasty, unhinged liberals. Even all the wars in the world.

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