August 3, 2006
A Scottish actor who worked on Braveheart once told a director friend of mine what it was like working with Mel Gibson. “He’s off his head,” alleged the actor. “We’d all be standing there in kilts and with blue woad painted on our faces, ready to do a shot, when suddenly Mel would announce to the Alcoholics Anonymous members among us – a healthy number – that we had to have a meeting. So there we would be, behind the catering van with painted faces, reading from the Big Book and sharing our experience. You know, ‘My name’s Mel and I’m an alcoholic,’ then we’d all go back to the set and get stuck into the English.”
Recovering alcoholics like to say that they’re sober one day at a time, and it can’t be easy knowing that you’re always just one drink away from your former self. Gibson went spectacularly off the rails last Friday and reportedly did what many alcoholics do – he allegedly drove his car at nearly 90mph, drank from a bottle of tequila, got stopped and arrested, and verbally abused the officers in charge. As situations go, it wasn’t very striking, except that the drunk was a Hollywood star. It certainly wasn’t unusual that the arrested person issued a stream of abuse at the police, racist, misogynist or otherwise. All police will tell you this is standard. Gibson reportedly said: “F—ing Jews. The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.”
Silly man – pathetic, even. There isn’t an ounce of reason in what Gibson said, but then, who could expect there to be? Well, the entire Western world, apparently, which imagines that what a drunk Catholic actor says in the extremity of his cups might represent a threat to civilisation.
The world at present is many kinds of daft, but one of the idiocies we never seem to comment on is the worldwide propensity to knock everything out of proportion. Gibson is not an admirable man (nor, in my view, a very talented actor) and his opinions on most things, from Christ to homosexuality, have always seemed pretty bonkers. But I don’t understand why he must now be crucified himself for saying the kind of stupid thing that stupid people say all the time.
If we peel back the layers of the Gibson fiasco, we see something much darker and more troubling, not about him – he’s just a fool – but about the society which needs to produce a scapegoat in him.
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?
Of course it isn’t even remotely true that Jews are behind most wars, but it is true that they are behind most movies, and pundits are saying that Gibson may never work again in Hollywood. But their 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”. 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.
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.
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.
In the present Middle East crisis – and since the horror of 9/11 overall – it has become pretty impossible to make any remarks about Jews or against Israel which are not immediately seen to be either monstrously anti-Semitic, or indicative of supporting terrorism. The thought-police are out in force in almost every publication in America, and to suggest that the Israeli lobby has an undue weight on American foreign policy – as two writers did recently in the London Review of Books – can cause a storm of protest, much of it insinuating that the authors or the publications concerned hate Jews.
Further, it is suggested that any Jews who criticise Israeli actions are self-hating. These seem to me to be insults of a much more worrying kind.
You can’t police thoughts; and only a fool would seek to police the rantings of a drunken actor. 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.
American debate has shrivelled in recent times, and I do not mistake Gibson’s ranting for the tradition of dissent that once glorified the American scene. Yet I cannot believe that overreacting to people such as him can do the cause of free speech any favours. There are many hundreds of millions in the world who believe that the Jewish state is a force of incredible arrogance and self-interest, and though the cause of such believers will in no way be forwarded by the ravings of a drunken man, neither will Israel be helped by those who turn silly insults into abominations.
There seems to be no question of forgiveness for Mel Gibson. No question of proportion, to say nothing of understanding for a damaged person struggling with the nightmare of alcoholism. We need not plead his case, but perhaps, in the midst of the mass execration now engulfing him, we should remind ourselves that no people which cares for balance and calmness – not even God’s people – should assume itself to exist above the common miseries of man.