Mel Gibson's Meltdown
He is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.
I was just in the middle of writing a long and tedious essay, about how to tell a real anti-Semite from a person who too-loudly rejects the charge of anti-Semitism, when a near-perfect real-life example came to hand. That bad actor and worse director Mel Gibson, pulled over for the alleged offense of speeding and the further alleged offense of speeding under the influence, decided that he needed to demand of the arresting officer whether he was or was not Jewish and that he furthermore needed to impart the information that all the world's wars are begun by those of Semitic extraction.
Call me thin-skinned if you must, but I think that this qualifies. I also think that the difference between the blood-alcohol levels—and indeed the speed limits—that occasioned the booking are insufficient to explain the expletives (as Gibson has since claimed in a typically self-pitying and verbose statement put out by his publicist). One does not abruptly decide, between the first and second vodka, or the ticks of the indicator of velocity, that the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion are valid after all.
There's a lot to dislike about Gibson. He is given to furious tirades against homosexuals of the sort that make one wonder if he has some kind of subliminal or "unaddressed" problem. His vulgar and nasty movies, which also feature this prejudice, are additionally replete with the cheapest caricatures of the English. Braveheart and The Patriot are two of the most laughable historical films ever made. (Englishmen don't form picket lines outside movie theaters when "stereotyped," but still.) He has told interviewers that his wife, the mother of his children, is going to hell because she subscribes to the wrong Christian sect (a view that he justifies as "a pronouncement from the chair"). And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.
This is not just proved by his twistedly homoerotic spank-movie The Passion of the Christ, even though that ghastly production did focus obsessively on the one passage in the one of the four Gospels that tries to convict the Jewish people en masse of the hysterical charge of Christ-killing or "deicide." It is validated by his fealty to his earthly father, a crackpot who belongs to a Catholic splinter group of which our Mel is a member. This group more or less lives off the stench of medieval anti-Semitism. Allow me (as one who has Mel's father's books to hand) to give you an example. In an attempt a few years ago to heal the breach between the Vatican and the Jews, then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger did his best to make nice. Jews did not accept Jesus as savior and redeemer, said the man who is now the pope, but they did originate monotheism. Therefore, Judaism could perhaps be regarded in some ways as an "elder brother" of Christianity. The response of Gibson senior was to say that Abel also had an elder brother. … You know what? I think that this qualifies as anti-Semitism, too.
I do not believe for an instant that (as God told Moses) the sins of the fathers should descend to later generations. But when asked about his old man's many effusions on this subject, from the cheery view that the Jewish population of Europe actually increasedin Hitler's day to the no less upbeat opinion that persons unknown brought down the World Trade Center, the younger Gibson stonewalled consistently by saying that "my father has never told me a lie." At the time he said this, I was impressed despite myself. He was being invited to disown a raging Jew-baiter at the same time that he was trying to cash in with a Hollywood epic. And he wouldn't do it! All credit for true and staunch conviction. (Scott McClellan was White House spokesman when his male parent produced a book arguing that LBJ had murdered JFK. Even in this tussle over two dead Democrats, McClellan had enough presence of mind to refuse to be drawn: He neither supported nor disowned his father's work. * Try and get Gibson to limit himself to that.)
At the time when The Passion of the Christ was being released, many nervous evangelical Christians tried to get the more horrifying bits of anti-Semitic incitement toned down. (The crazy scene where the rabbis demand the blood of Jesus on their own heads was taken out of subtitles, for example, but left as it was in Aramaic.) Many conservative Jews, from David Horowitz to Rabbi Daniel Lapin, stuck up for Gibson as a man who defended family values against secular nihilism. And the Muslim world allowed the movie to be screened widely, though from Ben-Hur to King of Kings it had prohibited the physical representation of any "prophet" mentioned, as Jesus is, in the Quran. (Don't ask yourself why this was, unless you want to feel stupid.) It was even proudly announced that Gibson's next big project would be about the Holocaust.
Whether Gibson tries this last catch-penny profanity or not, it is time to lower the boom on him. Those who endorsed his previous obscene blockbuster are obliged to say something now or be ignored ever after. But this should not be yet another spectacle of the "offensive" and the "inappropriate," swiftly succeeded by rehab and repentance and perhaps—who knows?—a joint press conference with Elie Wiesel. Gibson did not "misspeak"; indeed according to many trustworthy reports, he nearly copped the customary celebrity "get out of jail free" card and had his remarks stricken from the record. (When will the sheriffs decide to release the evidence?) No, he spoke his "mind," and in case anyone wants to burble about political correctness, it should be added that he spoke this way because of his religion, not just his warped personality. Let him keep the fortune he made from a pogrom movie, and let him by all means continue to sponsor his Latin Mass sectarian church in Malibu, where sinners are thick on the ground. But there was another touch of in vino veritas when he tearfully told the cops that "my life is f---ed," and this inadvertent truth ought to be remembered in all charity as the last words we ever want to hear from him.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011) was a columnist for Vanity Fair and the author, most recently, of Arguably, a collection of essays.
Photograph of Mel Gibson on Slate's home page by Lucy Nicholson/AFP/Getty Images.