Mel Gibson Isn't Just an Angry Narcissist
His tirades are the distilled violence, cruelty, and bigotry of right-wing Catholic ideology.
Every time Mel Gibson unburdens himself of a tirade against Jews or "n______s" or uncooperative females, there are commentators on hand to create a mystery where none exists. When he produced The Passion of the Christ, which lovingly and in detail recycled the bloody myth that all Jews are historically and collectively responsible for the murder of Jesus, it was argued by many mainstream Christians that his zeal for the faith might be a touch lurid but that the film itself was mainly devotional. When he was arrested on the Malibu freeway and screamed abuse at a police officer to the effect that Jews were responsible for all the wars in the world, pundits convened on page and screen to speculate whether our Mel had too much to drink that evening. Not long ago, I watched him go completely bug-eyed on television at a Jewish interviewer who asked him about the latter incident. "You've got a dog in this fight, haven't you?" he hissed. And now, in the wake of a Niagara of cloacal abuse directed at the mother of his youngest child, in which we were spared nothing by way of obscenity and menace and nothing by way of paranoid and sexualized racism, there have been those who diagnose Gibson's problem as a lack of anger management skills, combined perhaps with a touch of narcissistic personality disorder.
This is extraordinary. We live in a culture where the terms fascist and racist are thrown about, if anything, too easily and too frequently. Yet here is a man whose every word and deed is easily explicable once you know the single essential thing about him: He is a member of a fascist splinter group that believes it is the salvation of the Catholic Church.
This schismatic crackpot sect is headed by Mel Gibson's father, Hutton Gibson, a nutty autodidact with a sideline in Holocaust denial. During the controversy over The Passion of the Christ, Gibson junior said that he had never heard anything but the truth from his father. I have some of old man Gibson's books on my shelf, including his self-published classics Is the Pope Catholic?and The Enemy Is Still Here!, which essentially accuse the current papacy of doing the work of the Antichrist. My favorite sample of his prose style is the following: "Our 'civilization' tolerates open sodomy and condones murder of the unborn, but shrinks in horror from burning incorrigible heretics—essentially a charitable act." He attacks the late Pope John Paul II for having said, in one of his "outreaches" to the Jewish people, "You are our predilect brothers and, in a certain way, one could say our oldest brothers." Hutton Gibson's comment? "Abel had an older brother." I don't think that there's much ambiguity there, do you? Like many ultra-conservative Catholics, the Gibsons, père et fils, have never forgiven the Vatican for lifting the charge of deicide against the Jews in 1964.
Nor have they forgiven the British Isles for breaking away from Rome during the 16th-century Reformation and destroying the monopoly of Holy Mother Church. In a series of ultra-violent propaganda movies, from Braveheart to The Patriot, Gibson has represented the English as a generally foul tribe. Those of us who have English descent can of course laugh this off as the writhings of a thwarted theocracy (combined in this case with some symptoms of a colonial inferiority complex), but the historic connection of the Catholic right with European fascism is not so amusing.
It would be highly surprising if a person marinated in the doctrines of this ideology did not display all sorts of symptoms that were also sexually distraught. Racism very often clusters with sexual revulsion, and Gibson's rants are horribly larded with this element. His obsessive loathing of homosexuality—so seldom a healthy sign—is also well-known. Less well-remembered, perhaps, is the interview in which he announced that his wife of many years and the mother of his children would not, alas, be able to join him in paradise. It was not a matter of her moral character. It was simply that she had not seen fit to join the one true church. Her condemnation, then, was "a pronouncement from the chair."
Gibson has now traded in this long-suffering lady—hopelessly rupturing his sacred marriage vows—for another, younger one, who, to phrase it delicately, was almost certainly not picked for her salient Catholic virtues. In doing this, he must have had a consciousness, however dim, of having endangered his immortal soul. Not only that, but also of having parted with a sensational quantity of worldly goods by way of a divorce settlement. And after all that, the new girl won't do as he says; won't defer; won't assume the desired position at a single snap of his fingers. A true gauleiter feels entitled to a bit more by way of luxurious subservience. No wonder, then, that Gibson walks around with neon lights behind his staring eyes, flashing the slogan "Contents Under Pressure."
Yet I still saw a report the other day about a fan site where the members were just beginning to ask, "What's with him?" Why is there this reluctance to call something by its right name? It's not as if Gibson was issuing a cry for help. On the contrary, what he is issuing is the distilled violence, cruelty, and bigotry—and sexual hypocrisy—that stretches from the Crusades through the Inquisition to the "concordats" between the church and Hitler and Mussolini. Yet he's still reporting for work. When will Hollywood, and the wider society, finally decide to shun and spurn him utterly, both for what he is and for what he represents?
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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 by Bertrand Langlois/AFP/Getty Images.