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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Mel-odrama

A friend of mine, Nick Brendon, is an alcoholic. (He played Xander on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) About three years ago, a bunch of us held an intervention for him, which resulted in him going to Promises, the well-known rehabilitation center in Malibu. He went, got out, and within a month or so was drinking again. Eventually he checked himself back in, and since then has not touched a drop of alcohol, has quit smoking, and is leading a wonderful life.

Nicky has been remarkeably - and bravely - open about his experiences, so I'm not betraying any confidences in relating this information. The reason I do so is because Nick is a totally different person than he was when he was drinking, and he'd be the first to tell you so. Which brings me to Mel Gibson.

I've heard the expression "A drunk man's words are a sober man's thoughts" thrown around in regards to Gibson's heinous anti-Semitic rant of the other night. And that's all well and good, except for the fact that there's a huge difference between a drunk and an alcoholic, and the people castigating Gibson the most don't seem to understand this. When someone who's not an alcoholic gets drunk, he may say or do things he wouldn't dream of while sober, but ultimately he's still being himself. However, as anyone who knows an alcoholic is painfully aware, when that person drinks, it is very often a Jekyll and Hyde situation.

I'm Jewish, just to get that out there. I saw The Passion of the Christ on opening day and found it to be a powerful and moving, if flawed, piece of filmmaking. Did I think it was ultimately "anti-Semitic"? I did not. Did I wish Gibson had filmed some scenes differently? Absolutely. I particularly remember the scene in which Roman centurions are shown going up to Jewish houses, knocking on the doors, and giving money to Jews to speak against Jesus. This scene is extra-biblical and does nothing but reinforce the hateful stereotype that Jews will do anything for money. (Although I must say that in discussing the film with Christian friends, that scene seemed to barely register with them.)

Anyone who thinks that the degree of vitriol and loathing emanating from the left against Gibson is not politically motivated is kidding himself. Lest we forget, these are generally the same people who have no problem embracing Jesse "Hymietown" Jackson and the always race-baiting (if entertaining) Al Sharpton. And they're also the same people who love to play the moral equivalence card when it comes to Israel and the Palestinians, Israel and Hezbollah, etc. So you'll pardon me if I find their sudden concern for the well-being of the Jews not very convincing. (Not that she'll ever read this, but this means you, Arianna, you morally bankrupt, self-absorbed, self-serving, soulless, sycophantic piece of trash.)

Like my friend Nicky, Mel Gibson has a disease. But his disease is not anti-Semitism, it is alcoholism. Those who know him seem to back up this statement:
"I have been with Mel when he has fallen off," says producer Dean Devlin, who had spent the afternoon before the arrest with Gibson, "and he becomes a completely different person. It is pretty horrifying."

And horrified is exactly how Devlin and many of Gibson's friends felt when they heard that the actor-director, in the course of his arrest for drunk driving, made sexist and anti-Semitic remarks, including one that quickly became infamous: "Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." Gibson has since been charged with two misdemeanor counts of driving under the influence of alcohol.

Devlin and Tom Sherak, a partner at Revolution Studios who once headed distribution at 20th Century Fox, had spent last Thursday afternoon screening Devlin's upcoming film "Flyboys" for Gibson, and Gibson seemed very much himself.

"We were kidding around, talking about our kids, he was very friendly," said Sherak, who met Gibson while working on "Braveheart." Gibson, he added, had a trailer of his new film, "Apocalypto," that he was very excited about. "We talked about the shoot and he was just very upbeat, not stressed out at all."

Said Devlin: "I consider Mel one of my best friends in Hollywood." Devlin met Gibson while co-producing "The Patriot," in which Gibson starred.

"The day this happened, my wife had gotten this long letter from Mel full of congratulations [for the birth of the Devlins' first child] and talking about the joys of being a parent," Devlin said. "She's Jewish. I'm Jewish. If Mel is an anti-Semite, then he spends a lot of time with us, which makes no sense. But he is an alcoholic, and while that makes no excuse for what he said, because there is no excuse, I believe it was the disease speaking, not the man."

His sentiments were shared by longtime Gibson friend Jodie Foster, who, upon hearing the news while on the New York set of her new film, refused to believe it.

"Someone told me what had happened, and I said, 'That is just so not true,' " she said. When it was confirmed, Foster said, she was stricken with deep sadness that a man she considers "one of the nicest, most honest men I have ever met" had taken such a fall. Although she and Gibson speak regularly, Foster had no idea he was drinking again.

"Is he an anti-Semite? Absolutely not," Foster said. "But it's no secret that he has always fought a terrible battle with alcoholism. I just wish I had been there, that I had been able to say, 'Don't do it. Don't take that drink.' "

Like Devlin, she does not believe that drunkenness excuses hurtful remarks, but she bristles at accusations in the media that Gibson is using his alcoholism as a "get out of jail free" card from charges of anti-Semitism.

"It is a horrible disease, and it affects everyone differently," Foster said. "I do not have personal experience with addiction, but I have seen it take many paths in people I know. For some, it is a soft slide off the barstool, and some experience true psychotic episodes."
I submit to you that if Gibson were a true anti-Semite there is no way he could have had a career in Hollywood for over 25 years without anybody with whom he worked or interacted having a clue as to his true nature. And if a drunk man's words truly are a sober man's thoughts, how do we account for the many years that the hard-partying Gibson somehow managed to refrain from blaming all the world's problems on the Jews?

So why did Gibson say the reprehensible things he did? Did the teachings of his father, who actually does appear to be a classic anti-Semite if ever there were one, spew forth unbidden? Did the emotion from the many hits Gibson took over The Passion manifest itself in an alcoholic haze? Honestly, I have no idea. Which I think is a more honest answer then you'll get from most of the major players in this debate. All I know is that what Devlin and Foster said about Gibson is similarly true of Nick Brendon, so there must be something to it.

I hope my gentile friends will forgive my chutzpah in saying that those who rush to condemn Mad Mel to burn in hell for all eternity seem to me un-Christian to the extreme. (Not that he'll ever read this, but this means you, Andrew Sullivan.)

Anonymous fmragtops said...

Dude, that was a great a post. Probably the best summation of Mel, who has been one of my favorite actors since my childhood, and his problems that I have read to date.

11:38  
Blogger MG said...

Articulated very well.

Throwning it out there. Does responsibility necessarily mean fault?
It's true Jews are one of the reasons why a lot of these wars happen and thus share a responsibility. But in no way can you make the case that are they at fault.

23:29  
Blogger Alex Fear said...

"Roman centurions are shown going up to Jewish houses, knocking on the doors, and giving money to Jews to speak against Jesus."

I didn't register that scene either, I'll have to look out for it next time I watch Passion.

What everyone seems to forget here is that Jesus was a Jew, and so were his disciples! How about that?

It's also noted by historians and biblical scholars (sorry no refs) that when the bible refers to "the Jews" in the crucifiction accounts, it is referring to the leaders and the Sanhedrin, not ordinary normal Jewish people.

All the first followers of Jesus were Jews, the Jewish believers delivered the message to the gentiles once Peter got the OK in a vision.

So... you can't be a Christian and hate Jews.. in fact you can't be a Christian and hate Arabs, or Americans, or French, or Germans.. or any race as it happens.

23:38  
Blogger MG said...

I think it's a waste of energy to hate anyone. With that said the Islamic Jihadists must be exterminated for the good of the people.

00:08  
Blogger MG said...

One more thing. Jews get a bad name because of Israelly contractors. But then again, they make a hell of a cookie...So we'll forgive then on the first fact.

00:13  
Anonymous SeanS said...

CI, it's great that you brought up the disease of alcoholism. A lot of people don't know the symptoms that occur. My kid's father, for instance, can't tell the truth when he's drunk. He's sober now and a far more pleasant person.

I hope Mel gets better and that Nick stays strong.

07:34  
Anonymous kaiserD said...

i don't know, Cranky, but it seems to me that the evidence is pretty overwhelming against Mel- and your defense of him is kind of puzzling. you're jewish, you've seen the Passion (i haven't) and i respect your viewpoints on numerous issues so i have to put some credence on your opinion of this. but reading many intelligent take-downs of Mel's Jesus movie (esp. Christopher Hitchens) it seems to me that he intentionally tried to put Jews in a bad light repeatedly in the movie, ignoring much biblical and historical evidence. and there is no doubt that his father is a raging antisemite and Mel refuses to condemn any of his most outlandish statements. i also don't believe that just because he suffers from the horrible affliction of alcoholism, that there wasn't a personal antisemitic basis to his "off-the-cuff" remarks while being arrested. i just don't buy it. it wasn't like he was babbling about aliens taking over the world, or making other bizarre and incoherent statements.

also, the notion that christians can't be antisemites is ridiculous.

23:57  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

kaiser: I think what Alex meant was that a good Christian can't be antisemitic.

Hitch is one of my absolute favorite writers, except when it comes to religious issues. I find his blind hatred of every aspect of religion to be completely irrational. I was born without the faith gene and I'm cheerfully agnostic, but many people I love and/or respect have strong religious beliefs and I'm down with that.

As for THE PASSION, I just didn't think that it smacked of antisemitism. You can't get around the fact that according to the Bible, Caiphus and the Sanhedrin played a major role in Jesus' death, and yes, the film showed that. But I for one didn't walk out of the film thinking that Gibson had blamed "the Jews" for anything. Others may have had different experiences, but I can only judge the film on my own viewing.

Hutton Gibson is absolutely an antisemite, but I don't understand why everyone wants Mel to denounce him. It's his father, for God's sake.

As to why Gibson went off on "the Jews" in his alcoholic rage, I suggested some possible reasons, but as I said, ultimately I honestly have no idea why he did so. And quite franky, neither does anybody else, no matter what they say. I think an alcoholic's hell is a very personal hell.

Here's my final thought: Mel Gibson has lived among and worked with Jews for all of his adult life. Can anyone point to anything - anything - before THE PASSION that would lead them to believe that Gibson harbors ill will towards "the Jews"? I lived and worked in Hollywood for 10 years and never heard a peep about him being antisemitic. And even after THE PASSION, and even after what happened last weekend, not one story from "back in the day" has surfaced to "confirm" his antisemitism. This, to me, is highly revealing.

On the other hand, Mama Zarqawi seems to have the inside scoop...

02:01  
Blogger The Liberal Avenger said...

Wow - you sure are cranky. But lovable, of course.

I don't understand how and why you want to pin criticism of Gibson for his tirade on "the left." Come on - you're not being intellectually honest here. Blaming problems on "the left" is just as intellectually dishonest as blaming things on "the Jews."

You dubiously assert that "the left" embraces Jesse Jackson unconditionally and mention "Hymietown." Of course it was "libertarian hawks" and other rightwingers who were critical of Jackson for his Hymietown comment. Right?

Put it back in your pants.

05:57  
Blogger A.R.Yngve said...

Please, let's not spin this sad event into any political direction.

Frankly, I don't care in what state Mel Gibson was when he said what he said. I don't care if he was sober, drunk, alcoholic, tipsy, stoned, tired, depressed or whatevah.

It's the toxic meme itself that is evil, the perpetuation of the lie: "The Jews are responsible for [insert problem here]."

This lie, this myth, is more dangerous than drunk driving: it has killed millions of people and affected the course of history.

Hitler didn't drink and he hated Jews more than anybody. Alcoholism is beside the point. Like Merlin says in the movie EXCALIBUR: "Whenever a man lies, he murders some part of the world..."

Don't focus on the excuses. Focus on the lie itself. The lie is the real threat. Just look at Mahmoud Ahmedinejad -- he believes the lie so much that he wants to drop the Bomb on Israel. (And he probably doesn't drink.)

11:34  
Blogger The Cranky Insomniac said...

liberal avenger: I'm not looking to pin blame on "the left." I was merely pointing out the political motivation of the criticism of Gibson from the left. Many on the right have been equally critical of him. (Sullivan, JPod, etc.) As for Jackson and Sharpton, uh, last I checked they wasn't speaking at the Republican or Libertarian conventions.
(Thanks for calling me lovable, by the way. And it's always in my pants.)

a.r. - I agree that Gibson's problem shouldn't be spun in any political direction - I was pointing out and responding to the fact that sadly it has.

But I'm sorry, alcoholism is not beside the point; in this case, it is the point. Comparing what Gibson said to Hitler and Ahmedinejad is a bit much, in my humble opinion. In a world with Ahmedinejad, Hezbollah, bin Laden, and others who have sworn to destroy Israel and would dance in the streets if all Jews were exterminated, I think condemning Gibson is pretty low on my list of Things To Do To Make The World Safe For Jews.

11:56  
Anonymous kaiserD said...

liberal avenger, shut yr piehole. what exactly are you avenging, anyway? the absolute impotence and intellectual atrophy of the so-called "progressives"- the braying donkeys that make up today's Democratic party? thought so...

Cranky, i love my dad dearly, but he has said some questionable things in the past and i've called him on it. and if he said something as stupid and despicable as calling the holocaust a fiction and that rather there was a population boom among European Jews from 1933-1945, i would most definitely denounce his remarks. that's not the same as denouncing him as my father.

i don't think Hitchens harsh attitude towards religion in general has anything to do with the specific charge of him calling Gibson an antisemite. i think he's merely connecting the dots, as i am. alcoholism runs significantly in my family, also, and i have deep sympathies for those who suffer from it. but his pathetic bleatings while being arrested ("Fucking Jews… Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world...are you a Jew?") were not random, disconnected utterances. they reflected to some degree how he really feels. how much, is up to debate. no, of course he's not as bad as Hitler or Ahmedinejad- no one in their right minds is saying such. obviously, there are varying degrees of racism and antisemitism out there, but even "low-level" antisemitism needs to be condemned.

13:04  
Anonymous FIAR said...

I saw The Passion of the Christ on opening day and found it to be a powerful and moving, if flawed, piece of filmmaking.

And here I thought it was just a sick, brutal, violent, disgusting movie that baffled me as to why people found it worthwhile.

I particularly remember the scene in which Roman centurions are shown going up to Jewish houses, knocking on the doors, and giving money to Jews to speak against Jesus.

Nope, didn't notice it. I only noticed the nonstop brutality, which I wanted to stop.

Other than that, I get the Jekyll/Hyde reference. I know what it's like to snap and be someone that you are not. I will take that into consideration.

20:38  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well written piece. Enjoyable to read. Maybe I'm being pedantic but:

Alcoholism isn't a disease - there is a specific and accepted definition of a disease and alcoholism does not fulfill it. This is not to underplay the devastation it can cause, but ultimately the relief from the condition can only be effected by the sufferer. Treating it like a disease that can be 'caught' absolves the sufferer from responibility which seem to be the opposite of what the relief should be.

His comments were inexcusable and frankly his friendship with the Devlin's should not in my opinion act as some counterpoint to the opinions he has made known. In his piety he has informed the World that his wife, and Episcopalian, will not be going to heaven because she has not embraced the Roman church. This would indicate that this man can hold two separate and opposing beliefs in his head at the same time. Why should we make excuses?

14:48  
Blogger Alex Fear said...

fiar:

"Many were amazed when they saw him --beaten and bloodied, so disfigured one would scarcely know he was a person." Isaiah 52:14

Don't be fooled by the nice, clean, slightly scarred Jesus you see hanging from decorative crucifixes adorning our Churches and jewelery.

This was brutal death, bloody and violent. On account of the beatings alone, Mels film is the closest any film or recording has got to the original story.

Romans used barbed whips, which literally tore at the flesh and ripped great gashes out of their victims.

Cranky, sorry for getting off topic.

17:26  
Anonymous FIAR said...

This was brutal death, bloody and violent.

So. That has no bearing on the fact that a movie totally oriented around just that one aspect and entirely consumed with graphically depicting it isn't worthwhile in any way, shape, or form.

I don't know if Gibson was trying to prove something to himself, exorcise some internal demons, or what, but I don't see what anyone else would find compelling about it.

21:31  
Blogger Alex Fear said...

I dunno fiar,

The movie was about the last 12 hours of Jesus's life, ie. betrayal and a crucifiction.

What were you expecting?

12:21  
Anonymous kaiserD said...

something transcendent, maybe. not 2 hours of S&M and propaganda.

13:18  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

13:13  
Anonymous kaiserD said...

whoa, totally off topic, dude. TOTALLY! yet informative...i never knew Uranus held an important clue to our planet's demise.

15:55  
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19:31  
Blogger norcaljeff said...

Very well written Andy. I'm happy to see someone in the media standing up for Mel.

17:07  

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