As we all now know, Mel Gibson is, in his own words, "f—ed". The news of Gibson’s DUI and subsequent verbal pogrom comes in the midst of a "hot" Middle Eastern conflict that certain all-too-delighted commentators are calling World War III, so it takes on a special significance — probably too much significance, as is almost always the case with scandals involving celebrities. Still, Gibson is a major totem in the so-called culture wars (golly, but we love that metaphor!), thanks to that little bleeding Jesus movie he did; his behavior is significant, whether he — or we — like it or not. So before Mel’s tequila-pickled liver is dried and FedEx-ed to Frank Rich with some fava beans and a nice Chianti, let’s do a little roundup of the day’s commentary — and spin.
In fact, let’s begin with the spin. I received this mass-email at around 3:15 p.m. today:
In light of the controversy surrounding Mel Gibson’s arrest for diving [sic] under the influence and subsequent comments, I would like to make Dr. Ted Baehr, movie and television critic, available for interview.
Dr. Baehr, Chairman of the Christian Film and Television, says while Gibson’s behavior is shocking, his apology should be taken to heart.
“Mel’s behavior was shocking. However, he was very quick to repent and ask for forgiveness. No one is infallible. We are all fallen and we all need forgiveness. Mel is certainly no exception.” – Said Dr. Baehr.
Dr Baehr, you may or may not know, is a cultural commentator whose unfailing au courant film reviews and pop-crit analyses lean ever-so-slightly to the right. (Who knew The Ant Bully "pushes communism" while "mocking God"? Here I was, foolishly thinking it was just plain old bad.) Dr. Baehr made his bones defending The Passion of the Christ against charges of anti-Semitism — and calling the film’s detractors "anti-Christ." (Personally, I found The Passion more dispiritingly sadomasochistic than wildly anti-Semitic, a troubled Christian’s engorged, enraged expression of longing for a very atavistic, very un-Christian blood-god. But that’s just the personal opinion of a lapsed Southern Methodist who grew up watching similarly toned passion plays. Of course, ours didn’t have the blue-skinned gay Satan or jibbering demon dwarves, but maybe we weren’t interpreting the Scriptures as crazily, er, closely as old Mel — who would, at any rate, probably agree with my Baptist friends that Methodism is just a minor branch of atheism.)
Anyway, Dr. Baehr’s decided to line up behind Gibson on this one, hoping some premature and strategic forgiveness will shield the culture warriors’ richest and most important Hollywood asset. It will be interesting to see if other soldiers of the religious right will follow suit — I’m not sure how they feel about anti-Semites (it varies with the bombing campaign), but I know they don’t like drinkers, with one notable exception. Is Gibson himself — an Uber-Catholic who happened to spark a Christ-centric phenomenon at the box office — important enough to the political wing of the evangelical movement to warrant saving? His next movie isn’t exactly a slam-dunk with the Sunday set. And what evangelical appeal it possesses is mostly negative: an advanced yet tragically pre-Christian society extinguishes itself. (D’uh!)
At the other end of the spectrum, we have the always entertaining Christopher Hitchens, who gives Gibson what his movies suggest he’s always craved: an epic evisceration. (Admit it: You never even noticed Gibson was also anti-English.) As always, Hitchens, who was captain of the debate team at Berserker High, defends his position with such snarlingly hyperarticulate ferocity, the reader finds himself edging quietly away, even if he’s in general agreement. Congrats, Chris: You’ve made criticizing Gibson seem almost as batty as siding with him. That’s an achievement. (If they find me tomorrow with an exquisitely turned phrase through the heart, you’ll know who to question.)
But forget the high priests for a second: Let’s take this to the street. Salon’s already got a Mel Gibson parody video contest going, though I suspect the winning entry will be the elusive arrest videotape itself, whenever it turns up. At any rate, it’ll be well-nigh impossible to top the experts. But if you’re going to try, I suggest keeping it beautifully simple.
More updates as events warrant. If Gibson doesn’t die of ambient opprobrium before Wednesday, this could mature into one heck of a debate. Or one hell of a mud-circus. Either way, stay tuned.