frenchpony (frenchpony) wrote,

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Apologies -- The Art Of The Possible

So there I was, minding my own business, reading Sartre like the good little graduate student that I am, and what do I come across on This. In which Mel Gibson, actor, alcoholic, and anti-Semite, has begun the ritual of public apologies. He blames his racist rant following his DUI arrest on the alcohol, expresses the requisite wish to kiss and make up, talks about how he's Getting Help.

In general, Mel Gibson doesn't have much impact on my daily life. I saw Braveheart, and I thought it was not a great movie, but that's all of his work that I've seen. I listened to the debates surrounding The Passion of the Christ, but I didn't go to see it, primarily because I had better things to spend money on than "Jesus: The Slasher Flick." But then, Mel Gibson, under the influence of a drug that is notorious for removing inhibitions, let loose with how he really feels about Jews. . . in some sense, how he feels about me:

The interview with Sawyer is the first time Gibson has spoken to the media since sparking a scandal by unleashing what he later called "vitriolic and harmful words" during his arrest. Gibson told the arresting officer: "The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world," and asked him, "Are you a Jew?"

"The last thing I want to be is that kind of monster," he tells Sawyer in the interview.

He completely misses the point. It's too late for that kind of regret. Gibson already is "that kind of monster." The alcohol did not take away his genial personality and replace it with an anti-Semitic one. Alcohol doesn't do that. It stripped away the social politeness that keeps Gibson from expressing his anti-Semitism in public on a regular basis. The article talks about how Gibson is working on the alcohol problem, serving probation, paying a fine, attending rehab, all that jazz. It's less than clear about what he might be doing to work on the entirely separate anti-Semitism problem. Alcohol rehab won't touch that underlying issue, and it doesn't look like Gibson is willing to, either. He goes on, according to the article:

The 50-year-old actor-director says he knows there are some in Hollywood who will refuse to work with him because of those statements.

"I feel sad because they've obviously been hurt and frightened and offended enough to feel that they have to do that," he says. "Um, and it's their choice. There's nothing I can do about that."

This was the bit that really bugged me. He's not accepting any responsibility in the matter. Potential employers in Hollywood have "obviously been hurt and frightened." Yes. But who was it who hurt and frightened them? This was not a random act of chance. The Hollywood people were not suddenly hurt and frightened out of the blue. Mel Gibson hurt and frightened them, but he does not admit to that. If they elect not to work with him, knowing how he feels about Jews, it's "their choice. There's nothing I can do about that."

Wrong. There is something he can do. He can stop mouthing empty apologies and work on changing his own attitude. He doesn't need alcohol rehab. That time could be far better spent in serious contemplation of his own anti-Semitism, working to understand it and then break it down. Mel Gibson does not have the right to sit with Diane Sawyer and say that he's waiting for this to blow over, that it's up to the people he hurt to relax, loosen up, and begin to work with him again. He should be the one going to them. He should be the one to acknowledge that, yes, he has a despicable mindset, that he is "that kind of monster," and spell out how he plans to change that. He must do the work to earn their forgiveness.

I said at the beginning of this that I was being a good little grad student and reading Sartre. The particular work is his 1944 essay Anti-Semite and Jew. I would most heartily commend this book to Gibson. It's not long -- my copy is 150 small pages with relatively large print. It's not hard to read -- Sartre's prose, even in translation, is fluent and lucid. In this short, clear essay, Sartre analyzes anti-Semitism as the irrational, destructive passion that it is, and then goes on to describe, in devastating detail, the effect that it has on its targets. The fear, the self-doubt, the basic insecurity that comes when one realizes that, no matter how successful one might be in life, one will still retain this particular stigma in the eyes of the rest of the (French, in this case) nation. It's not nearly as bad in the U.S. in 2006 as it was in France in 1944, but certainly, echoes of that fear remain today. Just as anti-Semitism hasn't gone away, Jewish unease has not quite died down.

And whose fault is that? Mel Gibson thinks that "it's their choice." Sartre would beg to disagree:

Whose is the fault? It is our eyes that reflect to him the unacceptable image that he wishes to dissimulate. It is our words and our gestures -- all our words and all our gestures -- our anti-Semitism, but equally our condescending liberalism -- that have poisoned him. (p. 135)

It is easy enough to understand this repugnance. [towards the newly-founded ADL] But we who are not Jews, should we share it? Richard Wright, the Negro writer, said recently: "There is no Negro problem in the United States, there is only a White problem." In the same way, we must say that anti-Semitism is not a Jewish problem; it is our problem. Since we are not guilty and yet run the risk of being its victims -- yes, we too -- we must be very blind indeed not to see that it is our concern in the highest degree. It is not up to the Jews first of all to form a militant league against anti-Semitism; it is up to us. (pp. 151-152)

Gibson cannot blame the alcohol. He cannot use it as an excuse. He cannot sit and look contrite and wait for Jewish moviemakers to come to him and offer forgiveness. He must own up to what he did, what he said, what he is. The passive voice hides his responsibility, and he must accept that responsibility. Only then can an apology and a humble request for forgiveness have any meaning.

Ugh. Off the soapbox now. Normally, I couldn't care less about Hollywood news. But this really rubbed me the wrong way. I don't like being insulted.
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