Fall 2006, Vol. 9, No. 2

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From the Editor:
The Pope Provokes

Muslims in America

As We Forgive Those...

Polygamy Returns

At Cross Purposes in San Diego

The Passion of the DUI

Maybe the Center Holds After All



The Passion of the DUI
by Leslie A. Miller-Dancy

In case you need to be reminded, at 2:36 a.m. on July 28, L.A. County Deputy James Mee pulled over Mel Gibson driving his Lexus at 87 mph in a 45-mph zone on the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu. After smelling alcohol on Gibson’s breath and spotting an open bottle of Tequila riding shotgun, Mee administered a Breathalyzer test, which showed the actor to have a blood alcohol level of .12 percent, well over the legal limit of .08 percent.

Gibson proceeded to ask Deputy Mee, “Are you a Jew,” and then launched into barrage of anti-Semitic invective, during which he blamed Jews for “all the wars in the world.” Throwing in a sexist remark to a female officer on the scene, he continued to mutter remarks about Jewish people from the back seat of the squad car taking him to the police station. There, he was booked and placed in a detox cell. At about 9:45, having posted $5,000 bail, he was taken to his vehicle and drove away.

At 1:23 p.m., the AP moved a brief story to the effect that Gibson had been arrested for driving under the influence. Although the sheriff’s department was less than forthcoming about the incident, that evening the entertainment website posted a full account, complete with a photocopy of Mee’s police report in all its gory anti-Semitic detail. In her July 29 story, New York Times reporter Alison Hope Weiner quoted Abraham Foxman of the Anti-Defamation League, the most prominent critic of the Passion, as saying, “‘Liquor loosens the tongue of what’s in the mind and in the heart, and in his mind and in his heart is his conspiracy theory about Jews and hatred of Jews.”

The same day, Gibson issued a public apology, which read in part: “I have battled the disease of alcoholism for all of my adult life and profoundly regret my horrific relapse. I apologize for any behavior unbecoming of me in my inebriated state and have already taken necessary steps to ensure my return to health.”

To which Foxman responded, “Mel Gibson’s apology is unremorseful and insufficient….It does not go to the essence of his bigotry and his anti-Semitism. His tirade finally reveals his true self and shows that his protestations during the debate over his film The Passion of the Christ, that he is such a tolerant, loving person, were a sham.”

All of a sudden, the passion over The Passion was back in force.

From the spring of 2003 through the movie’s release on Easter 2004, a huge amount of media attention had been lavished on whether Gibson’s retelling of Jesus’ last days was anti-Semitic, and whether Gibson was himself an anti-Semite.

Yes, the movie included scenes that traded in anti-Semitic stereotypes. Yes, Gibson’s father was a notorious Holocaust denier whose views Gibson refused to disavow. Yes, Gibson believed in a schismatic form of Catholicism that rejected the Second Vatican Council’s opening to those of other faiths.

But also, many Gibson fans, learned and otherwise, denied seeing anything anti-Semitic in The Passion. And for his part, Gibson vigorously rejected the accusation—for example, telling Diane Sawyer in a 2004 interview on ABC’s Primetime: “[T]o be anti-Semitic is to be un-Christian, and I’m not.”

Hollywood, eying the movie’s $600 million gross, decided to take Gibson at his word, and proceeded to reward the actor/director/producer with promising new projects, including an ABC miniseries on, of all things, the Holocaust. The episode on the Pacific Coast Highway seemed solid evidence that he had not deserved the benefit of the doubt.

Blogging on on July 30, superagent Ari Emanuel declared, “People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line. There are times in history when standing up against bigotry and racism is more important than money.”

“By now, Mel Gibson is officially a public relations train wreck,” began C.W. Nevius’ August 1 story in the San Francisco Chronicle. The same day, in an editorial slugged “Mad Mel,” the paper suggested that Gibson seek out “a rehab program for backward thinking.”

For his part, Gibson had another go at apologizing, authorizing a statement that read in part, “I want to apologize specifically to everyone in the Jewish community for the vitriolic and harmful words that I said to a law enforcement officer the night I was arrested on a DUI charge.”

Foxman declared himself satisfied. “This is the apology we had sought and requested,” he said. “We are glad that Mel Gibson has finally owned up to the fact that he made anti-Semitic remarks, and his apology sounds sincere.”

Meanwhile, ABC announced it was canceling the Holocaust miniseries. Still, the Hollywood elite did not exactly distinguish itself in standing up against bigotry.

In a blistering August 2 piece headlined “The shame is that so few say ‘shame,’” Los Angeles Times media critic Patrick Goldstein noted that Amy Pascal of Sony Pictures was the only studio chief to speak on the record against Gibson, and she not very boldly.

“This is how Hollywood works. The only morality in this town that really means anything is the bottom line. When the president of Harvard said women made lousy scientists, his colleagues jumped all over him. When Atlanta Braves relief pitcher John Rocker made a series of nasty ethnic slurs about various minorities, he was roundly criticized and dumped from the team.

“But when an actor-director who has won an Oscar, had a string of action hits, and made ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ one of the biggest-grossing movies in recent history, has an anti-Semitic hissy fit, the Big Kahunas of Hollywood are silent. DreamWorks’ Jeffrey Katzenberg and Steven Spielberg, Warners’ Barry Meyer, Universal’s Ron Meyer, Paramount’s Brad Grey—the list goes on and on—are happy to weigh in on censorship and movie piracy. But bad behavior by a big movie star? Not a chance.

“Not to let Gibson off the hook, since he is the real bad guy here, but the silence of Hollywood Jews has been responsible for many of the most shameful chapters in industry history. When Hitler was killing Jews in Europe during the Holocaust, Hollywood studio chiefs were largely mum, rarely giving money to Jewish refugees or—God forbid—making movies about the subject until long after all 6 million Jews were dead.”

But beyond LaLaland, there was no difficulty summoning moral outrage. “Gibson’s rant sounds to me like classic anti-Semitism that goes beyond the country-club ‘not our sort of people’ brand of casual bigotry,” wrote the Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson in his August 1 column. “The…episode is a useful reminder that pure anti-Semitism is not a thing of the past—that there are still people who believe Jews are evil or all-powerful or whatever, and for whom Jewishness itself is an unforgivable sin.”

To be sure, there was some difference of opinion over the role of alcohol in the affair.

“[B]eing drunk doesn’t lead one to say what he truly believes; being drunk leads one to say anything that pops into his fogged brain,” opined Wisconsin State Journal columnist William Wineke August 2. Judging from the number of angry letters to the editor, a good number of his readers disagreed.

“I have to say that I find his apology rather more offensive than his original remarks,” Rod Little wrote in the London Spectator August 5. “[H]is implication that drunkenness actually created the belief that Jews are wicked and cause wars is as laughable and insulting as the notion that the Jews were responsible for the Second World War.”

On August 6, New York Times reporter John Schwartz canvassed the experts to answer the question, “Is It the Drunk Or the Drink Doing the Talking?” The consensus: in vino veritas.

All in all, by the time the story was put out of its misery by the arrest of alleged Jon Benet Ramsey murderer John Mark Karr August 17, even the supermarket tabloids were referring to Gibson as Mad Mel.

That day, a trio of Boston Herald reporters recapped what had happened when actors Denis Leary and Lenny Clarke paid a visit to the broadcast booth at a Red Sox game two nights earlier:

“The hijinks started innocently enough with Leary asking if [Kevin] Youkilis, nicknamed ‘The Greek God of Walks’ in the bestseller Moneyball was, indeed Greek. When Leary was informed that Youkilis was Jewish, the comedians took off with a hit and run. ‘Where’s Mel Gibson now?  He’s in rehab and Youkilis is at first base! You happy, Braveheart?’ bellowed Leary.”

From the evidence at hand, the answer was: probably not.


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