Great wits are sure to drunken Jew-baiting near allied


In Salon, Neal Gabler, the peppy and likable Bob Balaban of movie penseurs, takes a tour through the mind of Mel Gibson. The article contains some stuff that I'd have to say is just not true, such as Gabler's broad claim that "evangelical Christianity…has long had a tinge of racism and anti-Semitism." (You could just as easily say that the 100-year-old Azusa Street pentecostal mission, to name one example, was a rare if not unique island of anti-raciscm, and I'll let tireless Abe Foxman speak to the issue of evangelical philo-Semitism.) But it's all worth it for this peroration:

But as he yells he is unlikely to be marginalized as a bigot, despite the charge by one Hollywood publicist that Gibson had committed a "nuclear disaster," because bigotry in Bush America is just another salient in the battle against the left wing. In the end, Mel Gibson, who avoided the code words and spoke more plainly than his supporters, may not have died for our sins, but he did get drunk for them.

Now let us consider things we shouldn't consider. Maybe the horrendous beliefs and prejudices of creative types are part of what makes them interesting. Take a different perspective on the old Merchant of Venice handwringing discussion. Critics twist themselves into Gordian pretzels trying to prove Shakespeare's genius transcends the ugliness of the material, or that Shylock is actually the hero, or (best rationalization of all, courtesy of Harold Bloom), that Marlowe's The Jew of Malta was actually an ironic camp classic and that Shakespeare was a sucker who took Marlowe literally while ripping him off. But maybe it's just the opposite; maybe Old Swanny found something in picking on The Jews that really appealed to him, that fired his creativity. To take another example, would T.S. Eliot be as interesting a poet if he had decided not to communicate his Show-Me State disgust for The Jews, The Irish, and anybody else who wasn't "classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion"?

Laura Miller flirted with this idea in her wonderful appreciation of H.P. Lovecraft as an artist driven by the darkest of impulses. There are other examples: Ernest Hemingway has become a "problem" writer for entirely legitimate questions about his anti-Semitism and misogyny, but how interesting would The Sun Also Rises be if not for the weird combination of sympathy and loathing that went into creating Robert Cohn; why else would you read "The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber" if not for the full-bore girl-hating that motivates that story? (I say this knowing that Irish-Americans have suffered relatively little bigotry and I personally have suffered exactly zero parts per million of meaningful bigotry, so disagree away.)

As for the specific case of Mel Gibson, well… I'm not an auteurist—more of a death-of-the-auteurist. But I'm willing to credit Mad Mel with some creative input in all his projects, and I think I see a pattern developing. The Road Warrior gets plenty of juice, the precious juice, from the horror implicit in Wez' love for the Golden Youth. Braveheart as far as I can tell is an entire movie set up for just one payoff scene: the brilliant sequence where the king (the real hero of the movie) throws the gay boyfriend out the window. Mel's performance in the otherwise unremarkable What Women Want is interesting because he spends substantial portions of the movie accessing his inner tooty-fruity. I liked The Passion a lot, and I didn't notice the anti-Semitism even though I had been briefed. Believers tell me it's full of classical anti-Semitic imagery that I was too fat and happy to notice, and I'll confess I haven't kept up on classical anti-Semitic imagery since I let my subscription to Der Stürmer lapse (problem with their fulfillment department, don't ask). But I'm going not too far out on a limb to say that that film is worth watching not despite its racial, cultural, and homoerotic baggage but because of it. This thesis doesn't adequately explain Mel Gibson's greatest performance—his voice work in Chicken Run—but I think there's enough here to declare a trend.

So Mel Gibson's a horrible person. Who would want to live in a country where no artistes are horrible people?