And so, actor Mel Gibson has been exposed as a foul-mouthed, raging misogynist. No surprise here. His anti-Semitic rants (“F—ing Jews. … The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world”) were a clue to his woman-hatred (“You look like a f–ing pig in heat and if you get raped by a pack of niggers it will be your fault … you gold-digging whore”). Don’t ask me why such a connection exists but it usually does.
On the other hand, I know feminists who are also anti-Semites. Yes, I am talking about true, old-fashioned anti-Semitism, not just about fashionably “new” (anti-Israel) anti-Semitism. Over the years, I have experienced both kinds, up close and personal from true-blue feminists, as have others.
Shall we say that anti-Semitism is the one prejudice that serves to unite people who are otherwise at odds? How goodly useful are my people, what light unto the nations we provide.
As far as Gibson is concerned: those who admire his work are not obliged to stop seeing or renting (or even funding) his films. Raging misogynists, Jew-haters, and anti-black racists are a dime a dozen; most are not artists.
But alas, many are.
There have always been great artists whose genius and artistry have not saved them from indulging in the most vulgar human prejudices. The young and divine Arthur Rimbaud turned his back on French poetry and became a gun-runner and a slave-dealer; the incomparable operatic composer, Richard Wagner, was a dangerous Jew-hater whose most magnificent operas are shot through with symbols of Jewish greed and evil; the undeniably great poets, Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot, were both serious anti-Semites. And,my friend, the journalist Ruth Gruber, has documented the faint whiff of British-style anti-Semitism which she experienced when she met and corresponded with the iconic Virginia Woolf.
As for Mel Gibson’s apparently horrifying anti-womanism: The two most cherished Romantic poets, Lord Byron and Percy Bysshe Shelley, were “monsters of lying, meanness, cruelty, and treachery” towards their wives, mistresses, and children; the great Charles Dickens was as mean as a rattlesnake towards his poor wife Catherine; and Tolstoy was no walk-in-the-park for his long suffering wife Sophia.
Thus, we should praise the work but not confuse it with its creator. We may learn from the work but we may also learn from the creator’s life, deeds, actions. This is why “covering up” the sins of those whom we respect (be they clergymen, politicians, artists, or athletes) is unwise as well as educationally dangerous. One may also find certain vulgar prejudices running through the work as well. While it is important to note it, one need not condemn the entire work because of it.
Once, long ago, a German magazine asked me to review Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ. I had not even wanted to see the film — but how else could I review it? And so I went. I did not believe that the film would incite Christian riots against the Jews.
Against my will, I appreciated its power. Despite Gibson’s obsession with physical violence and cruelty, I understood some of his aesthetic and religious reasons. He wanted Christian believers to really see, feel, absorb, appreciate the suffering that sacrifice demands.
And then I spoke to many Christians who were deeply moved by The Passion, reminded anew of the mortal pain that Jesus endured in order that they could be redeemed. Here is a small part of what I published in German and later in Midstream magazine:
The Passion is cinematographically gorgeous. Like Richard Wagner and Leni Reifenstal, the technique is sensational, commanding, consummately moving. This makes Gibson’s view of the Jews more powerful, more dangerous, and more believable. I am not saying that Gibson is a genius but that his vision and technique work. The viewer is meant to feel both a sickened horror and a profound guilt about Jesus’s extraordinary suffering — but the viewer is also meant to blame the Jews for it. As many Christian theologians and scholars have noted, Gibson’s vision is neither historic nor balanced. Without evidence, Gibson presents Pontius Pilate and Pilate’s wife Claudia as sympathetic Jesus-lovers whose hands are forced by the Roman-occupied but ungovernable and rebellious Jews. (Scholars say that the Romans crucified 100,000 Jews; how reluctant could they have been?)
Gibson depicts the Jews as remarkably sadistic and bloodthirsty. The Cohen Ha’Gadol (High Priest) and his fellow priests demand that Jesus be executed; grimly, they watch the scourging; stiff-neckedly, they still demand Jesus’s death. With their black-and-white prayer shawls, Gibson’s Jews look remarkably like religious male Jews do today. Did Gibson want to leave nothing to chance, did he want to ensure that the lynch mob knows exactly whom to hate, whom to kill? Ironically, Gibson’s ancient Jewish mobs strongly resemble present day Palestinian Muslim lynching mobs who burn Israeli and American flags, dance and hand out candies when a suicide bomber succeeds in killing civilians, and who savagely lynched two Israeli reservists in Ramallah.
Perhaps I am most afraid of how the film will be used in the Islamic/Islamist world, where Jew-hatred has reached surreal and toxic levels. Despite the fact that Muslims today are the ones who are, in reality, slaughtering Christians in their churches — this film might provide yet more negative fodder for pre-existing Islamic views about Jews. (I have learned that The Passion recently opened to rave reviews in Syria- and Iran-occupied Beirut, Lebanon.) Hateful propaganda against the Jews is daily fare in every Arab and Muslim country on earth. Jews are depicted as lice, bugs, rats, and shown as slaughtering children for ritual purpose. Israelis and Jews are also shown slaughtering non-Jewish children for ritual purpose and committing fake massacres.
Gibson is dangerous because he is both vulnerable as a human being and powerful as an actor and director. He is coarse and a bully. He allegedly slugged the mother of his infant, knocking two teeth loose, as she was holding their baby. She taped his threats; true, she might have spliced-and-diced these tapes but still, even if his words are out of context, they are his words and they are terrible.
Perhaps Gibson is hitting Grigorieva because he blames her, but not himself, for his own lust, and for the consequences of his own actions: the breakup of his long-time marriage and the utter meltdown of his public image.