Here’s a syndrome for the books: A renowned filmmaker gets stinking drunk.
Angry and bizarre words then spew forth – from the lips (or pens) of others.
Mel Gibson’s drunken rant after his arrest for DUI, about “the [expletive] Jews” who “are responsible for all the wars in the world,” was just the beginning. Closely following was a battle between conservative bloggers Hugh Hewitt and (independent) Andrew Sullivan. In a series of bitter volleys, Sullivan charged that Hewitt is a fanatical “Christianist” who won’t condemn Gibson, and Hewitt angrily hurled back that Sullivan “has never defined the term.”
And all this after Hewitt had written that the media – of which he is a member in top standing – focus too much on trivia, such as Gibson’s vitriolic tantrum.
Not so trivial is this question: Why would the fiercely pro-Israel Hewitt, renowned smiter of anti-Semites hapless enough to call in to his radio show, run interference for Gibson? He concedes that Gibson’s “anti-Semitic venom” was “repulsive” but then proceeds to attack not Gibson but Gibson’s critics, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman, for lacking “any sense of priority.”
Would Hewitt act similarly if, in some alternative universe, the media were to jump all over filmmaker Michael Moore for dedicating a book to the late Hamas ally Rachel Corrie? I can only speculate – so I will: No.
Hewitt’s deference toward Gibson is all the more puzzling since the latter has expressed “kinship” with Moore and admires his antiwar film for making “some salient points.”
Then there’s conservative radio host and columnist Dennis Prager, another strong advocate for Israel, who on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” compared Gibson to Richard Nixon, who “spoke anti-Semitic things” but saved Israel in the war of 1973. His point: “I don’t care about people’s hearts. I care about people’s deeds.”
To borrow from the English philosopher Jeremy Bentham, this is nonsense on stilts. First, Gibson hasn’t done anything for Jews to “outweigh” his thoughts against them – and isn’t likely to. If he thinks Jews cause all wars, including the one Israel just fought in Lebanon, whose side do you suppose he’s on?
Second, one’s deeds tend to follow one’s heart. (Nixon, as president, had self-interested reasons to help Israel.) At a time when anti-Jewish violence is occurring everywhere from Seattle to Sydney, does Prager not “care about” the hearts of David Duke, Cindy Sheehan or the legion of Jew-hating imams worldwide whose “deeds” consist mostly of expressing their blackest thoughts? He should, because many people apparently listen.
Note that when Prager detects hearts filled with “antipathy toward fundamentalist Christians,” he cares – as is his privilege – enough to pen a piece in protest. But concerning Gibson, “people’s hearts” don’t matter. Unfortunately for Prager, coherency does.
And then there’s pro-Israel radio host and writer Michael Medved, who feels “betrayed” by Gibson and so lashes out atnaturally, Abe Foxman again, for appointing himself “the ultimate judge of Gibson’s damnation.”
As to Gibson’s “anti-Semitic demons” (the devil made him do it?), Medved thinks we should back off and allow the poor man to “try to control or hide them.” I’m sure Gibson and his P.R. flacks are trying to do just that, though I personally prefer my anti-Semites in the bright light of day.
Notwithstanding Gibson’s “moment of vulnerability,” Medved wants us to know that “The Passion of the Christ” is “still the same movie, frame for frame, line for Aramaic-and-Latin line” as it was before. Since he’s highlighted the subtext here, let me respond: No, it isn’t.
We now have a further glimpse into the author’s mind, from which we might reflect on his intentions. And as many conservatives will tell you about the law, one may look beyond the “four corners” of a work to the author’s “original intent.” The same is true of films, literature or other interpretative arenas.
For instance, fair-minded people regard the Protocols of the Elders of Zion negatively as a vicious attempt to defame the Jews. One could rationally hold that view even if – as some argue is true of “The Passion” – the work had resulted in not one wit of violence toward Jews anywhere. But suppose history had been different. Suppose the same work had been a parody, whose purpose was to poke fun at the idea of grand Jewish machinations. The work would be word for word the same, but its context – and its meaning – would be different.