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Mel Gibson's Rant as Profound Clue

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One can look at the Mel Gibson scandal as celebrity gossip. But it's actually a very important clue about the meaning of our times.

Where Gibson became a node in the spiritual/moral/political body of contemporary America was with his 2004 film, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST. It may be difficult now, six years later, to recall how intense was the controversy this Gibson film ignited, a division that corresponded significantly with the intensifying division between devout supporters and alarmed opponents of the Bush presidency.

THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST was a depiction of the final hours of Jesus's life on earth. Supporters of the film (mostly conservative evangelical Christians) and its critics (mostly liberal Christians and secularists, as well as Jews) became embroiled in disputation over two main issues. One concerned the question of whether the film was an expression of that virulent spirit of anti-Semitism that has deformed the history of the West over so many centuries, as some critics alleged, or whether it was just a faithful rendering of the Christian Gospels. The other dispute was over the film's pervasive violence, with the film's defenders emphasizing that such a depiction of Christ's torment served to emphasize the central Christian truth of the Savior's great sacrifice on behalf of humankind while the critics argued that the violence and sadism had become the film's message, a manifestation of a spirit very different from that represented by Jesus Christ.

Now we have the tape of Mel Gibson's vicious and ugly rant at his erstwhile girlfriend. (And we also have the evidence of Gibson's other unsettling displays of his inner life.) The rant provides us evidence--so it can plausibly be argued--that reveals which side in that controversy was right.

This assertion rests on two propositions.

The first of these is that both the rant and the film are expressions of the same spirit. Admittedly, this is not self-evident. But is it such a stretch? Unless we posit some sort of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde cleavage of this one person into two, are we not to understand that the person who made the film operated from the same underlying structure of thought and feeling as the one who, we now see, is so ready to spew hateful and violent imagery in his dealings with other human beings?

This point is strengthened by an examination of how the rant (and the other such displays from Gibson) touches upon those two areas of controversy surrounding the film.

First, there was the question: was the film anti-Semitic, an incitement to the kind of hatred that has darkened Western history?
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One relevant thing we now know is that Mel Gibson was ready, when arrested on a DUI, to declare to the police: ""F***ing Jews...the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world." But beyond the matter of the Jews, in Gibson's diatribes we see a consistent tendency to cleave the world into groups divided by hatred and interacting in a kind of state of war. At his sometime ladylove, he hurls this in his fury: "[I]f you get raped by a pack of n*****s, it will be your fault." Even the nature of his interaction with this woman displays a proclivity to turn relationship into war, with the Other treated with utter derision and scorn.

Are we to believe that the anti-Semitism some saw in this film, the spirit of hatred--was merely a matter of being true to the Gospel?

And then there is the issue of the violence. How are we to understand the manner in which Gibson chose to depict what is, theologically, the central event in the Christian story, the moment in all of human history in which history becomes transformed from a condition of guilt and sin to one of redemption and salvation?

Michael Medved, during that 2004 time of controversy over the film, wrote that "The movie is 126 minutes long, and I would guess that at least 100 of those minutes, maybe more, are concerned specifically and graphically with the details of the torture and death of Jesus." It is, Medved said, "the most violent film I have ever seen."

Are we to buy the idea that the violence was simply a matter of fidelity to the Gospels? A Wikipedia article observes: ""Although only one sentence in three of the Gospels mentions Jesus's flogging, and it is unmentioned in the fourth, The Passion of the Christ devotes ten minutes to the portrayal of the flogging."
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Are we to accept the justification, given at the time by Mel Gibson himself, for why his depiction was so full of violence and cruelty. Gibson said that he wanted it to be "shocking" and "extreme" so that the audience will see "the enormity of that sacrifice; to see that someone could endure that and still come back with love and forgiveness, even through extreme pain and suffering and ridicule"?

We know more about Mel Gibson's relationship to violence, now that we have heard him respond to his girlfriend's challenge to him, asking "what kind of man" would hit a woman in the face while she was holding their baby: "You know what?," Gibson answered. "You f***ing deserved it." This, on the same tape in which he's entertaining the fantasy of the mother of his child being gang raped.

Gibson said it was for "love and forgiveness" that Christ's passion opened the way, despite the torments. But what sign is there that in Gibson's heart there's room for such things as love and forgiveness?

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)

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This is not in any way personal, Andrew. Normally ... by Andy_Pandy on Wednesday, Jul 14, 2010 at 11:01:57 PM
"He makes movies to sell to the great unwashed and... by Aurora on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 12:32:19 AM
Perhaps you don't find Mr Schmookler's article int... by Stan Brooks on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 1:26:30 AM
So the news is ? As you have said, history is repl... by Andy_Pandy on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 6:56:01 AM
"Unless, of course, you are telling me that Mr. G... by Aurora on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 8:21:43 AM
"In some spheres, I understand that he is, of sort... by Andy_Pandy on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:18:10 AM
I do not understand what "just a movie" is suppose... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:48:42 AM
I used that phrase as the best possible defense th... by Aurora on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 10:07:48 AM
"The forces within a culture express themselves in... by Aurora on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 4:39:57 PM
You are incorrect: early Christianity was extremel... by bruce powell on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 11:17:40 AM
Perhaps, Bruce Powell, you were replying to someth... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 12:22:55 PM
And I must apologize for making an inaccurate clai... by Stan Brooks on Friday, Jul 16, 2010 at 1:17:46 AM
I agree with your post, except for one word. The R... by Richard Pietrasz on Friday, Jul 16, 2010 at 8:25:06 PM
we must understand that in simple terms Gibson and... by Mark Sashine on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 7:46:43 AM
Gibson and others never learned...they are blind, ... by Debbie S on Friday, Jul 16, 2010 at 4:28:33 PM
A woman I have known a long time received a video ... by Margaret Bassett on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 8:32:46 AM
Just a couple quick comments.Re this statement, fr... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:07:30 AM
' us not in our tombs, seek us in the heart... by Ned Lud on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:27:13 AM
The film made very little impact on me or my commu... by Andy_Pandy on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 9:58:58 AM
Andy_Pandy writes: " I think you are wrong about t... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 10:37:27 AM
I was ignorant of the subsequent place Mr. Gibson ... by Andy_Pandy on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 10:57:32 AM
...... as an agnostic. Indeed, the apparently hist... by Natalie Oberman on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 11:57:47 AM
At one level, Natalie Oberman, your comment is ind... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 12:39:40 PM
Upon reflection, I think I'd like to retract my fi... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 1:08:31 PM
I spent seven years in Alabama-age 10 to 17 and wa... by Donald on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 12:12:30 PM
Because I saw enough movies that Jesus was nailed ... by Debbie S on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 1:09:00 PM
Is that Mel was drunk when he went on his Rants an... by Simple Truth on Thursday, Jul 15, 2010 at 7:42:18 PM
I also agree with it, except for the part that wom... by Andy_Pandy on Friday, Jul 16, 2010 at 1:50:36 PM
Yeah, that really was over the top Andrew! I'm gla... by Natalie Oberman on Friday, Jul 16, 2010 at 5:40:28 PM
Ms. Oberman, you are making me reconsider my retra... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Friday, Jul 16, 2010 at 7:30:09 PM
about the gullibilty of Evangelicals and goes no d... by Andy_Pandy on Saturday, Jul 17, 2010 at 1:56:43 PM
Andrew, you've played the war-monger bloodlust car... by Natalie Oberman on Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 10:08:59 PM
You see no coherent argument made. I think it's th... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 11:28:13 PM
The way I think about the forces and patterns that... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Sunday, Jul 18, 2010 at 11:29:31 PM
Ahhh, the "evil" card. How about I play the "inacc... by Natalie Oberman on Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010 at 2:03:05 PM
""..your not being impressed with the coherence of... by Natalie Oberman on Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010 at 2:12:40 PM
If I said something that could reasonably be const... by Andrew Bard Schmookler on Wednesday, Jul 21, 2010 at 2:56:25 PM
I agree with the majority of what you say. But, th... by Richard Pietrasz on Thursday, Jul 22, 2010 at 8:49:16 PM