So, why doesn’t Mel Gibson have a Jewish problem?
IF EVER you browse the pages of a gossip magazine, you will learn that celebrities are no different to you or me. “We want to be treated like everybody else,” they say plaintively, from their Malibu mansions and personal Jacuzzis, champagne glass in hand. “We just want a normal life.” Of course, as everyone knows, it’s nonsense. They don’t want to be treated like us at all, or they wouldn’t hire publicists, tweet self-congratulatory missives and wear couture dresses for the photo-shoots that accompany exposés about their emotional issues.
Still, I think it wouldn’t hurt to give the famous and notorious what so many of them claim to want. Next time, a “big name” does something that makes them appear rather small — makes a racist jibe, say, or acts well beyond the realms of common decency — let’s treat them as we would treat anyone. And let’s start with someone whom scandal should have shamed completely long ago; Mel Gibson.
Gibson — or rather, his allegedly unsavoury views on Jews — was back in the news this week, after the writer of a now-binned (and controversial from the outset) film about Judah Maccabee accused him of antisemitism, of holding a belief in the blood libel, of questioning the Holocaust and of a host of other revolting misdemeanours.
Six years after he was arrested for drunk-driving and launched into the now-famous tirade in which he reportedly blamed “the Jews” for “all the wars in the world”, and 16 months after Jewish actress Winona Ryder recalled his “ovendodger” jokes, another instalment of Mad Mel comes to a screen near you.
But, in the spirit of the recent Seder question, why will this scandal be any different to the others? After the first time, there were whispers that Mel would struggle to work again, yet last year Hollywood (or Warner Bros) came knocking once again with, absurdly, a green light for his dream of a film about a Jewish hero. Not exactly Siberia, then. Who was it who said that the Jews were in charge of the movies?
Overwhelmingly, the response seems to be that, yes, it’s appalling, but, well, it’s just Mel being Mel. We already know he’s got some funny views and done some shocking things; here are a few more. It’s just part of his Hollywood hell-raiser profile — it doesn’t mean anything.
It’s not just him, and it’s certainly doesn’t just apply to views on Jews. Roman Polanski might be persona non grata in the US, but everywhere else his reputation for genius, and his ability to make successful films, remains untarnished by that inconvenient business of sexually assaulting a 13-year-old girl. Eric Clapton’s Enoch Powell-flavoured diatribe about Britain becoming a “black colony” merits a mention on his Wikipedia page, but did little lasting damage.
More recently, singer Chris Brown remains popular despite his conviction for viciously assaulting his then girlfriend, Rihanna.
Designer John Galliano got his comeuppance in the courts last year, but for too long media commentators and fashionistas were on the stump defending him as troubled and tormented; a special soul who should be held to different standards. It’s the approach that is so often in evidence when it comes to Ken Livingstone and, yes, Boris Johnson — both of whom have got away with far more grievous gaffes in a day than most politicians survive in a lifetime.
Mel has, inevitably, denied the latest claims as the ramblings of a spurned writer. Even if true, a few antisemitic jibes are just words; they leave no scars, only a foul taste. If Rihanna’s physical bruises aren’t enough to bring down a star, why would something that is merely insulting and offensive be? Jews in Hollywood have thick skins; surely they’ve heard and withstood far worse?
But, back in the world of mere mortals, crimes are also punished for intention to harm, not just for outcome. An ordinary Joe who launches into a racist tirade stands to suffer the consequences — in Britain, just ask Muamba-taunter Liam Stacey if you’re not convinced — so why not an extraordinary one?
I may be proved wrong, but I imagine Mel Gibson will ride this latest storm, just as Galliano will probably one day rebuild his reputation. It’s not that they shouldn’t work again — humans make mistakes and should have the chance to repent — it’s that too often it seems it doesn’t matter if the famous don’t atone for their sins. Which begs the question; what does a celebrity have to do, and who do they have to insult, before they get treated like everybody else?
Jennifer Lipman is deputy comment editor of the JC