I read more gossip sites by 9 a.m. than most people read all day. So forgive me if I'm still stuck on the Mel Gibson story. Today's entry comes from Alan Cooperman at The Washington Post. I don't think the story is terribly important or hard-hitting but I do think it's worth noting. Let's begin with the doozie of the headline. At my newspaper, we're not allowed to absolve ourselves of responsibility for the headlines that go with our stories, but it's generally held that you can't blame a reporter for the headline. Still, someone should be blamed for this one:
Evangelical Clergy on Mel Gibson: Judging Not
The story quotes a bunch of clergy types roundly condemning what Gibson said in his drunken tirade earlier this month. I guess the headline writer's grasp of Christian theology is so deep that he thinks that unequivocally saying someone sinned and needs to repent is "not judging."
But Cooperman isn't writing about judging Gibson so much as judging his film The Passion:
Gibson's drunken remarks about "[expletive] Jews" being responsible for "all the wars in the world," which the actor made to a Los Angeles sheriff's deputy who pulled him over on July 28, were "hurtful and unfortunate" (James C. Dobson), "reprehensible . . . shameful" (the Rev. James Merritt) and "cause for concern" (the Rev. Ted Haggard).
But has the actor-director's intemperate speech by the side of a highway prompted any prominent evangelical leader to voice second thoughts about the portrayal of Jews in Gibson's movie "The Passion of the Christ"?
And the answer is no, according to Cooperman's research. All of the folks he interviews say there is no reason to revise their view of the movie because of Gibson's drunken, anti-Semitic outburst:
Among the points repeatedly made by evangelicals in Gibson's defense are that he filmed his own hand nailing Jesus to the cross; he has apologized for his arrest remarks; and the virtues of a work of art should be considered separately from the sins of its creator.
I'm glad Cooperman followed up on the story. What I was left wondering, though, was why it was just assumed that Gibson's anti-Semitic outburst would dictate that the film should be reconsidered. I'm open to looking at it again or having that public debate again, but what I didn't find in Cooperman's article was anyone claiming that evangelicals should look at it again.
Who are these people who think otherwise? What are their "points repeatedly made"? Cooperman is the only voice in the story raising the question.
Whether to separate the substance of the art from the creator of it is usually a question asked in the other direction. A book like Lolita provoked many questions about Vladimir Nabokov. People wondered how such a seemingly nice and happily married man could write such a dirty book about pedophilia. Side note: if you haven't read that book, read it now. You don't want to somehow live your life without having read it. It's that good.
Anyway, we love our art and we idolize our artists. We want them to reveal their innermost secrets so that we might be able to better understand their art. Sometimes that's an illuminating experience. Other times it's Britney Spears rambling for five minutes about time travel.
I think Gibson's demons, including alcoholism, are fascinating and I think they probably say a great deal about his childhood and relationship with his father. And, like I said, I'm open to the case that they say something about secret anti-Semitism and sexism in his films.
But it's not okay to just say, "See! He said he hates Jews and degrades women!" and act like the case is closed. Even if we grant Gibson's opponents here their contention that he is unquestionably anti-Semitic, that doesn't mean, automatically, that his films are. Perhaps he is horribly anti-Semitic but able to keep it completely in check while sober. I mean, the man was pulled over for bad driving but nobody's writing stories about whether Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior should be reconsidered in a new light because of his driving problems.
Other reporters trying to work this angle of how shocking it is that evangelicals are not condemning The Passion in light of Gibson's drunken outburst should remember to somehow include folks making the case that it should be condemned somewhere in the article.
Photo from cinencuentro on Flickr.