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The Mel Gibson meltdown.

The Mel Gibson public image meltdown, occasioned by his arrest for drunk driving and attendant anti-Semitic and misogynistic comments delivered to his arresting officers, was this summer's mass media equivalent of a perfect storm. There was a point a few days after his arrest when commentaries on the scandal had become so plentiful and various, so poisonously sweeping and politically loaded, that a 24-hour Mel-Watch cable channel probably could have done good business.

Gibson subsequently delivered two refreshingly abject apologies about his behaviour. These were no mealy-mouthed regrets one so often hears from public figures who've stepped over some line, blandly lamenting any offence people may have somehow taken from innocently intended comments. Gibson thanked the officers for stopping him before he did irreparable harm to others or himself, called his outburst "despicable," and said, "I am deeply ashamed of everything I said." He followed up his apology with action, entering a rehab program to battle alcoholism and requesting meetings with Jewish leaders so that he could personally apologize and atone for his ugly remarks.

But still his critics relentlessly piled on, saying these gestures just weren't good enough and arguing that the booze he ingested in such prodigious quantities acted as a truth serum that flipped open a portal allowing access to the innermost recesses of his heart. Certainly alcohol can act as a breaker of inhibitions, sometimes causing ordinarily sensible people to act recklessly or say outrageous things. It also causes some people to become almost comatose and mute. Some become funny and verbose. Others get surly. Some descend into pits of melancholy and self-pity.

At most I think it could be argued that booze shines a distorting light on some capacity or flaw inside of us; usually a capacity that doesn't get much exercise or a flaw that we ordinarily strive to control. But to declare that the drunken, out-of-control man is the true man--or "in vino veritas," as the Latin tag goes--is simplistic hooey.

Does Mel Gibson have "issues" with Judaism? Yes. Growing up with Hutton Gibson as his father-a father he loves-how could he not? He and Mel are both members of a radical right-wing splinter group which has broken away from the Catholic Church. The older Gibson is a published anti-Semite and Holocaust denier with some hair-raising theories about the real cause of the 9/11 attacks on America. Hutton Gibson will not back down on any of his claims and while Mel is not prepared to publicly denounce his father as a crank, he has made it clear in public interviews (delivered when sober) that he does not share those views.

This failure on the part of critics to separate the views of the father from the son first became a flash point in the long buildup to the release of Gibson's powerful 2004 flick, The Passion of the Christ. Gibson met with Christian and Jewish leaders repeatedly as he worked to fairly tell that story in which many of the villains and all of the heroes are Jews.

There are two touches in The Passion where Gibson overtly rejects any suggestion that the Jews are to be held solely responsible for Christ's crucifixion. Christ is seen carrying his cross past a group of Jewish priests who had earlier called for his death. We then immediately have a flashback where Christ is seen telling his disciples: "I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself."

And then in the climactic scene on Calvary, Gibson let it be known that it is his left hand that was filmed holding the spike that will nail Christ to His cross. By this gesture Gibson clearly said, "All of us are responsible for the crucifixion, including me."

Mel Gibson is undeniably an impetuous and troubled man. While I think they should throw the book at him for drunk driving, take away his licence and impound his car, I believe there are good things coming out of this whole debacle. First among them is the spectacle of a fallen star trying to correct a horrible thing he has done. There's a real teachable moment here for people of all faiths and no faith about responsibility and decency and fairness. I'm also heartened that a number of Jewish leaders have already stepped forward and accepted his request for dialogue and restitution. In so doing they show a largeness of heart and present an example of forgiveness that Mel and many others could well emulate.

Herman Goodden is a full time journalist. He writes from London, ON.
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Author:Goodden, Herman
Publication:Catholic Insight
Date:Oct 1, 2006
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