Well, well, well. Now that many of Trump’s supporters have apparently made the world a more hospitable place for anti-Semites, I’d say the timing is right for another Mel Gibson appearance, amirite?
Gibson—he of the multiple drunken racist, misogynistic, and anti-Semitic rants of years past, for which he is sorry—is currently promoting his new film, Hacksaw Ridge. The film tells the story of Desmond T. Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist and conscientious objector who was nonetheless awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Truman for his service as a medic in World War II. The film stars Andrew Garfield (who is Jewish) and received a 10-minute standing ovation following its premiere at the Venice Film Festival.
Gibson, seemingly on the cusp of a rehabilitative comeback, has been gingerly making the press rounds, including an interview with Variety, in which he addresses the infamous 2006 incident during which he drunkenly stated to a traffic cop, apropos of nothing, that “Jews are responsible for the all wars in the world.” Gibson has apologized for it about a million times in the ensuing decade, and more or less does so again in the recent interview, stressing that he’s now sober and has striven to run his life and career in such a way that he has never knowingly discriminated against anybody. Said Mel: “And for one episode in the back of a police car on eight double tequilas to sort of dictate all the work, life’s work and beliefs and everything else that I have and maintain for my life is really unfair.”
Of course, it isn’t all groveling; in typical narcissistic straight white male fashion, Gibson can’t help but curl into a defensive, self-righteous stance, calling the (Jewish) cop who recorded his tirade “unscrupulous” and musing, with no small about of self-pity: “I guess as who I am, I’m not allowed to have a nervous breakdown, ever.”
I wouldn’t go that far. Most people manage to have nervous breakdowns without indicting an entire people for crimes against humanity, but whatever, that’s show biz (where, by the way, people have nervous breakdowns all the time; I had one just last week and I’m still working). But the toxic legacy of Gibson’s statements—and certainly not one that in his inebriated state, he could have possibly intended—endures. For many Jewish Americans, Gibson’s words were the first overtly (and disgusting) anti-Semitic statements they had ever heard from a public figure. We were shocked, but more malignantly, we were shocked out of being shocked. Oh right, we thought, some people say stuff like this. Isn’t that insane? Isn’t that ridiculous?
So now, when the toxic sludge of the Trump supporters and the white supremacists on Twitter and the deranged radio hosts—many of whom, one can imagine, were big fans of The Passion of the Christ—are ranting about international Jewish conspiracies, it doesn’t seem quite as surprising as it might once have. Which is the point. Mel Gibson may not have opened the floodgates, but in the putrid forest of old-style Jew hatred, he may have sown the first seed for what must not be normalized again. I’m glad he’s sorry. But I don’t like to think about what it will take to put the genie back into the bottle.