Most people harbor bad thoughts. It’s the civilizing instincts we learn over a lifetime that help us tamp down those thoughts. Thus, while we may hate, really hate, the boss who destroyed our career, we don’t kill that boss — or at least most of us don’t. “Going postal,” for all the press it garners, is a rarity. For most people, their bad thoughts remain just that — bad thoughts.
The reason I’m thinking about thoughts is the latest story about Mel Gibson. Mel Gibson’s always been tied to anti-Semitism because of his father, who is an anti-Semite in the old-fashioned Catholic tradition. This is something the modern Catholic church is trying with great vigor and success to stamp out — and part of the reason why Gibson’s father has broken with mainstream Catholicism, which has no room for his hate mongering.
When Mel Gibson made his big movie, The Passion of the Christ, there was huge uproar about whether or not it was anti-Semitic. Although I didn’t see the movie, I came away with the impression that it was a fairly accurate retelling of the Passion as described in the New Testament, with all the attendant baggage that carries. It certainly wasn’t friendly to the Jews, but it was also insufficient to spark an American Kristallnacht. It’s impossible to tell whether the latter is what Gibson would have wished to occur.
Mel Gibson is once again in trouble for suspicions that he harbors ill will towards Jews, and this time he’s convicted out of his own mouth. According to a credible report, Mel Gibson made a wild, anti-Semitic tirade:
The report says Gibson then launched into a barrage of anti-Semitic statements: “F*****g Jews… The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Gibson then asked the deputy, “Are you a Jew?”
The thing is, when he made this tirade, Gibson was rip-roaring drunk. In other words, remove the mask of civility that maturity and social constraints impose, and you discover that Mel Gibson is, in fact, the anti-Semite everyone thinks he is. However, that’s not where Mel Gibson wants to be in the public eye, either because he’s embarrassed by his deepest, darkest thoughts or (more likely, I think) because harboring those thoughts will affect his bottom line. In any event, he is now trying to distance himself from his statements:
“I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable,” the actor-director said without elaborating.
My question, and one I don’t know how to answer, is how far we allow bad thoughts, if they’re not accompanied by bad acts. Normally, I’d say we shouldn’t control thoughts at all, we care only about acts. This is why I find the thought police taking over American college campuses so despicable and 1984-ish. But what about a situation when someone does an act — say, making The Passion of the Christ — which seems to be a subliminal forum for the thoughts — such as anti-Semitism? If you’re scooting in the direction of bad acts, is it enough to deny your spoken thoughts? I really don’t know. And I’ll admit that I’m handicapped in this regard by the fact that I’ve never liked Mel Gibson at any stage in his long Hollywood career. I’m therefore not inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt.
In any event, I doubt that Gibson’s latest flirtation with anti-Semitism will affect him much. I think the movie The Passion was the big career divide for him, separating the fans from the non-fans. For me, the whole episode — the drunkenness, the major crime of drunk driving, the epithet spewing, the effort to avoid arrest, the anti-Semitic rants — is enough to condemn him for being a disreputable, unappealing, anything-but-admirable character, and if I hadn’t already stopped watching his movies twenty years ago, I’d stop watching them now.