Holy hypocrites, Hollywood!

Talk about casting stones: The same forces in Hollywood that are now condemning Mel Gibson are guilty of their own bigotry. And can you say you've never crossed that line?

BY John Morgan Wilson

August 31 2006 11:00 PM ET

Many years ago, I
attended a dinner party that also included a prominent
television producer who was then producing one of Norman
Lear’s popular sitcoms. He was there with his
politically active wife. Both were prominently
involved in Democratic circles and liberal causes.

Midway through
the meal, discussing the controversial themes he dealt
with on his TV show, the producer said, "Of course, we try
to do one fag show every season." He laughed, winking.
"I guess the fags deserve to have a sympathetic script
now and then, just like the blacks."

As a gay man, my
response was to declare my sexual orientation, bid my
host good evening, and abruptly depart, leaving the diners
to do some soul-searching, if they could find the
humility and self-awareness.

This incident
came to mind as I read Bob Hofler’s angry commentary
in the September 12 issue of The Advocate,
ripping into Mel Gibson for his hateful remarks about
Jews, among them: "The Jews are responsible for all
the wars in the world." In the same piece, Hofler
reminded us of Gibson’s previous anti-Semitic
history, as well as nasty remarks he’s made
about gays.

I’ve got
little sympathy for Gibson. His remarks, blurted during a
drunk driving arrest after booze had loosened his
tongue, were stupid and shameful. But it’s also
worth noting--which Hofler didn’t--that
Gibson’s outburst came at a time when Israel
was waging a brutal military action against Lebanon,
killing hundreds of civilians, generating heated debate,
and stirring up emotions on both sides of the issue. None of
this excuses the alcoholic Gibson’s
reprehensible behavior, but it’s all part of the
larger context.

Also part of a
much bigger picture is the hypocrisy of those in certain
Hollywood circles who are so thoroughly and sanctimoniously
condemning Gibson as if they have never uttered
remarks or taken actions that disparage, dehumanize,
or marginalize one minority group or another.
According to the media, which have feasted voraciously on
Gibson like the easy meal that he is, there’s
been talk of his permanent boycott by the Hollywood
establishment. Hey, if every producer or studio executive
who had ever uttered a despicable remark that was
racist, homophobic, or sexist were similarly
ostracized, Hollywood would close down overnight.

Yes, I know, the
horror of the Holocaust makes anti-Semitism a
particularly charged issue. I couldn't agree more. But what
about the experience of African-Americans in this
country, going back to slavery and lynching, and all
that has followed? What about queers, who were also
rounded up and slaughtered during Hitler’s genocide
and have suffered endless persecution in countless
other ways? What about women, who have had to endure
immeasurable discrimination and degradation, inside and
outside Hollywood? (I explore all of these issues, in
different ways, in my latest mystery novel,
Rhapsody in Blood.) Human rights are human
rights.

Yet over several
decades reporting on or working within the entertainment
industry, I have witnessed pervasive racism, homophobia, and
sexism at high levels, in both word and deed. This
bigotry is often subtle, masked behind polite smiles
or committed behind closed doors. But make no mistake:
It’s there, as it is in the world at large. And
Hollywood liberals, a group that includes so many
of its movers and shakers, are as guilty of it as
anyone, if only because they wield so much of the
power.

How many of us
have never had a thought or uttered a remark that
denigrated another person based on his or her ethnicity,
sexual orientation, gender, or religion? And, yes,
let’s include those offhand remarks that
ridicule or disparage Christians in general, without
respecting the individual. I don’t know about you,
but I can't count myself among the saints who are as
pure as the driven snow. I’m as human as the
next guy, maybe just not as loud and boorish as Gibson after
he’s tipped a few, or famous enough to be
caught in the glare of the public spotlight.

Just as
human--and fallible--are those who would crucify Gibson for
making the mistake of shooting off his mouth in public and
revealing the kind of ingrained prejudice that many of
us privately harbor toward one group or another, even
as we count individuals from those groups among our
friends and colleagues.

OK, don’t
watch his movies if you don’t want to. Personally, I
haven’t paid to see a Mel Gibson film in at
least a decade. Call him a jerk, an anti-Semite, a sad
drunk. But let’s not beat our chests or pound the
pulpit too self-righteously.

Who are we to
judge, unless we are also willing to judge ourselves? Maybe
all of us, and not just Gibson, need to reflect on his
behavior and do some soul-searching.

Tags: Commentary

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