miscellany, popular culture

in “defense” of Mel Gibson

I’m going to say from the outset that I have no wish — nor ability, really — to defend the things Mel Gibson has said or done in the past. What follows has nothing to do with whether he is an anti-Semite, mentally ill, or otherwise a reprehensible human being. In fact, he might be all of the above. From what I know (which, not knowing him personally, is little — as it should be), he may or may not struggle with substance abuse and mental issues.

But here’s the thing, something that was told to me when I first got sober and complained that someone who had treated me badly actually had people who wanted to remain friends with him (knowing how he’d treated me): even assholes deserve friends.

I mention this because, during Jodie Foster‘s speech at the Golden Globes last night, a lot of people on Twitter focused on her friendship with Mel Gibson. Many people think that she has to be a little loopy to still be friends with him; others commented publicly that she may be the last remaining friend he has. In which case I say: more power to them both. Because no matter what you or I may think of Mel Gibson, the fact that he has one friend — who, by all appearances, seems to be a good, decent, supportive person to him — is a good thing. It’s an amazing thing, actually. Think of all the people you or I have angered over the years, the things we’ve said or done to alienate others, the things we wish we could take back. Mel Gibson has many, many more of these things than the average person — and because he’s a public figure, whatever things he’s done are seared into the collective memory of popular culture (which, thankfully, it is not for 99% of the population).

Are you the sort of person who hopes people will forgive you for the things you’ve done in moments of drunkenness or plain stupidity? (Most people are.) Then it should be OK for you that Mel Gibson has a friend in Jodie Foster. Are you the sort of person who believes in redemption? (Some people are.) Then it should be OK for you, too.

It should be obvious that I do not know Jodie Foster personally, nor do I know Mel Gibson. Probably if I did I’d have a more vested interest in believing in one version of the truth than another. What I do know is that Mel Gibson deserves a friend, maybe even more than one, just because he’s a human being who is worthy of the possibility of redemption. We are all children of the universe, and we all deserve at least that — even if we’re horrible human beings.

Two related things: for a while several years ago, I was reading a lot of Harville Hendrix. At the time it was my attempt to resuscitate a failing relationship by injecting some of his theories into an abusive situation (not recommended). But one of the things I remember from those readings was that — and I’m paraphrasing — every person we encounter has a little child inside of him or herself, and that adult person is trying to get what the child inside didn’t get way back when. Sometimes, even today, when I encounter a difficult person, I imagine what that person must have been like at age three or five or seven — it’s really very difficult to be angry with a small child — and that person becomes a little less annoying. It also helps me become (slowly) more compassionate to the difficult adult. How this relates to Mel Gibson, I don’t know — other than somewhere inside of him is a small child who doesn’t know anything about anti-Semitism or getting drunk or being a jerk… and who just wants to be loved by the universe.

The second thing: because of this collective hatred for Mel Gibson that pop culture seems to possess, one of the greatest movies of all time about mental illness has largely been overlooked. Jodie Foster’s The Beaver — she directed it, Mel Gibson starred in it — tells a heartbreaking story about a man whose mind has been taken over by illness. The movie shows not only the impact such illness can have on an individual but also on his family — and the film’s ending demonstrates just how powerfully depression can twist and turn reality into a place in which dysfunction seems perfectly normal. Not many people saw the movie — both because it starred Mel Gibson and also because they mistakenly thought it was a comedy — but it is by far the best cinematic account of depression and mental illness that has ever been filmed. The only thing that comes even remotely close is William Styron’s Darkness Visible — and that’s a memoir, not hardly the same as a three-dimensional portrayal of characters on a big screen.

All of this is my way of saying that people are complex human beings. Even those people we think are complete assholes deserve a friend (or two). Even people who have behaved reprehensibly can go on to do decent, if not amazing, things. And writing people off for eternity because of mistakes they’ve made (and may continue to make) can sometimes mean missing out on a great piece of art that helps illuminate the struggles thousands (if not millions) of people may face in their lives. This reminds me of the Lord’s Prayer, and the first time it “clicked” when I was saying it at the end of a meeting: “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” Redemption isn’t just something people “earn” — it’s something we give to them in hopes of being redeemed for our own transgressions. And if Jodie Foster is the only person in the entire world who can do that for Mel Gibson, I for one am not going to make fun of her for that — because that’s a decent thing she’s doing, being a friend to someone who seems like he can really use one. If only we could all be so lucky.

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4 thoughts on “in “defense” of Mel Gibson”

  1. What a beautiful, beautiful post. I try to remind myself on a regular basis to see people through an empathetic lens and imagine what really goes on inside of them. I haven’t watched The Beaver yet, but now I’m seeking it out.

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  2. Mel is everything people say he is – good and bad. I can confirm that Jodie is not his last friend on the planet, though. He runs with a lot of guys like him (which is how I first came into his orbit, through one of his friends). While he is a rageaholic and can be deeply unpleasant, he is also hugely supportive of anyone trying to get sober. He personally paid the insurance bond for the then-uninsurable Robert Downey, Jr. (the cousin of our friend Teddy) for a movie so he could start putting his career back together – and that was the least of what he has done for RDJ and others.

    Some people have a capacity to love – *actively* love – that runs as deep as their capacity to inflict damage on themselves and others.

    Interestingly, my experience of Mel is that he is at his most vulnerable and easily enraged not when he’s drunk, but when he’s trying to quit smoking. I’ve never been a smoker, and seeing his withdrawal would be enough to prevent me from every trying it.

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    1. That is great to know! Some of the more troubled people I know are generous (almost to a fault) in trying to help people get sober. It makes me happy to know that he has people in his life who love him — and he also seems to show remarkable resilience for refusing to stay hidden away/showing up in places where he has to know that some (many?) people have issues with him. The mystery (in my mind, at least) of why Robert Downey Jr. was at the table with him and Jodie Foster is now solved for me as well!

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