Last week, while hooked to an IV of air-conditioning, web surfing and TV news, I came to a startling conclusion. Mel Gibson is in league with Hezbollah, and the future of Mideast peace hinges upon the total eradication of his cinematic oeuvre. He must never be allowed to eat lunch at Spago again.
Before you tune me out, let me explain. It all started on a dark Pacific Coast Highway (PCH) when Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy James Mee (yes, a Jew) pulled Gibson over for speeding. From the very first moment that TMZ.com broke the story, I knew we were onto something far more momentous than just another of Mel's nights of ladies, liquor and Jew-bashing. According to the deep throats at TMZ, higher-ups at the LAPD feared that public disclosure of Gibson's comments would incite a lot of "Jewish hatred" and ordered the police report "doctored" and "sanitized" because the current situation in Israel was "way too inflammatory." Caution or cover-up?
Exposed to the bright lights of Hollywood, Mel's remarks were roundly condemned by Tinsel Town elite. But it was Ari Emanuel, talent agent, brother of Congressman Rahm Emanuel and inspiration for HBO's Entourage, who first connected Gibson's words with the week's second most important story, the conflict in Lebanon. In an article for Huffington Post, "The Bottom Line on Mel Gibson's Anti-Semitic Remarks," Emanuel wrote "at a time of escalating tensions in the world, the entertainment industry cannot idly stand by and allow Mel Gibson to get away with such tragically inflammatory statements." He was echoed by Hollywood big-wigs like Sony Pictures Chairwoman Amy Pascal who said, "It's incredibly disappointing that somebody of his stature would speak out that way, especially at this sensitive time." But Emanuel and Pascal only scratched the surface of Mel's diabolical plot. What would happen in Lebanon if Hollywood allowed Gibson to get away with his "tragically inflammatory statements"? Enquiring minds want to know.
Luckily, HuffPo's Queen Arianna uncovered the connections. Declaring the "Gibson affair" Hollywood's "defining moment," she concluded that Mel Gibson and Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah are "psychological soul mates." "Gibson's no-longer-deniable brand of bigotry," she wrote "continues to fuel much of the strife and suffering in the world today." Huffington seems to think that world peace is just one Netflix boycott of Braveheart away. "In the same way that ordinary Muslims need to separate themselves from the blood-drenched ideology of Hezbollah, Hollywood needs to separate itself from the odious racism of Gibson." You hear that residents of Qana? Tired of Israeli bombs and Hezbollah terrorist tactics, just change the channel.
Her blog-mate Bill Maher exposes even more. It's not just Gibson who's in cahoots with Nasrallah, it's all of us. As Maher watches "so much of the world ask Israel for restraint in a way no other country would," he comes to the conclusion that "the world IS Mel Gibson." "Most of the time," Maher says, "the anti-Semitism [sic] is under control, but that demon lives inside and when the moon is full, or there's been enough alcohol consumed, or Israel is forced to kill people in its own defense, then it comes out." So there you have it. If you're worried that you too might be a closet anti-Semite, then mind the lunar cycle, lay off the Jack Daniels and for heaven's sake, don't criticize Israeli foreign policy.
But wait, there's another figure in this shadiest of conspiracies. According to Richard Cohen of the Washington Post, "the world is having a Mel Gibson moment." By "the world" Cohen does not just mean the tendency of "the world" to "blame Israel alone for the carnage in Lebanon" (as Gibson blames the Jews for "all the wars in the world") or even the prevailing "anti-Israel zeitgeist" that Gibson "put his finger to." Cohen is referring to the granddaddy of all conspirators -- the UN and its mastermind, Kofi Annan. Yes, according to Cohen, "before Gibson there was Kofi Annan." Cohen stops shorts of accusing Annan of anti-Semitism, but he does find some commonalities between the UN Secretary General and the star of What Women Want: "a rush to judgment, an impatience, an anger and a general vexation that, at best, is worrisome." In Cohen's troubled mind, when Kofi Annan prematurely claimed that Israel deliberately targeted UN observers in an airstrike on southern Lebanon (killing four of them), he was "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment."
I think Cohen is on to something. Who knows what other international fiascos can be explained by this new syndrome? When George Bush molested German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a recent G8 confab, was he too "having a mini-Mel Gibson moment"?
Now, I'm normally averse to conspiracy theories, but all these reputable folks got me thinking -- maybe Mel Gibson plays a far bigger role in geopolitics than any of us had previously thought? For example, during his drunken diatribe, Mel Gibson revealed that he "owns Malibu." Could the city of Malibu, like Syria and Iran, be funding Hezbollah? Could this be the nefarious purpose behind those mysterious "Team Aniston" baby-Ts worn by so many a Malibu mom? What about all that Aramaic spoken and subtitled in Passion of the Christ? Do any of us really understand reconstructed Aramaic? How do we know that the whole movie wasn't a set of coded instructions intended for Muqtada al-Sadr? And don't even get me started on what a repeat viewing of Lethal Weapon 4 revealed!
But then, I got thinking even some more, and well, I'm no Mideast scholar or Entertainment Tonight reporter, but it seems to me that, though Mel Gibson and Hezbollah both hate the Jews, they do so for totally different reasons. As far as I can tell, Gibson hates Jews because they killed Christ, because they "started all the wars in the world," because they "run Hollywood," and because they have the audacity to pull him over for doing 87 mph in a 45 mph zone in his Lexus LS 430 with a .12 blood-alcohol level. These are not, as far as I know, the concerns that preoccupy Hezbollah, Hamas or even the Palestinian National Authority.
Alright, in all seriousness, what is the link between Hezbollah, Kofi Annan, Israel and Mel Gibson? Allow me to suggest another global conspiracy called "culture." As a fellow critic said to me, "Americans only understand the cult of celebrity, so they transpose everything into the key of Hollywood." So here we are, trapped in this meta-Mel moment. The press relentlessly dissects every minute detail of Mel Gibson's evening, from his choice of liquor to his glassy-eyed mugshot. Reporters feverishly pursue the roots of Gibson's anti-Semitism (his father, right-wing Catholicism, Holocaust denialism, Australian white supremacy). Through Mel Gibson's vehicle, we ponder such universal questions as: What responsibilities come with fame? What is the nature of forgiveness? What are the limits of rehabilitation?
All the while, the conflict in Lebanon rages on. And it is not just that this foray into Gibson's psyche provides a distraction from violence and suffering, but that the forced synergy between the two transforms the very field of meaning in which we might place Israel's offensive and Hezbollah's militancy. Gone are Israel's forty-year occupation of Palestinian lands, the dispute over Sheba farms, the popularity of Hamas and Hezbollah as political and social movements, the mutual capture and detention of military prisoners, the possibility of war crimes, the asymmetry of power, the suffering and ambivalence of civilians on both sides. What is left when the pundit class finishes forcing the Mideast conflict through the Hollywood machine is simply this: the eternal, omnipresent meta-narrative of Jewish suffering. As Rick Salutin of The Globe and Mail writes, the Mel Gibson incident "reinforced a sense that an ancient, ineradicable hatred of Jews lurks behind the current strife." I would add that the Gibson flap also reinforced the idea (see Maher and Cohen) that to criticize Israel is to engage in anti-Semitism, to join Gibson in his irrational, primordial hatred of Jews.
It seems to me that there was a brief moment --when the bombing of Lebanon began, when the images of Lebanese children in body bags flickered across TV news -- that the American public might finally grasp the extent to which Lebanese and Palestinian Arabs have suffered as result of Israel's policies. That moment is now gone -- in no small measure due to the fallout from the Mel Gibson crisis. But I don't blame Mel; I blame the delusional, infotainment-centered press corps. Wake me up when September comes.