Semantics 101 with Mel Gibson (July 24, 2010)

This article was originally published in RootSpeak on 7/20/10

I took up the idea of writing this piece nearly a week ago, and at the time wondered about the lag between thought and fruition. Would the Gibson story seem passe by the time my words went to print? It appears I had no reason to fret. Our friend Mel remains as relevant, in the very loosest sense of the term, as he did a fortnight ago, when the story broke of his ugly, and allegedly violent breakup with 40 year – old Russian pianist and singer-songwriter, Oksana Grigorieva.

Still, aren’t we all, Whoopi Goldberg notwithstanding, just a little bored of “Meltdown” Gibson (so nicknamed by celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton)? For 25 years, the man was a bankable, and beloved Hollywood film star – before he spent the last four years self-destructing. In a rare and career suicidal display of cross cultural bigotry, Gibson’s latest brush with TMZ notoriety includes rage-filled epithets hurled at every group from women, to Hispanics to African Americans. There may yet be a remote village in the farthest corner of the Earth upon which the actor did not drop a hate bomb. Oh and I almost forgot to mention, each one of these displays of human acceptance was directed, if only tangentially, at the real target of his unhinged explosions – the mother of his eight month-old daughter, Lucia.

It’s tough to hide from taped evidence, isn’t it Mel? If nothing else, 2006 should have taught him that. And yet despite the repeated and increasingly unsettling pieces of evidence to the contrary, somewhere, some part of us wants to believe it might all be a terrible mistake. For goodness sake, this is the Oscar winning filmmaker who gave us the true cinematic classic, Braveheart, in 1995. One of the many, many questions we ask ourselves was if Gibson has always been this way. Was he always a hateful, angry and intolerant man? If so, why didn’t we see it?

Maybe we didn’t want to. We liked his public persona, the handsome face and the solid acting a little too much. I am not about to say that children are always guilty of the sins of the father – far from it. However proverbs become so for a reason, and in this case, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Gibson’s equally colorful papa, Hutton, is a renowned reactionary Catholic, who has publicly espoused the beliefs, among many plums, that the Holocaust is a hoax, and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks were perpetrated by remote control. He also considers himself the enemy of 1965’s Vatican II reforms, labeling them “a Masonic plot backed by the Jews.” With a strong parental figure of this nature, it seems nearly a foregone conclusion that young Mel would develop some backward looking ideas in his own right.

And yet all seemed well as the young Aussie burst onto the Hollywood scene. He worked with a multicultural, diverse talent pool over many auspicious years. Most conspicuously, he starred with the African-American acting legend Danny Glover in the wildy successful Lethal Weapon franchise. There were no obvious signs during Gibson’s sexy 1980’s heydeys that anything was amiss.

However the world has changed considerably since the Me Decade, a time when entertainment news was gleaned from glossy pages of Peoplemagazine, or dealt out in measured televised doses by John Tesh. Since the explosion of the Internet and its naughty band of guerrilla journalists, the news cycle is never off and everything is on the record. Gibson’s biggest personal failure, in more than one respect, is to adapt with the times. Grigorieva, tired of serving as a human punching bag, and obviously nobody’s fool, was ready with the audio recording capability to capture her babydaddy’s true colors. The world wide web was more than willing to help her publicize them.

At least in 2006, Gibson was able to plead a feeble case for his diarrhea of the mouth by hiding behind the bottle. After being pulled over for a suspected DUI in Malibu, California, the actor, drowning in a tequila bottle of his own hubris, managed to greet a female officer as “sugar tits,” and declare that “Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world,” before being hauled in for his now classic, half smiling mug shot. A breathalyzer test registered Gibson’s blood alcohol at .12%, one and a half times the legal limit. We’ve all said insane things we didn’t mean while extremely intoxicated, things we remembered with disgust and shame the following morning, so after a long mea culpa tour, America seemed poised to consider letting the actor out of the pop culture penalty box, however cautiously.

But something never sat right with most of us, and I think it’s becoming clear now that our collective suspicion of the entertainer’s slip as the Freudian kind was well justified. Forgive me for saying this, but 0.12 isn’t that hammered, not intoxicated enough anyway to allow a grown, healthy, man to say things he doesn’t at least partly mean. The cast of the Jersey Shore blows a 0.12 before noon. Liquor frequently leads to ugly revelation of the darkest, but still integral self. In vino, veritas after all.

Then the question remains: should Mel Gibson waste our time, in addition to his own, with another image rehab trip? I would argue that it’s pointless, and if he has good people (who truly have a yeoman’s work in the actor’s employ), they will send him underground for a long while before they allow him to say anything to anybody on any topic. What can he do at this point, deny that these awful words are his own? Anyone who has logged on to Radar Online has heard the repugnant and vicious spewings of Gibson toward his former girlfriend. They are difficult to take. The man simply has no credibility in claiming he has learned from his mistakes or grown as a human.

No less a writer than The New York Times columnist David Brooks, pens of Gibson’s verbal assaults on Grigorieva, “He’s not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverize her into nothingness, like some corruption that has intertwined itself into his being and now must be expunged.”

If that interpretation is typical of the average American mindset, Gibson has an impossible mountain to climb. Culture has a funny way of moving forward without the buy-in of would be standard bearers, and suddenly the 54 year-old Gibson seems a relic of a bygone era, one with which post-Obama America wants nothing to do. There is no stint in rehab, no revealing interview with Oprah, or any amount of charity work that can put the blinders back over our eyes. The best gift Mel Gibson can give the public from here on is silence.

Consequential Disparity (July 13, 2010)

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In a 2010 reality of rising costs, flat wages (for those lucky enough to have a job), foreclosures, 401k loss and just about every social, political and environmental ill you can dream up, one of the few free sports left to us “small people” is the amusement of watching the rich, famous, powerful and greedy stumble over their own hubris and excess to fall on their pretty faces.

Admit it people – last Thanksgiving was a real downer for a lot of us. But witnessing the fallout of Tiger Woods smashing into a fire hydrant before the world became aware that he was an epic manwhore, was good clean fun for those not named Elin Nordegren (side note: I wonder if she noted the irony before she decided to place a well placed swing at her hubby’s cranium). Tiger, as we have all seen by now, will be more than OK, even if he lost his family in the process. His wealth, fame and prestige are (largely) intact. Tiger is definitely not one of us, is he?

Because for the rest of the world, the ones who swim upstream in the ever thickening sludge of actuality, had we made even one of Tiger’s mistakes, our lives would be effectively over. Had we been the ones to crash our vehicles in the fog of an Ambien coma, I think arrest, if not a heavy fine, would follow in short order. If we made a mockery out of our own image as a solid, sober family man, only to be exposed as a total hack, we would not be able to pick up business as usual after hiding from the media for a couple months. Respect would be lost, prospects forgone, and a broken family in the “real” world cannot be atoned via a large alimony payout.

And now we get to the heart of my post. Is anyone else demoralized by the consequence-free environment in which the top 1% of the American public lives? I extend benefactors’ rights to corporate and non-human entities, as well as the golden ones who enjoy society’s free ride. I realize it is not good for my soul to root for the downfall of anything, but it feels cold and alone out here sometimes in the place where the laws of physics rule. In my world, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But not so for the banks, BP, Charlie Sheen, Lindsay Lohan, Roman Polanski, or our favorite whipping boy of the moment, Mel Gibson.

Charlie Sheen held a knife to wife Brooke Mueller’s throat last Christmas. We are now approaching mid-August while Charlie decides which option he likes best from the probationary roulette wheel. Meanwhile, he has gotten a huge raise from CBS for the next, and possibly last season of his hit sitcom Two and a Half Men. Our man Charlie was hardly a choir boy before this. Anyone want to wager on the fortunes of you or I had we found ourselves in a similar scrape?

Roman Polanski drugged and raped a 13 year-old girl in the 1970s, and has enjoyed 30 years of freedom as a European citizen and Oscar winning film director. On Monday, Switzerland effectively closed the book on any hope of justice served, by denying the U.S. government the right to extradite the pedophile. Let’s just say I had been caught en flagrante with a grade schooler. Mary Kay LeTourneau anybody?

Wall Street is hiring again. The very charlatans who led us into this prolonged economic predicament are back and feeling better than ever, while the rest of us choose between groceries and filling our prescriptions. BP has been allowed to lie and fuck up everything it touches for months, but we all know that in the end, they will survive, even if the same may not be said for the Gulf of Mexico. If I went to the shores of Lake Michigan right now and dumped even one gallon of crude into the bay, I would be arrested as an eco terrorist (rightfully so) before I had time to get back to my car.

What I am trying to get at folks, beyond the larger, obvious and unchangeable circumstance of life not being fair, is that it isn’t only the financial gulf that widens perceptibly between the haves and the have nots. There is, quite literally, a whole separate reality for the privileged, that may go a long way toward explaining the seemingly disproportionate current anger of the middle and lower classes. We are so helpless, even after playing by the rules, while those who flaunt every one of society’s guidelines, fly away unencumbered, free to continue worsening the lives of those around them. And they will, because unlike the rest of us, they haven’t learned a damned thing

This Minute in Pop Culture…. (June 29, 2010)

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I don’t know about you guys, but my brain hurts, not in the “I’ve been concentrating too hard and now I need an aspirin” way. It’s more like, “OUR SOCIAL FABRIC AND THE WORLD ECONOMY ARE DISINTEGRATING BEFORE MY EYES! AH! EVERYTHING SUCKS BUT THE WORLD CUP! WE’LL NEVER BE ABLE TO ‘WIN’ IN AFGHANISTAN! THE GULF IS TOAST! MAYDAY! HELP!”

Yeah it’s kind of like that. I know that awareness and consideration are part of my job as a responsible American citizen. If I attempt to bury my head beneath clouds of sunshine and rainbows, in the first place I will find no such place exists for my weary noggin’. But in the second, I understand that avoidance of circumstances never, ever leads to resolution. I am but one small person in this terribly troubled global community, but I am committed to doing whatever I can, whatever form that takes, even if my only available weapon is the pen, to move our human race forward and out of this persistent downward spiral.

That said, there’s nothing illegal about taking a break from absorbing the constant assault of bad news (Russian spy cells are active in American again!?) and indulging in a bit of escapism. My drug of choice for dulling my overstimulated senses is the popular gossip website run by mini-media mogul Perez Hilton, though one could easily substitute E! media, Entertainment Tonight, TMZ or a host of other pop culture news outlets.

After spending half my lunch hour furiously clicking the buttons of my Blackberry, trying to drink in as much nonsense in 30 minutes as my limited vision could stand, I spent the next few moments challenging myself (using the word “challenge” very loosely) to come up with stream of conscious impressions of my information gathering. Ah but that we could always live in the comparatively simple world of entertainment reports! My thoughts went something like this, and in EXACTLY this order. After all, I must remain faithful to the parameters of this exercise:

– So Mel Gibson’s left his wife of 28 years, the mother of seven of his children for a plastic-faced baby tramp, and now she’s stirring up ugly allegations of abuse and non-payment of child support? Perhaps conservative Catholic types ought to broaden their studies to include the Eastern philosophy of karma.

– WHY am I still reading about Heidi and Spencer? No seriously, someone tell me why. I have never watched an episode of The Hills in my life. And yet I am somehow dying to find out if their “divorce” is a sham or not. These two have the oddest, most predatory love story I’ve ever seen play out publicly. It’s like Star 80 for 2010. Except Heidi is no Dorothy Stratton.

– Poor misguided Jessica Simpson. Turning to Eastern medicine traditions will never bring Nick Lachey back. You know it ain’t Tony Romo your bed and career are regretting.

– Lindsay Lohan – Linda Lovelace, SCRAM bracelets, a new Lohan reality show and father Michael is engaged to a 25 year-old who also once dated Jon Gosselin. Not sure who the current poster family for white trash America is since the Hogans slunk off into ignominy, but I think we have a clear front runner.

– I hate the new season of So You Think You Can Dance. Eliminating Mary Murphy from the judges table was the dumbest decision ever, and I don’t accept a clearly-trying-to-be-less-of-a-bitch Mia Michaels as a substitute. I want back on the Hot Tamale Train!

– I still miss Lost as much as I did six weeks ago. When will I get through the withdrawal?

– Most welcome comeback of the last decade: multi-talented and super hot Neil Patrick Harris. Christmas with Harold and Kumar? Hell frickin’ yeah!

– I can’t believe Michael Jackson has been dead a year. I still can’t believe he died at all. People with that much talent always seem immortal.

– So stoked for the next season of Weeds. Zack Morris is going to get some good loving and herb from Ruth Jamison. My little 80s and 90s heart goes pitter patter at the prospect.

– I still don’t care about any of the following and vow that I never will:Harry Potter, Twilight and True Blood. Do we still need fantasies and monsters anymore? The world is frightening enough. Although I do find Emma Watson adorable. R-Patz? Over it! However Taylor Lautner is more than welcome to do other films where he doffs his shirt and I will consider attending. Meow.

– Tom Cruise is a fabulous actor, but I think consumers are telling him they’d like him to disappear for awhile. Think Jeff Bridges. He dropped off our pop culture radar for a time and came back with an Oscar. You don’t have a Golden Guy, do you Tom? Food for thought.

– Midway through the year and my favorite celebrity of 2010 remains Brett Michaels. I am as shocked by this as anyone. Dude is just so disarming.

See the answers are easy at this low brow level! I feel invigorated, don’t you? We now return to our regularly scheduled program of gloom, already in progress…