Sunday, August 06, 2006

What the Mel?

There's been a LOT of coverage of Mel Gibson's DUI arrest out here in InternetLand - and evidently on the TV as well, though since we don't have cable, I've missed that part of the coverage. Depending on who you're reading/listening to, it sounds a bit like:
  • a. two teenage girls gossping about who did what Saturday night
  • b. the "Kill the Beast!" scene from Beauty & the Beast... or, if your tastes run more to old Hollywood, the villagers pursuing Frankenstein's monster into the windmill
  • c. one more chance to dredge up the anti-Semitic brouha that surrounded the release of The Passion of the Christ
  • d. all of the above
To balance that a bit, I want to give you some links to check out for yourself... and then you can come back here & I'll let you know what I've been thinking.

So... welcome back. Let me break down what I've been thinking into easy to argue with bite-size pieces.

DUI (Driving Under the Influence)

I can not adequately express to you how much I hate drunk people driving. When I was in high school theater, one of the best actors I've ever met managed to ruin not only his own life but the life of his best friend in a drunk driving hood-surfing stunt. I've got a family member who is lucky he didn't kill himself (or someone else) last fall when he crashed into a highway median. The son of one of my church members is currently facing real jail time for a DUI accident that put someone else in the hospital.

So Mel does NOT get a pass on the drunk driving charge with me. The man is wealthy enough to have someone drive him around - yank his license. You lose the right to operate a motor vehicle when you do so under the influence of a substance that impairs your ability to operate said vehicle safely - in other words, when you threaten the safety of the rest of the community with the ripple effect of your own choices.

(For those interested, I've talked more about my Biblical perspective on alcohol in the post Say it With Me: "Non-Binding Resolution.)

Words Mean Something

Language has power - it helps define the tone & direction of a conversation. The words you choose frame the terms of a debate & predispose your listeners to a particular mindset. (Not to open a second can of worms, but take the difference between the use of "anti-abortion" and "pro-life" in newspaper coverage - same position, wildly different connotations. Try using "anti-fetus" instead of "pro-choice" and see what happens in the editorial column. I repeat: I'm not trying to start an abortion debate here... simply pointing out the power of the rightly or wrongly chosen word.)

Thus, to make racist statements (regardless of what race they impugn) is not simply to be morally wrong, but also carries with it the devastating power of language. If you are able to define your opponent in crass & dehumanizing terms (example: the tendency of white Southerners to call all African-American men "boy", no matter what their age), you take an important step toward marginalizing them.

So, Mel's outburst is not only Biblically wrong (1 Peter 3:10) but also brings the danger of redefining the role of a racial minority in our society. Be it the drunken ravings of a Hollywood director, the overwrought speechs of a neo-Nazi hatemonger, or the late-night bull session musings of a college student, you are fooling with powerful junk when you stereotype a group of people.

BTW, I've focused here on the racial nature of Mr. Gibson's remarks - but he also managed to make lewd & sexist comments as well. Much of the same logic applies...

Owning Your Own Crap

With all that said, I want to be very clear that I am amazed, stunned, and a bit in awe of the response from Mel Gibson. In a world where victimization & blame are commonplace, someone who says:

I am a public person, and when I say something, either articulated and thought out, or blurted out in a moment of insanity, my words carry weight in the public arena. As a result, I must assume personal responsibility for my words and apologize directly to those who have been hurt and offended by those words. either seriously over the edge - or, just maybe, is walking to the beat of a different drummer. Just maybe, what Mel says he believes (a devout Catholic faith) and how he deals with his addictions & stupidity are connected.

Let me say this once again, in case some of you haven't been reading carefully - no apology/plea for forgiveness should take away the legal consequences of Mel Gibson's actions. In the same vein, however, no series of actions, no matter how stupid and/or reprehensible, should take away the possibility of forgiveness & grace.

Forgiving someone does not mean you ignore their sin against you; it does not mean that you pretend they never did anything wrong. It is not a whitewash or a cover-up. It does not mean that you agree with and/or tolerate the actions of the person you forgive. But it does mean that you choose to go beyond the hurt, past the incident(s), and see each person as created by God & in need of grace.

Forgiveness has nothing to do with forgetting... A wounded person cannot--indeed, should not--think that a faded memory can provide an expiation of the past. To forgive, one must remember the past, put it into perspective, and move beyond it. Without remembrance, no wound can be transcended." Beverly Flanigan

So What?

I end most of my sermons with a final point - "So what? Why should all of this stuff I've said this morning concern us at all?" (This is a particularly important question in church, where some of us have gotten used to intaking information rather than asking God for transformation.)

For my friends who are religiously and/or culturally Jewish, I ask you to forgive in a way that honors your faith. What Mr. Gibson ranted about is hurtful & wrong... and specifically aimed at your cultural/ethnic background. I do not in any way want to minimize the pain... yet I don't want you to minimize the tradition you come from, either - the tradition that is at the root of my own Christian faith.

For my friends who are female, Mr. Gibson's remarks are no surprise to you. You have endured years of leers, catcalls, and outright lewd remarks. If not, you live on a deserted island alone(yes, thank you, Dept. of Redundancy Department.) I urge you to forgive as well - not just Mel Gibson, but others who choose to objectify you. At the same time, please remember that forgiveness does not require you to just "stand there & take it" - you are created by God in His image (Genesis 1:27) and do not deserve to be treated as the sum total of your body parts.

For my friends who are followers of Christ, we need to process our emotions Biblically & thoughtfully. In the process of acknowledging repentance, we should not undercut justice. In the process of calling for justice, we should not ignore mercy.

A lot of deep thoughts spent on the guy who made Lethal Weapon 3, right?!

A final note: I am leaving on vacation tomorrow - and will not actually see the blog and/or the comments until Wednesday. Please keep the discussion civil & on-topic. (I feel like I'm "Dad-in-training"... "Don't make me come back there!" He he he...)


Jonathan said...

I thought what you said was great except for this:

a. two teenage girls gossping about who did what Saturday night

Did you really need to add to the sexist stereotypes?

Mark (aka pastor guy) said...

Good thought, Jon... let's try:

a. two teenagers gossping about who did what Saturday night

Jonathan said...

I really don't mean to harass you about this but it may not be sexist anymore but it is still "ageist". (Is that really a word?) Anyway, does it enhance your point to say that it was teenagers gossiping? Let's just call it what it is: a whole nation of people of all sexes ages, races, and creeds gossiping about some drunk idiot who happens to have his face in People magazine once in a while.

Anonymous said...

How about...
"two gossips discussing who did what Saturday night"
And then we can call it an -ism against gossips. And Saturdays. Ah, too politically correct for me!

Mel was drunk, Mel drove while drunk, and Mel made some stupid statements. Mel apologized. We need to punish Mel according to the laws of the state where it happened, and get on with worshipping others than Mel. Right?

I like that he claimed responsibility instead of blaming everyone from the beer producer to the president for his own addiction issues. That one is smart, when he's not influenced by chemicals.

huzonfirst said...

I think you're absolutely right about where the focus of this should be, Mark. I am much more appalled about Gibson's drunk driving than about anything he said to the police. We have far too much of a cavalier attitude towards this murderous behavior in our country and the last thing that is needed is celebrities indulging in it. It's unfortunate that Gibson's idiotic remarks have taken attention away from his truly serious crime.

As a non-practicing Jew, I'm offended by Mel's mouthings, but no more so than if he had attacked Blacks or Muslims or any other racial/ethnic/religious group. Bigotry is wrong and the category we happen to fall into shouldn't make any difference with how we view it. The fact that the man was inebriated doesn't placate me much. It's hard to imagine him coming up with such statements unless those are his true feelings.

However, I'm less impressed with his apologies than you are. He may be truly trying to turn over a new leaf. Or, he may simply be in damage control. There's an entire industry in Hollywood that teaches celebs how to recover from an embarrassing incident like that and Mel may have just taken steps 1 through 3. The truth, most likely, is a combination of the two.

In the end, it doesn't matter that much to me. I'm not a big Gibson fan, but if I were, I'd probably still go see his movies. There are plenty of celebrities whose work I admire even though I disagree with their views. The two really aren't related, so I try to keep them separate in my mind. Sometimes I don't succeed (I've always had problems with the way Clint Eastwood embraced the pro-violence, misogynist Dirty Harry character in his public statements from the 70s and 80s), but I tend to think it's a worthwhile goal.

So forgiveness is fine (it almost always is), but it isn't really germane in my case. The man is what he is, and since I have no personal relationship with him, his character flaws are not a major concern of mine. A few vile late-night comments probably didn't raise the level of anti-semitism in the world and a successful path of enlightenment certainly won't eliminate it.

Scott Rushing said...

Well spoken Mark.