Though I avoided it as long as I could, I finally couldn’t escape hearing the tape of Mel Gibson berating ex-girlfriend Oskana Grigorieva. Continued avoidance would’ve meant turning off Red Eye and that was a length to which I was not willing to go. Curse you, Greg Gutfeld!
You’ve heard the story by now. The director of Braveheart and Passion of the Christ, the actor who was equally at home in Hamlet and Lethal Weapon, turns out not only to be a Jew-bashing drunk but also a guy who tells his baby mama she dresses like a whore and may be raped by… Oh, I’m not even going to go through it. It’s disgusting stuff.
By far, the saddest part of the tape for me was the sequence where Gibson, in the midst of his rage-fueled rant, pauses to tell Grigorieva he will continue to take care of their child and allow her to live in the house he’s provided. It’s like a little flickering glimpse of the man God intended Gibson to be; a candle at the bottom of a well.
And look, this is not meant to pass high judgement on the guy. We’ve all got problems, every one of us, and we all do and say things that degrade us and that we regret. To see Hollywood strike a condemnatory pose against Gibson (he was dropped by talent agency William Morris) while it tries to sanctify child rapist Roman Polanski is almost as disgusting as Mel’s rant.
My intention is only to reflect on my own sense of personal disappointment. The arts are one of the great pleasures of my life, one of the things that give my life depth and meaning. I went into the field in part because the people who made art were my heroes: high-minded men like Keats and Wordsworth; men of wild creative generosity like Dickens and Shakespeare; troubled but courageous contrarians like Saul Bellow and Dostoevsky. Whatever rank I ultimately held, I wanted to march in their parade.
Mel Gibson is one of the great film artists of our generation – a generation that has produced enough conformist, leftist, small-minded cinematic tripe to stock a fish market. Amidst that nonsense, he has created characters as an actor and films as a director that put forward the possibility of sacrificial love in a world of cruelty, sin and madness. Which is to say: he has told the truth well.
But as Plato warned us through Socrates long ago: an artist’s talent doesn’t make him good or wise. “Not by wisdom do poets write poetry,” Socrates says, “but by a sort of genius and inspiration; they are like diviners or soothsayers who also say many fine things, but do not understand the meaning of them. And the poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise.”
The fascination with celebrity—the fascination with artists above and beyond the works they create–is, in effect, the opposite of wisdom. It is honoring the fool whom God inspired rather than engaging with the wisdom of the art he was inspired to make.
When they are complete, these celebrity lives may be worthy of study. For now, they’re just sources of gossip. We should largely ignore them and, when artists behave like thugs and clowns, we should return to the contemplation of their creations in order to learn to live our own lives a little better.