On Mel Gibson: Celebrity is the Opposite of Wisdom

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!

The mouth is a lethal weapon.

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.

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  • http://pascalfervor.blogspot.com/2010/07/pain-embarrassment.html Pascal

    I shortened a key phrase for emphasis:

    The fascination with celebrity is the opposite of wisdom.

    I know it is a painful truth, especially for someone your line of work, but maybe we’ll defeat our social engineers a little easier because you said it.

  • Margaret

    Well said, Mr. Klavan. I hope Gibson reads this and is chastened. His unraveling is particularly sad because his film making talent is unsurpassed. What a sad waste.

  • KelvinPowers

    I will pray for Mel Gibson. I believe he is a good man being caused to go astray.

  • jerry

    Maybe. Maybe not. I find myself tuning Hollywood – Megan Fox, Sean Penn, Danny Glover, that Avatar director guy, and others like Mel Gibson.

  • Glen

    Thank you, Mr. Klavan, for helping me understand a most disappointing development in regard to this artist and his art. I too have a love for the film arts and all to many things that surround it are very confusing. You shine the light in regard to separating the person from the act of creating.

  • Fred

    Most conservatives are accustomed to separating art from the artist. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to stomach much of the current music scene, let alone movies. Example: I can’t stand Michael Stipes’ politics, but you can have my REM CD’s when you pry them from my cold, dead hands.

  • Max

    Please do a ‘Klavan on the Culture’ on PJTV about this.

  • Codger

    A powerful reminder that art (inspiration) is not the same as the artist who creates it. We, especially we Americans, tend to let the difference blur. Because we like the art we let the artist assume a wisdom and power that is not theirs.

  • Augusta

    Mr. Gibson, please know that there is no abyss so deep or so bottomless from which God cannot deliver you. If it’s Hollywood, then leave it. If it’s alcohol, then don’t drink it. If it’s your soul, He can save it, as many times as it takes. God’s trying to get your attention in ever more extravagant ways, so listen to Him – not the media, not the fans. You have been under attack by some pretty evil forces for some time now. How it will end is entirely up to you.

    God Bless.

  • http://fuzislippers.blogspot.com/ Fuzzy

    Thanks for this. I’ve been a bit avoidy about “the Gibson tapes,” too, and for much the same reason. I’m not a lunatic who’s going to urge giving a pass to a pedophile rapist on the grounds of his genius (as the leftists are wont to do), but we do all say and do things we deeply regret, these are usually things that we say and do to the ones we love, the ones who are closest to us. It’s a sad fact of life.

    The bad parts of the Gibson thing, of course, are the violence that is being alleged, and I’m definitely not supportive of antisemitic or racist rants. But who are we, really, to judge? If he broke laws, the police and justice system will deal with him, but this is a strictly personal rant . . . it’s not like he’s wishing that all conservatives got butt cancer or saying something totally loony tunes like Americans went to war with Japan not because they bombed Pearl Harbor but because we’re racist against “yellow people.” That kind of lunacy and hate is inching into my life and worldview, Gibson blathering hateful nonsense in a private conversation, nonsense obviously designed to be mean-spirited and hurtful (we tend to hurt the ones we love most) . . . that’s not my business, and I can still enjoy his under-appreciated Hamlet and his truly brilliant Braveheart without a tug of conscience (never again will I watch Tom Hanks or what’s his butt cancer name).

  • Luci

    I will tell you what disappoints me. That there are so few people – with all we now know who still do not see or accept what constitutes mental illness. I will tell you what I hope – that all of you never have to live through the pain of a loved one spiraling down into mental illness unable to acknowledge it or help himself in a world that would have all the compassion in the world if a loved one had a heart attack or stroke yet nothing but contempt for someone who is mentally ill. If you have not been that lucky you see Gibsons behavior for what it is and your heart breaks for him . Without help this always has a bad end – what I hope is that one of the hundreds of people he has helped over the years, one of the hundreds who have known the benefit of his generosity, will man up now and get him some help.

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  • Joe Doakes

    I caught “Tequila Sunrise” a few weeks ago. Gibson is a flawed soul who makes good movies, who does not try to change the way I live my life by force of law. Other actors and actresses do this and it upsets me and changes my purchasing decisions. Mr. Gibson’s behavior will not stop me from consuming his movies.

  • Ellen

    This is the best commentary I’ve read on the whole Gibson mess. He’s never tried to present himself as someone who knows better than us. He’s never lectured us, and he’s always admitted to being a sinner (as are we all). Because of this, I am sad more than angry.

    Poor guy, he’s at the top of my prayer list.

  • Purposeful Polly

    I’ve been thinking about the ‘separation of the person’s work with the person” for some time now. ‘Getting over’ my repulsion for Woody Allen took time. I adore Polanski movies and while Mel’s recent work has been too violent for me, I recognize his worth as an artist.

    Maybe ‘genius’ is linked to sacrificing personal and moral development. Others prefer to work on being better husbands, wives, mothers, fathers, daughters, sons, etc.

    Is my world a better place after seeing Mel, (Roman, woody) movies? Yes. Would I want to be in the same room as them? Probably not.

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  • HAL EPSTEIN

    I WAS TRULY A MEL GIBSON FAN UNTIL HE STARTED SCREWING UP WITH HIS JEWISH REMARKS,
    BLACK PEOPLE REMARKS ESPECIALLY AFTER ACTING WITH HIS BLACK ACTOR IN 3 OF HIS GREAT ACTION FILMS. HIS FILTHY MOUTH AGAINST HIS WIFE…HIS SO CALLED GREAT MARRIAGE AND ALL HIS CHILDREN, WHAT A LAUGH, WHAT BS..
    HE CAN GO TO HELL ALONG WITH HIS FATHER…I’M SURE ALL THE JEWISH AND BLACK PEOPLE IN THE FILM INDUSTRY SAY THE HELL WITH YOU….YOU ARE A SOB AND ASS HOLE…AS WE SAY IN JEWISH, ” A SCHMUCK “….

  • http://whoiswithmerightnow.com Frank Black

    As always, Andrew, fantastic assessment.