Mad Mel: Beyond Hezbollah
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?
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 genealogy 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.