March 9, 2010
The Seismic Jew
(Page 2 - Previous Page)
At the scattering of Mark’s ashes down a beautiful coastal spot in Oregon, I quoted from the last scene of Macbeth, and I think I can do it again—I had difficulty doing it that time—where, as you’ll recall, the tyrant is gone, the tyranny and the ursupation is over, but Old Sewird doesn’t know it yet but he’s lost his son in the struggle, and I believe it’s Macduff who has to say to him the following, and I’ll address it to the Pearls:
Your son, my lord, has paid a soldier’s debt:
He only lived but till he was a man;
The which no sooner had his prowess confirmed
In the unshrinking station where he stood,
But like a man he died.
And that’s hard enough to get through, believe me, but it’s Shakespeare so it isn’t for the next beat or so that you get it all. And Macduff adds:
Your cause of grief
Must not be measured by his worth, for then
It hath no end.
That’s the best tribute I can offer you, and I’m very acutely aware of my own debt to a finer register of the notion. Now, one more thing. This campus is where my in-laws met, one from Odessa, one from Galicia, and married. As you heard, I was late in discovering some occluded parts of my heritage and I once wrote that anyone who wanted to defame the Jewish people would if they were doing so be defaming my wife, my mother, my mother and father-in-law, and my daughter. So I thought I didn’t really have to say anything for myself, but I did add that in whatever turn of voice the question was put to me, whether it was friendly or hostile, was I Jewish I would always answer yes. The denial in my family would end with me. But of course there was the most acute possible test of that question. Faced by young Daniel Pearl in the most appalling circumstances, and again I pause to remember how proudly and how bravely and how nobly he refused any sort of refuge in denial, again setting a standard of a Shakespearian kind it’s very hard for me to approach without a feeling of the want of proportion.
I’ve never done this before, ladies and gentlemen, in my entire lecturing career, a dog and pony show trick of a visual aid, but I’m now going to ask if the comrades up there could cue a little clip that I want to share with you. Cue clip.
[Begin video clip]
SAM RUBIN: All right, we will get to the Mark Kriski on Jay Leno tape properly in a second, but we begin this morning… Mark’s like “Why isn’t it the first thing?”… with an unusual experience I had Friday involving the newly returning to the screen Mel Gibson. Now, the last time we spoke at any length about Mel Gibson, it was all bad. The summer of 2006, you recall, Gibson was arrested for drunk driving, and reportedly during that arrest went on a slur-filled anti-Semitic tirade. That was then. This is now. Gibson’s arrest has been expunged from his records. He completed three years of probation, paid a fine, and attended mandatory Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. He has a new movie, Edge of Darkness, that opens later this month. He stars opposite the actor Ray Winston in the thriller. As you might recall, Ray, who is sitting next to Mel during the interview you’re about to see, was in the studio with us last Thursday. We all exchanged pleasantries and, well, then things got less pleasant.
SR: You told me this has been your first film for how long?
Mel GIBSON: What, seven years, eight years? Seven or eight years. Starring, to be in front of the camera. I chose to sort of walk away about eight years ago because I felt I was getting a bit stale, and I came back with this because I just felt it was time to get back in the saddle. Enough time had gone by, and honestly it was the best piece of writing I’d seen.
SR: Some people are going to welcome you back, and other people are going to be like, he should never come back.
SR: Because of what happened before.
MG: What happened before?
SR: The remarks that were attributed to you.
MG: That were attributed to me, that I didn’t necessarily make.
MG: Okay. But, and I gather you have a dog in this fight.
SR: Pardon me?
MG: You have a dog in this fight? Or are you being impartial.
SR: I’m trying to be impartial, I guess.
MG: Okay. Well, I went back, and I hope it works out, and I hope people will graciously accept me back.
SR: So when I left that interview I was mad at myself, first, to be honest, because I simply didn’t initially understand what he meant when he said, “You have a dog in this fight.” And then a few seconds later when I did understand I didn’t speak up and say that as both a Jew and a human being I was really offended by what he said in 2006, and while there have been plenty of reports of private apologies and making amends, it never really seemed to me that he apologized, nor as he did when we spoke, did it seem that Gibson contested the remarks, like he didn’t actually say them. So frankly, I’m still conflicted, and I should have told him. Audiences, of course, will vote with their wallets and their feet when the movie opens at the end of the month.
NEWSCASTER: Yeah, being defensive is not the best way to handle things sometimes.
SR: I guess not.
NEWSCASTER: You know what, though? When you sat in front of him, what you didn’t say said more I think.
[End video clip]
All right, now I think from that sordid little showbiz microcosm, I can derive a little introduction to what I want to say further. Notice first the look of chubby woe on the face of the interviewer, sharing his grief with his friends, and saying, “You know what? For a while back there, I could almost believe he was calling me a Jew boy.” And then saying, “Perhaps he did already say those things.” Look at Mel Gibson’s eyes. Look at that face. Look at the way he leans in. You’re looking straight into the gun barrel of what I’m talking about, and you observe another thing; it’s quite clearly in his case a matter of a mental disorder—it’s a pathology, and it must mean a lot to him. I mean, clinicians will tell you, those who study schizophrenia and paranoia, that anti-Semitism very often presents as a very leading symptoms of this kind of crack up. But I don’t think that’s it either with Mel Gibson, or not entirely. And I certainly don’t think it was the booze. I can say that if whiskey made you anti-Jewish, the Pearl family would not have invited me to address them. What none of the questioners have ever asked Mel Gibson is what are the origins of your furious, fanatical, decided hatred of the Jewish people. It would be very easy if he was asked to press him on this. He is a member of a Catholic schismatic faction, which has its own church paid for by him in Malibu, as good as place as any for the selling of souls, I dare say. And the guru and priest of this church is his father Hutton Gibson, a mad idiot savant whose books I have carefully read, and of whom Mel Gibson says that he’s never known this man to speak an untruth. Well, very well. Let me rephrase what Hutton Gibson said about Joseph Ratzinger when he was a cardinal. He was obliged to write one of those letters the Vatican occasionally has to produce making nice with the Jews. And he said—well, he did his best, barbarian bureaucrat—it’s a pity that the Jews don’t share in our love of Christ and our feeling of the savior and that they’re excluded from his love and so forth, but we can say that they brought us monotheism and to this extent could be counted as standing in relationship to us rather as an elder brother. Not great, a bit patronizing, but the Catholic Church has said many worse things. Hutton Gibson’s comment on this in his book? “Oh yes,” he said, “Abel had an elder brother.” I think we know, in other words, what we’re talking about here.
You only have to look at Mel Gibson’s film, widely distributed, in a town where he must care about being an anti-Semite, because you would think no one working in Los Angeles or Hollywood would make like that if they didn’t really believe it, and I think he must do, where, very controversial scene in the film, only one verse in one of the four gospels in the New Testament, the ________ publically for the blood of Jesus to be on their heads down to the last generation. It’s one of the first versions of the blood libel. After protests, it was cut out—not cut out; the scene is in the film, and it’s spoken in either Hebrew or Aramaic—but when the film was distributed in the Middle East, the subtitles were put back in, and it’s the only such film ever to have been distributed in the Arab Muslim world, because normally, as you know, prophets, of whom Jesus is counted as one, can’t be shown on the screen, so the Arabs never got to see King of Kings—lucky them—or The Greatest Story Ever Told, or I think even Ben Hur. But Mel Gibson they made an exception for. Can you guess why? I think you quite probably can.
So there’s a little microcosm just down the road from where we are met, and it puts me in mind of the closing staves of Albert Camus’ novel La Peste, The Plague, where Dr. Tarrou is thinking about how the people celebrating the plague seems to have gone. They’ve survived it—it was terrible, but people think it’s been banished. He says, but the rats are still down there in the sewers brooding, and the plague is still down there with them, and that plague will one day again send up its rats to die once more on the streets of a free city. And I remember the closing passage of Bertolt Brecht’s ________ where the leading actor stands forward at the end after Hitler’s gone and the stage darkens and the spotlight’s on him, and he says, “This was the thing that nearly had us mastered, but do not think that that is all, you men, for though we rose up and we beat the bastard, the bitch that bore him is in heat again.”
And no one who pays any attention to the news from the Muslim ghettos in Europe, to the proclamations in the Middle East, to the pronouncements of the Russian Orthodox church, now the black cowled body guard of Putin’s new Russian nationalist authoritarianism—question: is Russian nationalist authoritarianism ever good for the Jews?—to Ratzinger himself, now Pope, restoring to the ranks the formerly excommunicated members of the Society of Pope Pius, the anti-Semites, the Holocaust deniers, the people who believed the Church should never have said that Jews were not collectively guilty for the murder of Christ… it’s all coming back, and needs to be confronted. It’s a very bitch I’m saying anti-Semitism. This plague is very protean and very durable and very volatile. It appears in all ages and in practically all societies. The only one I know where the Jewish people have not been persecuted is India. Just as you think it’s been eradicated, up it pops again, surges. It’s exploded with or without the existence of the state of Israel, with or without Zionism, with or without finance capitalism, for which Jews were blamed, and with or without communism, for which, amazingly, Jews were simultaneously blamed—and, of course, in parts of ________ and elsewhere, with or without any Jews at all. There were outbreaks of pernicious anti-Semitism. In other words, it’s quite different from other forms of racism.