Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Passion of the Jew-Hater

So, Mel Gibson is nuts after all. Okay, fine... great. Now I'll never be able to watch all of the films in which he plays a crackpot without imagining him as... well, a crackpot. Luckily, South Park warned us all about this a few years ago, or we'd all be vulnerable to Mel Gibson's wily charm. As glad as I am to know that Mel Gibson and Tom Cruise are insane, so that I can protect myself and my wife, it somehow pales in comparison to nearly everything else going on in the world.

I guess it is tough for people who saw The Passion of the Christ and thought it was a beautiful vision of salvation instead of the anti-semitic snuff film that others saw. South Park also nailed the attitude of those people in the face of criticisms of the film: "You can't hate The Passion of the Christ! That means that you hate Christianity!" So, yes, they look silly now that it turns out that, actually, Mel Gibson really just hates Jews. Also the penguins in March of the Penguins? They're anti-semitic too. And they like gay sex.

I never saw The Passion of the Christ. I had planned to see it in our local Theatre of the Movies and maybe have a Large Size of the Popcorn with a refreshing Dr. of the Pepper. In clips, it looked like an old art film to me- Satan reminded me of Death in The Seventh Seal. I rather like the idea of the film as pure art, and not as Biblical truth. Actually, I like the idea of the Bible as art and not Biblical truth too. But, life kept getting in the way and I still haven't seen it. I have no idea if it's anti-Semitic or not.

The Toronto Film Fest isn't sure if it will show Gibson's latest movie Apocalypto, and people are saying that the film's chances for any academy awards are now shot. Also, nobody claims to want to see it because, after all, Mel Gibson hates Jews. Sort of like all those people who will never see another Tom Cruise movie (not because he constantly plays the same damn character, but) because he's a loon. I understand this attitude, and I support their right to make their own decisions about spending their money, but I wonder if this isn't sort of a stupid attitude to take towards art.

I mean, does the fact that Mel Gibson hates Jews have anything to do with whether or not his movie should be nominated for best costumes? And does it alter the quality of this particular film as a piece of art, especially considering that it apparently has nothing to do with Jews? I don't know- I mean, how many of us are willing to learn the biographies of all of the artists who have works in the Louvre so we can decide not to look at them?

And actually this sort of reminds me of all those people who will never look at Pablo Picasso's art because he beat women, or who hate Ezra Pound's poetry because he was a fascist. It reminds me of Kate Millet, that old vandal. Isn't there something a little stupid about this attitude? It's actually hard to think of artists who weren't monsters. Most of the Renaissance artists were vicious to their competitors, Flaubert supposedly buggered young boys, Roman Polanski is still wanted in America for rape, Lord Byron was just a mess, John Huston was a racist for some time, and everyone in rock music was addicted to one drug or another. But, does this really change the content of their art?

I don't want to argue that Mel Gibson is a great artist, but I don't think we should get in the habit of judging art by the biography of the artist. Obviously, their lives and work cannot be entirely separated, but that doesn't mean that a person can't be a horrible person and a great artist. Sadly, that's quite often the case. It seems like if anyone should judge art by its own merits, the academy should, or a film festival should. Maybe Apocalypto is terrible, like almost every other Mel Gibson movie. But, maybe it's brilliant, and I just don't see how that would be changed by the fact that it was made by an asshole.

It's very new, this attitude that art is the singular expression of the artist's soul. For centuries it was seen as craftwork, as thing-making. The artist was totally incidental to this beautiful thing that they fashioned. Romanticism changed all of that, of course. Artist's came to be seen as having been touched by some sort of fire of the gods- they were visionaries. So, the fact that an artist could create a beautiful thing and also molest a child became more horrible to imagine. But, for the most part, we're still able to appreciate art on its own terms- neither good nor evil really, but good or bad. Aesthetics trump ethics, as Wilde said.

With commerce, this becomes harder. If we buy an R. Kelly album does that mean that, in some way, we support statutory rape? If we see the new Oliver Stone film, which is supposed to be brilliant, do we support his bizarre, drug-enduced rantings? Can art be moral or imoral? Can a fashioned thing have its own moral content? Moreover, Americans seem to have gotten into the habit of putting every interest below politics. I know people who buy clothes, and cars, and books and even food based on their political convictions. This colonization of personal life by ideology isn't 'purity' as much as self-imposed totalitarianism.

But, doesn't this practice limit the soul of the viewer (for lack of a better phraseology)? Aren't we closing our eyes to art and beauty if we allow these external concerns to dominate our experience of them? Is it even possible for us to not do this? Is it even possible to decide that Thriller really was a great album, and forget that it was made by a child molester?

I don't know. But, there's something depressing to me about my own inability to just experience art directly. Because it is a phenomena in the world, and the sublime experience of being in contact with a beautiful phenomena really should trump these other concerns. In some way, letting biography dominate aesthetics hinders my own experience. I would like to be as receptive to direct encounters in the world as I was when I was younger and stupider. I don't want my experiences to be ruined by external concerns. But, it's hard not to do, isn't it?


The Pagan Temple said...

I've never seen a Mel Gibson movie where he didn't come across as at least slightly unhinged. I'm afraid it's not entirely an act. Check out "Conspiracy Theory" with Julia Roberts for a good example. He comes across the same way in his interviews.

Rufus said...

Well, I think he is a bit loony- definitely a persecution complex anyway. But, I think you're also right that it can't be entirely separated from his religious beliefs either.