A second purported audiotape has emerged in which Mel Gibson heaps disgusting verbal abuse and threats on the ex-girlfriend who is the mother of his baby daughter. You’re on your own if you want to find the tape and eavesdrop; I’ll skip it, thanks. Instead, I’m here to wrestle with how what we know about an artist’s character and personal life influences our appreciation for that artist’s work. And whether it should. (I’m leaving the private lives of politicians and others who work in the public trust out of this conversation.)
The truth is, I wish I didn’t know anything at all about Mel Gibson. Nothing. Lucky for me, the man has no effect on my daily existence, and I make no dent in his. I’m curious about Gibson only insofar as he is an interesting actor and filmmaker (“interesting” — how’s that for a deliberately neutral term?) whose projects suggest a complicated, angry interior that, in turn, makes his projects so…interesting. (I assume you enjoy dabbling in cheap, dime-store psychoanalysis as part of your moviegoing enjoyment as much as I do.) The public Mel Gibson’s movies tell me plenty.
In a piece on her website The Daily Beast, Tina Brown declares that ours is a “culture of destructive transparency.” Then she applauds the release of those tapes, arguing that listening in provides a kind of vindication on behalf of “every frightened woman…living in fear of a man who has all the financial cards.” My question: How? Do you really benefit from knowing that, if this leaked evidence is to be believed, the private Mel Gibson is a racist, a bigot, a misogynist, a person unraveling in hate? His sins (to put his actions in terms that he, a religious man, would understand) certainly matter to his unfortunate ex-girlfriend, to anyone he has insulted in person, and to his God.
But to put the matter in terms the godless marketplace understands, will what you know affect whether you buy a ticket to Mel Gibson’s next movie? Will you boycott his work? (I won’t.) Or will you be even more curious to see what he does next? His talent agency just announced that he has been dropped as a client. But he is a very rich man, with money enough to finance his own productions. What should our public response be to Mel Gibson’s private bad behavior?