Mel Gibson: Thank you. Seriously.
For the past several years, I’ve been pretty sure that I would never write a sentence beginning ”I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Mel Gibson,” but one of the great joys of covering pop culture is that it can always surprise you. Here goes: I’d like to express my sincere thanks to Mel Gibson for turning out to be such a useful tool. In every sense of that phrase. In the past few weeks, Gibson has provided a welcome reminder that people in Hollywood actually have opinions about things — and for once, he did it without even opening his mouth.
As you may have heard, a couple of weeks ago, The Hangover 2 director Todd Phillips reached out to Gibson to play the small role of a deranged tattoo artist in the sequel, which opens next May. Days later, that invitation was rescinded because members of the cast and crew, allegedly led by costar Zach Galifianakis, objected to the prospect of working with him. Meanwhile, in a different corner of the Hollywood jungle, Jodie Foster — who, depending on your perspective, either had the phenomenally bad luck or exercised the astoundingly bad judgment to build her latest directorial effort, The Beaver, around Gibson — rose to his defense, telling People magazine that he is ”the most loved man in the film business.” (I’d love to see the yardstick she used. Who came in second, Carl Icahn?)
Count me among those who are immensely relieved that we won’t have to endure Gibson in Hangover 2, if only because we already have a great deal of cinematic evidence that whenever he decides to go over the top and give us a big adrenaline shot of ka-RAY-zee! on screen, it’s all about wild eyes and noisy manic jabber and his having a better time than you are. And yes, besides that, there’s the whole, not-inconsequential Jew-baiting, woman-hating, racist thing, which I bring up only to point out that the insistence of some industry types that we should be able to ignore all that because ”it should be all about the work” strikes me as peculiar. It has never, in the history of Hollywood, been all about the work, and the ability to take a great deal of proof that someone is a loathsome creep and tuck it away in a corner of your brain that even you can’t find just so you can enjoy some dopey comedy doesn’t feel to me to be evidence of a healthy perspective but rather of a weirdly over-developed ability to compartmentalize. I mean, we know what we know, and if I say the name O.J. Simpson to you, the first thing you think of probably isn’t ”One hell of a rusher!” Before you protest at the unfairness of the comparison, let me add that I’m simply noting the fact that when a celebrity’s public image is tainted by his own conduct, it’s not generally because the public is just being mean and judgmental.
But enough about Mel; I’m more interested in Foster and Galifianakis, both of whom are being torn apart (by different sets of partisans). Foster’s statement, which is not just a blithe defense of Gibson but the willful construction of an alternate reality in which everyone shares her affection for him, is drawing some off-with-her-head sniping (”Maybe it’s time to rethink the acclaimed actress,” who isn’t ”all that,” huffed an outraged Salon writer). Galifianakis, for his part, is being accused by various commentators of a double standard because he didn’t object to convicted rapist Mike Tyson’s appearance in the first Hangover. (It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anyone that now Galifianakis has the clout to object, something that wasn’t true when the first film was shot.) The fight has even extended to The View, where guest Joan Rivers (who is anti-Mel) waggled a talon at an irked Whoopi Goldberg, whose he-was-never-a-racist-to-me defense of Gibson is clearly an argument she’s getting tired of having to haul out.
I don’t agree with Goldberg’s and Foster’s friendship-trumps-everything position about Gibson, but I have to express some grudging admiration for the fact that they — like Galifianakis — have been willing to put themselves on the line with opinions that they know might lose them fans. It is incredibly rare and always refreshing to hear celebrities say something they actually mean, even when they’re wrong. Except if the celebrity’s name is Mel Gibson. For him, total silence for the foreseeable future feels just about right.