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Jul. 16 2010 - 11:57 am | 730 views | 1 recommendation | 9 comments

‘The Hatred of the Gibson’: Lessons from Mel Gibson’s Rage

Mel Gibson's mugshot from his 28 July 2006 arr...

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Hatred is corrosive, it almost always hurts the hater. While you don’t always see it, sometimes the foundation of someone’s character can get so worn away that the person’s facade cracks and falls: like Mel Gibson. The story of his well-documented flame-out into a hate-filled, abusive former movie-star would benefit from understanding more about how hatred can destroy a hater.

His abusive behavior didn’t start with current money troubles and stresses. Nor is it simply a narcissist running amok. It comes from hate.  Hate that was amply foreshadowed by the virulent anti-Semitism about which we all worked so hard not to know we knew. Four years ago at the time of Gibson’s anti-Semetic rant during a DUI arrest, Christopher Hitchens didn’t work not to know the obvious, he shoved it in our face:

And it has been obvious for some time to the most meager intelligence that he is sick to his empty core with Jew-hatred.

This is not just proved by his twistedly homoerotic spank-movie The Passion of the Christ, even though that ghastly production did focus obsessively on the one passage in the one of the four Gospels that tries to convict the Jewish people en masse of the hysterical charge of Christ-killing or “deicide.” It is validated by his fealty to his earthly father, a crackpot who belongs to a Catholic splinter group of which our Mel is a member. This group more or less lives off the stench of medieval anti-Semitism.

via Is Mel Gibson an anti-Semite? – By Christopher Hitchens – Slate Magazine.

Empty core? That is hopefully just Hitchens’ rhetorical excess; if Gibson’s core was empty we’d have little useful to learn from him. He’s a person not a monster, even though he acts monstrously. Gibson has inside of him the same all-too human unconscious processes through which we all live our lives.

In trying to learn something from Gibson’s behavior I am not some sort of pollyanna closing his eyes or trying to make lemonade from an oil slick. I slow down to rubberneck at car-crashes as much as anyone, and if I see something I end up feeling the same fascinated horror I felt reading about Gibson’s catastrophic crash. And the truth is that there is no bigger celebrity crash out there than Gibson (sorry LeBron and Lindsay, but Mel journeyed alone into the realm of the unredeemable: all you need LeBron is a championship—or two—to be a hero again and Lindsay, well, you’ll be America’s sweetheart as soon as you get sober and make a good movie—or two).

So, what can we learn about ourselves from Gibson’s hatred more interesting than the soporific tautology, “people are people.” Can we learn anything useful?

Ken Eisold, a friend and colleague, has written a terrific new book What You Don’t Know Your Know. He pulls together a story about a “new unconscious” from research done in a variety of different fields. What he says about prejudice is helpful. He writes that “prejudice is a universal process rooted in normal development” that come from “how our brains create categories as part of our adaption to reality.” Furthermore, these prejudices and stereotypes can become malignant when we start to protect our identity by putting all the crap into other groups. They—whoever “they” may be—are the ones who are lazy, cheap, avaricious, or devious; we’re not, we’re fine!

But prejudice gets worse, much worse; ordinary bigotry is still pretty far from Gibson’s behavior. Our unconscious process of creating categories and attaching identity-protective values to those categories can degrade further to the level of rape and abuse, genocide, and ethnic cleansing when we dehumanize other people. That’s how a neighbor becomes vermin to be extinguished, a President becomes an anti-American Muslim/socialist/noncitizen, or a woman gets attacked for being nothing more than a “bitch” or a “cunt” (to use two of the more unsavory terms from Gibson’s latest taped rage).

Unconscious dehumanization drives much that we call evil and understanding how it operates in each of our lives is the lesson from ”The Hatred of the Gibson.”

Staring with his hatred of Jews and ending with recordings of verbal abuse and allegations of much worse, we can see that when you nurture processes of dehumanization instead of fighting them you end up dehumanizing yourself. Out of control dehumanization is like a cancer that needs to be caught early and aggressively fought. Luckily, traffic with the new unconscious moves in both directions. So, when what you don’t know you know sends up a flare—be it in a dream, a confusing feeling, an out of character behavior, or a train of thought arriving at a perplexing station—pay attention. You’re trying to tell yourself something important you don’t know you know.

And if you think you’re immune to dehumanization, that it is something you would never ever do, that it is something “they”—the evil others—do but not you, think again. It is something that happens inside our unconscious all the time. We couldn’t get through a day without it, full human awareness would just be too painful. We adaptively dehumanize others when we blind ourselves to the homeless guy sleeping by the train station, to events in Darfur, or even to the suffering of future generations because of our addiction to burning fossil fuels. In fact, we even entertain ourselves with it by putting the LeBrons and Lindsays of the world up on celebrity pedestals.

Like rubberneckers at the highway crash relieved that what could have happened to them happened to someone else, our fascination with Gibson’s hatred includes some relief that he was the one that crashed, not us. What we don’t know we know is that any of us could have been Mel, it’s all a matter of degree. He’s not “other,” he’s us.


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  1. collapse expand

    the lesson is he can say all he wants about Jews….but not about Black folk

  2. collapse expand

    This started with, “Hatred is corrosive, it almost always hurts the hater.”

    Now I HATE cruelty, poverty, injustice, bullying and a few other things. I find this hatred a salutary emotion indeed, leading me to find out ways to fight against these things in my own small way.

  3. collapse expand

    Speaking of Christopher Hitchens….Let’s all keep him in our thoughts and hope for the best.

  4. collapse expand

    Sure, Mel Gibson and other celebrities can serve as living lessons. My immediate question, though, whenever journalists and bloggers and other information disseminators make big deals about movie stars, music stars, etc., behaving badly: Why would anybody expect a different outcome?

    After all, we moviegoers and music purchasers spend our money so that certain entertainers become wealthy beyond imagination. We treat them like goddesses and gods worthy of adulation. They come to expect the royal treatment. Then we act shocked when they reveal themselves as spoiled brats or bigoted pea brains. Why should we ever expect entertainers to serve as exemplars?

    Let’s begin handling all of this garbage better by taking the focus away from Mel Gibson–just one deeply disturbed entertainer–and starting a discussion about bigotry, mental illness, etc., using as the focal point “real people” who need help they cannot afford.

    • collapse expand

      I share you irritation Steve, but celebrity culture is the culture we got, so might as well use it to make a point. And the point I’m trying to make is not just that celebs are like us but that the hate corroding Gibson’s character is within all of us; evil is still banal so lets keep our eyes open.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      movie stars, music stars, etc., behaving badly: Why would anybody expect a different outcome?

      Back in the dark ages when I was a teenager I used to say, “If I can’t be first-best, I’ll damned well be first-worst — whatever gets me the most attention.” I think movie stars become movie stars because they want/crave/lust after that attention, so when they get it (no matter what they do TO get it) it feeds that need and that’s what they continue doing to get noticed. Ergo, you are probably right — if we stopped feeding the beast it would slink back into the jungle and satisfy that need in positive ways.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  5. collapse expand

    Right. It’s an actor, for crissakes. It doesn’t think or handle dangerous explosives. It pretends in front of cameras. Who gives a rusty rat’s behind, really?

  6. collapse expand

    Thanks for your perspective, Todd. I’m glad you start at the reality point that prejudice is natural. In fact, as F. Scott Peck pointed out in The Road Less Traveled, human nature encompasses *everything*. I’ve been lucky to have a special perspective on bigotry, married as I am to a Chinese. Many liberals, not truly having dealt with their personal bigotry, are politely condescending and patronizing toward my wife, (though much less so in recent years). I kinda prefer Republican real estate brokers, having dealt with their personal bigotry well enough to close a sale, who say, “China? Red China? I don’t think I could find it on a map, but, hey, do you want to go for a ride on my yacht?”

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