Saturday, July 29, 2006

When You Fall in the Mud, Take a Shower -- Then Pray for Your Messed Up Soul

Mel Gibson got himself arrested for driving under the influence, and he acted like an ass when he was arrested:

So, you know that Mel Gibson arrest for DUI that went off "without incident"? Well, according to documents obtained by TMZ, that's not entirely accurate. If this handwritten report (link points to a PDF file) by the arresting officer is real, there was was nothing cooperative whatsoever about saintly Gibson. Instead, after allegedly running for his own vehicle when asked to get into the squad car (and subsequently being cuffed), he commenced swearing like a sailor, threatening to "get even" with the cop who was taking him in. In what the officer reported were the actor's own words, revenge would be simple because, as Gibson repeatedly told the arresting officer, he "own[s] Malibu." When that didn't work, Gibson allegedly took the old, reliable anti-Semitic route. Again according to the arresting officer's (alleged) report, the actor went off a tirade, apropos of nothing: "'F*****g Jews ... The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.' Gibson then asked the deputy, 'Are you a Jew?'" Boy, nothing but class there, huh?

Just to say it one more time: This is all alleged at the moment. But, damn, it sounds bad. Either Mel is a really nasty drunk, or there's a cop in the LA County Sheriff's Department who really, really wants to be famous.
So here's the part that almost never happens: Big Mel is taking full responsibility for being a putz and apologizing to all concerned:

In a shockingly normal-person decision by a celeb in trouble, Mel Gibson has come out with a statement about his DUI in which he takes full responsibility for his behavior. You can find the full text of the statement online, but to summarize, Gibson doesn't dispute anything in the report we told you about this morning. Instead, he describes his behavior at the time of arrest as "completely out of control," and goes on (referring primarily, one assumes, to his anti-Semitic words) to say: "[I] said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said." He also apologizes to the deputies with whom he was involved during the arrest, and praises them several times for the jobs they do, and were doing last night.

So, there it is. I'm really, really impressed that he's put out a statement simply accepting that he was wrong -- you don't see that much 'round Hollywood way, at least not from names as big as Gibson's. I'm still troubled, however, by his drunken anti-Semitism. From some of the comments on the previous post, it sounds like some of you accept that sort of thing as being par for the course when people get drunk. So I'm curious: Do you honestly think that, under the influence of alcohol, people with no prejudicial beliefs can suddenly become racist, or anti-Semitic, or anti-Muslim, or anti-whatever? Because I've never known anyone to whom that happens (lucky for me, I guess) -- what are your experiences like?
Great that he apologized, but I agree with the Cinematical author whose post I'm copying here: Can a racist diatribe be written off as inspired by the booze? I think not. It's the same deal as with violence, the booze just reduces the inhibitions against acting out the taboo behavior.

This calls into question, again, the anti-Semitism of The Passion. Gibson has denied that he shares his father's anti-semitic views, but this looks like a classic example of a son (unconsciously?) internalizing the beliefs of his father.

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Bill LaLonde said...

I think the problem here comes in trying to decide what is the "real" opinion of Mel (or some hypothetical drunk).
Yes, alcohol reduces socially induced inhibitions, so if someone is really a bigot and only hides it because of society then it's going to come out. But alcohol also reduces higher cognitive functions in general. So, Mel probably absorbed some of his father's views. They're bopping around in his psyche, but the part of himself which is rational and in control (for example his frontal cortex in brain terminology) is suppressed so that those lower urges and scripts come out.
So the question is, do you think the real Mel is the rational intellect who is usually in control and makes deliberate decisions based on chosen values, or do you think the real Mel is made up of the lower urges and ideas that were implanted in his mind when he was younger and had no control, ideas that he has presumably struggled to overcome?
Just my two cents. Thanks for posting such a thought-provoking bit.

WH said...

Good point, Bill. I suppose we can't hold him responsible for programming that he consciously may work to overcome. Or can we?

As a former drunk, I can say from experience that drunks rarely act out of character with who they really are -- even when taking into account deeply embedded programming. We are what we are -- the alchohol just loosens the restraints.

I completely understand the brain physiology argument. In Mel's case, with a .12 breath test, there was not enough alchohol to justify a claim of diminished capacity.

Me thinks he has some explaining to do.


Bill LaLonde said...

I think we agree overall-- he definitely has some explaining to do :)

I still think it might be useful to look at the boundaries of who someone really is. Why are a person's inhibitions not part of who they really are? Which character traits are who they really are (like, in the example, bigotry) and which aren't (like inhibitions)?

And what about the idea of Kant, where the only true moral act is when one does the right thing regardless of character:

"To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them, and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with other inclinations. ... For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination."

By Kant's thinking, even if Mel is a bigot, the fact that he usually doesn't act on it makes him more moral than a naturally tolerant person.

I'm not saying I agree (or disagree) with Kant, but it does open up an interesting line of thought, no?

But like I said, I think you and I are closer in opinion than maybe my contrarian nature would indicate-- it's just fun to try and chew pieces off an issue from every side.