Bottom Feeding on the Bottom Line

6:00 AM PST 09/13/2011 by Rabbi David Wolpe
Frazer Harrison/Getty Images; Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

Supporting an alleged anti-Semite's film about Jewish icon Judah Maccabee shows an alarming lack of honor.

There is a certain exquisite narcissism that believes it is not enough to merely despise one's spouse, you also have to win the allegiance of the children. In other words, to hate someone really thoroughly, you must expropriate that which the hated person loves.

Mel Gibson's numerous slurs against Jews can leave no one in doubt that his anti-Semitism is deep and real. Yes, one can be charming, funny, gifted and still anti-Semitic. His excuse for the most egregious thing he said -- "I was drunk" -- reminds me of the words of Polish writer Stanislaw Lec: "Anti-Semitism and alcohol cannot coexist in the same bigot. Pour one in, and the other comes out." Most people get drunk without being seized by the delusion that one or another group is responsible for all the bad things in the world. Racists and anti-Semites are people who drink and delude.

Apparently it is not enough for Gibson to dislike Jews. He must also expropriate their heroes. Hence the absurdly ironic news that he is making a movie about Judah Maccabee. It is not earth-shattering. Society will not crumble because Gibson has devised a new way to infuriate those whom he hates. Still, this man who told The New Yorker that the Jews run Hollywood and a patrol officer that the Jews start all the wars has now deputized himself to make a Hollywood movie about the one character in the Jewish tradition known primarily for being a warrior. Next, no doubt, we will hear about David Duke's plans for a biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Why is Warner Bros. involved in this lunatic foray? Apparently because money banishes any unease about indecency. The movie, which I guarantee will be blood-soaked and brash, will make money. Here is Hollywood at its most craven, bottom feeding on the bottom line. It is a sad but forced conclusion that there was no one gifted simultaneously with decision-making power and an elementary sense of honor.

The danger in such outlandish projects is that they lend a patina of legitimacy to what Gibson says. Now he is an authority -- an ersatz movie authority, but sometimes that is what passes in our culture -- on Jewish history. Of course, if Jews really ran Hollywood, Gibson would never be given the chance to make a movie about a Jewish hero.

Being an accomplished artist does not require a stellar moral character. The list of artists, even great artists, who were miserable human beings is long and dispiriting. We treasure their work because artistry transcends crankiness, paranoia or hatred. But when an artist takes the object of his hatred and chooses that as the subject of his art, the only response is a disgusted dismissal.

Let Mel Gibson make his movie. Just don't go. It is conspiring in obscenity to buy a ticket. Stay home for Hanukkah.

Wolpe is an author and rabbi at Sinai Temple, a Conservative Jewish congregation in West Los Angeles.

comments powered by Disqus