Commentary: Hate has a familiar face in Mel Gibson

Miami HeraldJuly 8, 2010 

Apparently, Mel Gibson is a better actor than anyone knew.

He got in touch with his feminine side in the movie "What Women Want," directed by Nancy Meyers. But he hates women. He famously partnered with Danny Glover and lent his voice to a documentary celebrating African-American military history. But he hates black people.

Or so you must conclude if you believe last week's bombshell from Radar Online, a celebrity gossip website. It reported on July 1 that Gibson's estranged girlfriend, Oksana Grigorieva, had taped him in the throes of a profanely and profoundly hateful rant. He reportedly called Grigorieva, with whom he has an infant daughter, a "whore," a "bitch" and a particularly vulgar term for the female pudendum that begins with "c." Then there is this pungent quote: "You look like a f------ pig in heat and if you get raped by a pack of n------ it will be your fault."

You may think the most damning word in that quote is the N-word. Actually, it's just before that. After all, only animals hunt in packs.

At this writing, it is nearly a week since the story broke and Gibson has yet to deny the authenticity of those words, even as he has come under fire from the NAACP, Gloria Allred and Jesse Jackson.

If all this seems familiar, it is because Gibson made international headlines four years ago when, during a traffic stop for drunken driving, he exploded into a tirade against the "f------ Jews." I slammed the actor as a bigot, drawing cries of protest from some readers. You shouldn't be so hard on him, they said. The guy had been drinking. Stuff happens.

I can only hope those readers are paying attention now.

People tend to have this naive notion about hate. They think it's something you can see at 20 paces, something obvious and over-the-top, like the Nazis that Jack Kirby drew for Marvel Comics; you always knew they were evil from their craggy teeth and bad skin.

But hate looks like a grandmother baking cookies, a teacher standing in front of the class, a preacher opening his Bible. It looks like you or me, like anybody anywhere.

The philosopher Hannah Arendt famously wrote of what she called the "banality of evil." Well, there is a banality to hatred, too. We are conditioned to expect a grand, operatic malevolence, but there is nothing grand about it. Hatred is ordinary, hatred is insipid, hatred is small and mean. It is a series of compromises made with conscience, an expedience that bypasses thought and compassion.

It is a sickness and Gibson apparently has it bad.

I probably shouldn't feel sorry for him, but I do. I want to be furious at him, but the only thing I feel is pity. If these accusations are true, he is a troubled and conflicted man. I hope he gets better soon.

But solving the problem will require facing it. And who can say if he will? Consider that back in 2006, when his anti-Semitic outburst was in the headlines, the actor apologized profusely, then said: "Please know from my heart that I am not an anti-Semite. I am not a bigot." It was an astonishing statement from a man who had just cursed the "f------ Jews" for causing all the wars in the world. There was in it an echo of the alcoholic in denial, refusing what everyone else knows to be self-evident.

It will be interesting to see if Gibson is now done denying. Meanwhile, he has given us all a valuable object lesson.

I've said this before and it bears repeating: if it is true that those of us who have been hated sometimes have a hair trigger that sees hatred everywhere, it is also true that many of our countrymen who lack that experience have a blind spot that keeps them from seeing it ANYWHERE, even when it is blazingly obvious. So Gibson's travails remind us: hate isn't always as obvious as a Jack Kirby Nazi.

Sometimes, hate is handsome, familiar and beloved.

Indeed, sometimes, hate looks like a movie star.

ABOUT THE WRITER

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, Fla. 33132. Readers may write to him via e-mail at lpitts@miamiherald.com. Leonard Pitts chats with readers every Wednesday from 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. EDT on www.MiamiHerald.com.

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