WHERE IS THE HOLLYWOOD OUTRAGE? Where is the industrywide condemnation? No, I’m not talking about Mel Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic slurs. I’m talking about the Lionsgate scandal. Its ads for its slasher flick opening this weekend set a new low by boasting — yes, boasting — about how this movie is way more disgusting than anything the studio has previously brought to the big screen. “People are concerned that the amount of blood and gore in horror films goes too far,” the deep-voiced announcer intones, barely heard above the barrage of shrieks and moans. “On August 4, the studio that brought you Saw and Hostel goes over the edge. The Descent, rated R.”
Instead, the movie biz is consumed by the scandal of a dwarfish über-Catholic bigot with a fondness for blonde fans. Why, I haven’t witnessed so many power players this quick to kick a confessed alcoholic when he’s down and out. A guy who relapsed and drove near 90 miles an hour because he felt suicidal and wanted to wrap himself around a telephone pole (or so one of his intimates spun it to me), and who, when a Sheriff’s deputy put an end to his death wish, said venomous stuff he’s copped to and apologized for, since, well, never.
Hop on the bandwagon, Hollywood. The queue to put your name to your demonstrations of heartfelt sanctimoniousness forms here. You may even get a prominent Los Angeles Times columnist to declare you his hero. Oh, there’s just one thing before you sign up to speak out: Just make sure you’re not a fucking hypocrite. Don’t malign Mel if you, too, have had a booze or drug (or double) addiction and were ever sorry for things you said under the influence. Don’t give Gibson grief if you or your company were trying to sign him as a client or do business with his company even after you declared his The Passion of the Christ symptomatic of anti-Semitic spirit, and then thought better of it when the pic made gobs of global money and it became clear you needed his genius to tap into that lucrative spirituality market heretofore ignored by Hollywood. Don’t hot-button him if you or your company ever did business with avowed anti-Semites or boycotters of Israel. Don’t trash Gibson if your own house is even a little bit stinky.
Yes, I’m sickened by what Mel said about Jews, and not just because I’m Jewish. No one explained why better than the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s dean and founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier, when he told me in an interview this week from Israel, where he was handing out funds for aid and shelter to Israelis, including Israeli Arabs: “Look, the issue with Mel Gibson is very simple. Mel Gibson is driving under intoxication. There are no Jews in sight. He can blame his car, he can blame his liquor, and he can blame the sheriff. But he can’t blame any Jews, because there are none around. That’s precisely who he blames. Yet that’s the problem. That shows he has a problem with Jews. And there’s an old Yiddish saying, which loses a lot in translation, ‘What someone drunk has on his tongue comes from his conscience when he is not drunk.’ ”
BUT GIBSON WAS A SPECIAL CASE in Hollywood’s eyes. Oh, not because of envy of his $850 million net worth, or his Oscars, or his successful production company that is free from the dictatorial financing, producing and distributing of those monopolies known as studios and that is as close to being a studio, complete with film library, as any actor/director/producer hyphenate enjoys. Rather, after Mel’s DUI arrest and the Internet seepage of his anti-Semitic barrage, Industry power players speaking anonymously began condemning Gibson as “the apple that doesn’t fall far from the tree,” the spitting image of his father, Hutton Gibson, a famous anti-Semite and Holocaust denier.
As the days progressed and the scandal unfolded, Hollywood VIPs became emboldened with their “j’accuse” finger-pointing. Yes, those who put their names out there should be applauded. But let’s get past their bravery and look at their bullshit. Some declared that Gibson’s transgressions were so awful he should be shunned by show biz, he and his company blacklisted, his projects dropped or declared off-limits. Which is why I must ask, Who among Hollywood isn’t flawed? Haven’t this industry’s constant calls for artistic freedom also meant separating talent’s failure as human beings from their success as creators of art? And why are Gibson’s anti-Semitic drunken statements more horrific than all the other host of sins that Hollywood denizens commit on an almost daily basis?
Sex and drug scandals, misogyny toward women, intolerance toward gays, prejudice against racial and ethnic groups other than Jews, celebration of violence, abuse of underlings, and on and on: All are part and parcel of the business of entertainment, where pricks get ahead precisely because of their abominable behavior. This is a town that has no notion of personal responsibility, much less corporate responsibility.
For crissakes, it took a hostile Congress and the threat of a federal crackdown before show-biz leaders grudgingly acknowledged back in 2000 that they may have “stepped over the line” in advertising violent entertainment to children — or took the responsibility of considering ways to better keep adult-oriented products out of young hands. Before that, Industry execs defiantly defended peddling violent crap rated for mature audiences to children as young as 10 — that is, until their despicable marketing tactics were documented in a stinging Federal Trade Commission report. (One revelation was internal corporate plans to use Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H Clubs and school newspapers to sell products that the industry itself deemed appropriate only for mature audiences.) Not a single film-studio executive accepted the invitation to attend the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee’s daylong hearings in the wake of the 1999 Columbine High School shootings, which claimed 15 lives and called into question the effects on kids of violent entertainment its makers won’t even allow in their own homes.
Mel Gibson may have made drunken anti-Semitic slurs in 2006, but there’s a parallel to the entertainment industry’s last big scandals putting bigotry against Jews front and center. Back in 1990, during the negotiations for the Matsushita electronics giant to buy MCA, the Hollywood media giant that owned Universal Studios, the media reported the Japanese company’s little-known policy of participating in an Arab-led boycott of Israel, which barred it from conducting any direct trade with the Jewish state. It was widely assumed that Matsushita’s refusal to change its policy would kill any sale, because MCA’s chairman, Lew Wasserman, and its president, Sidney Sheinberg, were two of America’s leading and substantial supporters of Jewish and Israeli causes. It didn’t. The deal went through.
There was also the case of Giancarlo Parretti, the Italian entertainment mogul always operating one step ahead of Interpol. In the midst of lining up financing for his attempted buyout of MGM/UA for $1.2 billion, he was quoted making anti-Semitic remarks. Hollywood remained mute and, in the end, everybody did business with him. Nor did it deter the media giant Time Warner from joining Parretti’s MGM/UA bid or rising to Parretti’s defense. “I would think,” then–Time Warner co-chairman Steve Ross told the media, “that if studio people are quoted and they’re not disclosing who they are, that in itself must mean something, especially since most major studios have contacted Mr. Parretti and/or Warner Bros. to negotiate a deal of their own.” What a parallel when Gibson’s longtime agent, ICM’s Ed Limato, also outed some competitors, who, he told The New York Times, were openly assailing Gibson after having tried and failed to woo him. “For some people in my business to publicly try to destroy Mel Gibson because of this incident the other night I find very hypocritical,” he said.
That is why I have always made a terrible joke that Hollywood would do business with Hitler if he made money for them. Gibson’s scandal goes way beyond just the issue of his own anti-Semitism, but it plumbs the deeper truths about the dark way that the entertainment business conducts itself. The Descent that’s over the edge here is not just Lionsgate’s, or Mel Gibson’s: It’s Hollywood’s as well.