Friday, February 05, 2010

Wiring The Dog


I grew up in the midst of a bunch of farms that had chickens.  For reasons of security, companionship, help with herding or hunting, most of the same farms had dogs. And as anybody knows, dogs love chicken.

So every now and then, a dog would do what dogs do and kill himself a chicken.

Since farmers needed those chickens for eggs and meat themselves, they had to find a way to make sure the dog never gave into his dog nature again. And rather than getting rid of the dog, they “wired” him.

Wiring a dog was a practice whereby the farmer took the just killed chicken and tied it around the dog’s neck with an unbreakable strand of baling wire. And then the chicken was left to rot.

The dog was stuck dragging around this reeking, festering thing that made his eyes water and filled his sensitive nostrils with the worst possible scent.

Now most farmers have noses too and they aren’t cruel to their dogs, so the poor creature wasn’t made to endure his punishment for more than a day or two. The sentence completed and all forgiven, the chicken was removed and the dog was usually no threat to the chickens from then on.

That memory was brought to mind this morning when somebody sent me the following video of Mel Gibson…

And that video went viral on the web a couple of days after this one…

Now, if Mel Gibson is an anti-Semite that definitely makes him a despicable human being. And while what he’s reported to have said during a drunken roadside rant while being busted for driving drunk strongly suggests that’s part of his character, a lot of people say unforgivable things when they’re drunk, things that are unbelievably stupid and utterly embarrassing to them in the cold light of sobriety.

But when people do the stuff Mel did --- do they ever get the dead chicken we’ve tied to them off their necks?

I’m not smart enough to get into a debate over which crimes are worse than others. But there are murderers and rapists and hate mongers walking among us that society deems to have repaid their debt. They’ve done their time, paid their fine, served the community service and probation.

They can’t be denied jobs or accommodation because of their missteps. Former friends and new neighbors may well shun them, but nobody points them out every time they walk into a bar and says “Hey, don’t serve him! He robbed a bank once.”

Maybe they should. Maybe that would make committing a crime even more worth consideration prior to the act.

But, on the other hand, it would likely mean fewer bars with enough customers to stay in business.

That’s because there are all kinds of outrages we commit which don’t get you hauled into any court except the court of public opinion. And that’s the place where guys like Mel have their dead chickens wired to them until…

Well, until when?

How’s the length of the sentences in the court of public opinion determined? Or does anybody ever get to redeem themselves in that jurisdiction?

After what happened to Mel happened, a lot of Hollywood types stepped forward and said, “Hey, I know the guy. He’s not like that.” Well, Hollywood’s a place with ever moving allegiances and you might put some of those people down to the motivation of getting into Mel’s substantially-in-the-black good books. Others just like to see their name in the papers being contrary.

But Mel also met with a couple of LA Rabbis who later said, “Doesn’t seem like such a bad guy to me.” Okay, maybe they were star struck too.

And he donated significantly to a couple of worthy Jewish causes. And maybe that was just the usual charity penance a lot of well-heeled people do to spruce up their images from time to time.

It’s easy to be cynical in such circumstances.

But Mel also complied with all the court ordered punishments.

Yet, years later, people keep pointing to that chicken around his neck and saying “You don’t seem to be gagging on the smell much”.

Now, maybe Mel is a guy who still hasn’t gotten it. Certainly when he uses phrases like “I’ve done all the necessary mea culpas”, you wonder if what he said and did after the act were only the list of requirements from a knowledgeable publicist and weren’t actually from the heart of a reformed man.

But there’s also some terribly lazy journalism and the smell of another agenda or two here. In the first clip, the question that offends Mel seems like a time-filling afterthought. “I don’t really have anything more to ask you about your movie, and I know how cheap looking and boring it is to watch a guy talk to a flatscreen, so I’ll see if bringing up some scandalous behavior will perk things up.”

In the second case, it appears that the interviewer didn’t actually realize he was an outraged Jew and human being until after the interview was over. So was his showing the clip the righteous vengeance of one still dealing with an open wound or just an opportunity to pump the ratings?

What’s also clear in the video is that Mel is begging both these guys to be straight with him. “Don’t beat around the bush. Come at me. Give it your best shot. Spit out what you’re truly upset about so I can address it.”

That doesn’t seem to happen in the court of public opinion. While the farmer knows what he’s doing is pointless if he continues the punishment until he has destroyed the animal’s olfactory abilities and broken his spirit, we seem to do that with people.

Mel Gibson made a lot of great movies. He was also a maverick who bucked the Hollywood system to make films that would never have even been considered within the studio system. He also made “Bird on a Wire” and “Lethal Weapon 4”, so there’s no guarantee that having him on the sidelines for the last four years cost us any great motion picture experiences. 

But nobody who has ever seen a dog shambling across a farm yard with a chicken around its neck ever snickers “Hey, we sure showed him!” and high-fives the retching that follows.

But somehow some of us like reminding people in obituaries that, no matter what he accomplished in the last half of his life, Ted Kennedy went to his grave with his Chappaquiddick chicken still firmly in place.

Or they look forward to how much all those mistress chickens will hamper Tiger’s swing in the future.

Not taking a side here. Just askin’. Do the chickens we tie ever come off? Or is completely breaking one person worth all we lose in the process…


Anonymous said...

Two words: Roman Polanski.

Any industry that has more people supporting Polanski than forgiving Gibson is not to be trusted.

Funny, I remember people protesting at Andrew Dice Clay shows for his misogyny.

I wonder if anyone will do the same for Whoopie Goldberg when she plays Rama Casino? You know, the Whoopie who defends Polanski by saying "it wasn't rape-rape"...sure, drugging and sodomizing a 13 year old. Not rape.

Hollywood: our moral betters? Not since Fatty Arbuckle.

The White Wolf said...

Mel Gibson used to own a farm across from my parents' guest cabins in Montana and one day he arrived by helicopter! The town was a buzz because we all knew it must've bin him, and sure enough, the next day he's having lunch with his kids at the bowling alley ...

Long story short, the waitress asked that everyone stay in their seats, and Mel said: Aw no, come around and lemme introduce you to my girls.

The girls were super-proud, Mel was too, photos were taken, and I got to tell him how cool I thought Road Warrior was.

RE: chicken around the neck:

You know how Americans like to personify others' suffering as if they themselves went through some great injustice. Posers.

The White Wolf said...

Ummm, Fatty Arbuckle was proven innocent.

But that still didn't save his career, because he was prosecuted by the very court of public opinion that Jim writes about.

A court headed by kangaroos.

DMc said...

White Wolf:

David Milgaard.

Guy Paul Morin.

If you think that's exclusively an American quality, you're an ass.

Canadians are among the most judgemental people in the world. And they're pretty good at the stereotyping too. As you just proved.

The White Wolf said...

I'd expect nothing less from you DMc. Take out a mosquito with a bazooka, eh?

Thought the topic was Hollywood, not real-wood.

BTW, I was born in America, ass.

DMc said...

Showing the measure of his confidence in his reasoning,and no appreciation for the irony, the lovely "White Wolf," AKA Mike Raciot, of Montreal, PQ,sent me a couple of threatening emails tonight, inviting me to come to Montreal to... hang on ...

"based on your ass comment, I think we'd have a fight on our hands. Or more like you'd find yourself sitting on your ass with a bloody nose.

E-mail me when you're in Montreal next. I'd love to chat."

A bit of internalized Mel Gibson there, and all for the comment, "If you think that's exclusively an American quality, you're an ass."

Clearly this does, in fact, represent Mike's true sentiments, since he chose to take such umbrage. It's also not the first time he chose to resort to lazy slams of this nature.

In response, I blew him a kiss.

Enough of the hatin, I sez.

Although after a couple more stalker mails from Monsieur Raciot I may have resorted to the immortal Michael O'Donaghue signoff, "Get Cancer."

Which I admit, is pretty harsh.

But it is also instructive in terms of this thread.

Jim, I saw the same clip on CNN, and my reaction was remarkably different. This is the first big promotional push Mel Gibson has done as a "movie star" since the unfortunate DUI where he was both pretty sexist and pretty ragingly anti-semitic against the arresting officer.

There's a bit of common sense I heard a long time ago from my great Uncle, who despite his lack of formal education, seemed a pretty smart cookie to me. He said, "no man says something when he's drunk that isn't in his heart." The pleasing lowering of inhibition that alcohol provides may do many things, but it does not turn a reasonable man with love in his heart for all people into a hate spewing racist, any more than a "if you think this, then you're an ass" causes an outsize reaction from somebody who doesn't already have a fairly tenuous hold on their emotional balance to begin with.

This was Mel's first big kick at the spotlight since that arrest; for him to react, consistently, like he could not possibly believe that anyone would think to ask the question is disingenuous at best. He's not stumping for OXFAM here, he's doing the promote a movie monkey dance. For the first time since the weird incident that seemed to confirm the opinions of people who were dismissed by other people when they said, "Uh, there's something hinky about the way he's portraying Jews in Passion of the Christ." And that is the key. It was the first time he was back doing the thing that he did all those times before -- sell the movie. Your chicken/dog analogy is interesting, but in this case there's been no rot -- he simply rehabbed and turtled. To let him go back to the business of selling without acknowledging the sticky nature of the earlier controversy would have caused a pretty rotten smell -- for the journalists taking part in the action. Silence is assent, after all.

DMc said...

Now, I do try to give Mel a modicum of benefit of the doubt here. One of the things I've heard several people say today is that Mel's use of the phrase "done the necessary mea culpas" seems dismissive and a bit callous.

If I were to use that phrase -- and I have, or one of similar would be with a tongue in cheek or sarcastic vibe. But Mel, as an Opus Dei Catholic, is so deeply steeped in his religion that it's just possible that that phrasing comes to mind because it's part of his everyday; not because he's using it in the modern, hipster, disingenuous sense of doing a "mea culpa," which is a kind of code for being seen to make obsequious apology that you don't really mean.

But the problem is, with Mel, there's an awful lot of "maybes" and "well, it could mean's..." stacked up there. The outburst in the DUI is not supposed to be connected to the portrayal of Jews in Passion of the Christ, just as the charges of casual anti semitism before either of those events is supposed to have nothing to do with his Father's on-the-record anti-semitic views.

But the troubling pattern that all of these behaviors -- including the most recent -- paint, is not an invention of the media. It's legitimately something I would like Mel to answer for…certainly before I cheerfully accept him back on the "let's do promo for the movie" circuit. I mean, he doesn't have to do promo. Nobody's holding a fifth of vodka to his lips making him drink, drive to a studio and do the interviews, right?

There were those who staunchly defended Michael Jackson against all the ugly things said about him in recent years...who insisted that he was misunderstood even as he continually tried to elbow his way back into the spotlight.

Whatever you may now believe about those charges, the guy certainly expired in a way that was terrible, and awful, & didn't serve himself or his many defenders very well. Was the indulgence of MJ or Anna Nicole's desire for the spotlight despite obvious warning signs a sin that can be laid against the media? Should we have just served them up as they wished?

Or at some point do we need to acknowledge that maybe sometimes the cold lens captures something that is troubling, because it is actually troubling, and leaves questions unanswered that maybe should be dealt with and answered?

The White Wolf said...


Ken said...

Wow, this is fun!