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…