Tuesday, August 01, 2006

In Vino Veritas: Mel Gibson, Drunken Rants, and Forgiveness

I'm usually up on my celebrity "dish". E! is programmend on my remote as one of my "favorites", I'm no stranger to tmz.com, and I catch "Showbiz Tonight" whenever my schedule permits. (Which is quite often, in case you're wondering) This weekend, however, I was obviously a little bit off my game. I get a little distracted once NFL training camp starts.
I honestly did not find out about Mel Gibson and his tequila-fueled run-in with LA County police until yesterday.
I knew about Mel Gibson's history of problem drinking. He's a self-proclaimed alcoholic, and, for what it's worth I applaud him for taking responsibility for that aspect of last week's events. Relapses are not a required part of the recovery process, but they happen quite frequently. His celebrity means that his relapse is front page news. I'd be hard pressed to wish that kind of publicity on anyone. I can't defend drunk driving, though. He put his own safety and the safety of others at risk. This seems to have been somewhat forgotten in all the furor over his words and behavior after getting stopped by police. Reports are that Gibson is taking steps to get back on the wagon. I wish him all the best. To err is human, to forgive divine.
I also knew about the persistent allegations of anti-Semitism leveled at Mel Gibson. His father's comments on the subject of the Holocaust notwithstanding, Gibson's own statements always raised a few eyebrows. His drunken ramblings last Thursday night/Friday morning, however, contained invectives that would make a skinhead blush. A lot of discussion both on and off the 'net has been devoted to what extent these hateful remarks can be attributed to or explained by a problem drinker's having had too much to drink.
From a chemical standpoint ether and alcohol are close relatives. They're close enough to be brothers, as a matter of fact. Both are highly flammable and both are known to cause giggling, dizziness, and vomiting. A patient anesthetized by ether is liable to say some pretty strange things; things which he would probably not say under normal circumstances. Still, ether should not be considered the equivalent of "truth serum", and neither should alcohol. Statements made when a dying man knew he was about to die are given great weight under our legal system. Statements made when a man is dead drunk are not.
In my own experience, I've said many bluntly honest things while under the influence; things that, rightly or wrongly, I might not have said while stone cold sober. I've also lied like a rug. For every instance in which I've seen alcohol remove a man's inhibitions against hurting someone's feelings or making others uncomfortable by saying exactly what's on his mind, I've seen another instance in which alcohol has removed a man's fear of getting caught in a bald-faced lie. All that's to say that "in vino veritas" is always true . . . except when it's not.
No amount of alcohol, though, can justify or explain away the things Mel Gibson said to the arresting officers. Pour a fifth of whiskey down my throat and I'm liable to tell you launch into many diatribes. These could range from my hatred of the New York Yankees to my conviction that Lyndon Johnson gets short-changed by most Presidential historians. Most of these rants will probably not make any sense. They will, however, tend to be exaggerations of views and opinions I held long before the alcohol began to take effect. The circumstances under which I say them and the manner in which I express myself will be the major change brought about by my state of intoxication. Tequila can relax a shy man's inhibitions to the point where he'll get up in front of a crowd and start singing in a bad falsetto. He can't, however, blame the booze for the fact that he knows all the lyrics to "I Will Survive". Alcohol can't bring out anything that's not there to begin with.

The "don't you know who I am?" part of Gibson's rant is pretty commonplace. Many of us who are only household names in our own households might be tempted to say something similar given the right (or wrong) mixture of circumstances and alcohol. The guy no doubt has an ego. He wouldn't have achieved the success he has in a tough industry if he didn't. Our greatest strengths are usually tied to our greatest weaknesses as well.
Mel Gibson's timing could not have been worse. ABC has reportedly scrapped his project dealing with the Holocaust. His movie, "Apocalypto" also seems to be up in the air. As I've said, I hope that Gibson follows through on his plans for treatment. I also hope that he can work through the other issues which that bottle of tequila brought to the surface. These issues include his anti-Semitism and sense of entitlement. I hope he was motivated by a genuine sense of regret and acknowledgement that he needs to work on these things when he asked members of the very community he offended to help him in his recovery. I hope that concern for the future of his career wasn't the primary motivating factor.

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