So, I had been aggressively not following Mel Gibson’s latest spewfest. The truth is, I’ve known what I needed to know about him for some time, and worrying about the particulars of each new episode would be pointless celebrity-mongering.
Then, of course, somebody insisted that I listen to the actual audio. I came away thinking, wait, did he just say “if you get raped by a bunch of niggers it’ll be your fault”? Damn – that’s out there even by Mel’s psycho-nutbag standards.
Then I tripped across this from Whoopi Goldberg:
I know Mel, and I know he’s not a racist. I have had a long friendship with Mel. You can say he’s being a bonehead, but I can’t sit and say that he’s a racist having spent time with him in my house with my kids. I don’t like what he’s done, make no mistake.
Later on, Whoopi clarified, sorta, by saying that “she doesn’t support what Gibson did, only that she doesn’t think his racial comments make him a racist.”
My first temptation is to snark. You know, clearly Mel meant “nigger” in that non-racist way, just like he presumably meant “bitch” and “whore” in a respectful, gender-equity kinda way. But that’s too easy. I mean, is Mel a racist, really? I don’t know. I guess that depends on how you define racist, although I tend to feel that we can infer things about you from the things you say.
However, what makes this story vaguely interesting isn’t Mel. It’s Whoopi, a presumably intelligent woman with an informed perspective on race and gender.
I say “presumably,” though, because Whoopi Goldberg has a curious history. For instance, remember this?
She said that she and Danson, who have been the subjects of much media speculation because they are often seen together, decided to play on some of the nasty letters and comments their relationship has elicited. “We’ve gotten a lot of hate mail. He’s been called a |nigger lover’ and people have said that if we had a kid they hoped he or she died. We decided to go over the top with it. If you think he’s a nigger lover, here he is in blackface. People took offense about it.”
I can certainly make allowances for people who are legitimately misunderstood. Sometimes smart people go about making points in ways that not everybody groks. That happened to Swift in the infamous Irish baby-eating debacle and it’s happened plenty of times since. While I don’t claim to be a Jonathan Swift, it’s happened to me, so I’m willing to take Whoopi at her word.
But then there was the whole Roman Polanski “rape-rape” dust-up.
“I know it wasn’t rape-rape. It was something else but I don’t believe it was rape-rape. He went to jail and and when they let him out he was like “You know what this guy’s going to give me a hundred years in jail I’m not staying, so that’s why he left.”
I’ll be the first to acknowledge that the term “rape” denotes a category of actions that are not all technically equivalent. But we’re talking about drugging a 13 year-old and having sex with her while she’s out, if I understand the details properly. If you want to draw lines and argue that some rape is worse than other rape, go ahead, but if you have this particular act categorized as a yellow-card offense instead of a red card offense, then you’re on your own.
When all is said and done, I can entertain the idea that one controversial opinion doesn’t and shouldn’t define a legacy. But at some point we’re no longer talking about an instance, we’re talking about a pattern. And at some point views go from being unconventional to indefensible.
I don’t know Whoopi Goldberg, and am in no position, perhaps, to write her off in the way that my snarky side would like to. But I will say this: if I’m ever on trial for rape, or domestic abuse, or any sort of hate crime, I’m fine with her being on the jury.