After taking a week off from the site to prepare for the upcoming September onslaught at work, I'm back at the ol' keyboard and man do I have a lot of catching up to do. Most weeks there are maybe one or two stories that catch my eye, that I'll comment on. This past week and a half, it seemed like more things were happening than I could really do proper justice to (and be timely) with full examinations. So, without further ado, I am going to attempt to get caught up on the stories I didn't have a chance to cover over the past week.
It began with a text from my mom last Monday. I had just gotten in from seeing Guardians of the Galaxy (for the 2nd time) when she dropped the bombshell. While she didn't spell out what had happened to him, I guessed based on the tenor of the text that it was bad. And indeed it was even worse than I had thought. A man who had made so many of us happy for the past 30+ years lost a battle with mental illness and took his own life.
My intent with this piece is not to eulogize Robin Williams the entertainer. So many have talked about how Robin Williams brought them so much joy and all of the wonderful characters he brought to life. and frankly, many have done so much better than I can. Today I want to talk about Robin Williams the person. We so often forget that behind the curtain of celebrity is a husband, father and friend.
There's a cynical part of me that always wants to shout down my emotions whenever I get choked up about the death of a celebrity. A little voice inside that snarkishly chides me with "You didn't know them. Thousands of people die every day, that you don't care about." That voice can kind of be an asshole sometimes, but it is not entirely wrong. The horrible truth about Robin Williams suicide is there are countless others out there suffering from depression, many of whom do so in silence.
Countless others who have to listen to Grade A Douchecanoes like Gene Simmons telling people who have suicidal thoughts that they should just kill themselves. (Warning: Clicking on that link may cause retching.) Countless others who have to listen to their mental illness be belittled or minimized. If there is one shred of hope that comes from this very dark corner, it's that maybe we'll all start taking mental health issues a little more seriously?
I once heard a description given of depression that I feel most accurately illustrates the struggle that so many go through on a daily basis. Imagine that cynical voice that I described above. Now imagine that the voice actively hates you. It spends all day every day telling you what an awful person you are and how the world would be better without you in it. The voice knows all of your insecurities and it is merciless in using them against you. You can't turn it off and you can't turn the volume down. No matter how many people who surround you with messages of love, that voice can shout louder than any of them. It never tires, it never sleeps. One opening is all it needs, one moment of exhaustion, one lapse in your defenses. NOT a moment of weakness mind you just a moment of living not in a perpetual state of battle with your own brain. If you give in to the battle and agree with the voice for one moment, the voice wins, extinguishing itself and you in the process.
Throughout all of the talk about chemical imbalances and whether or not things like mental illness or addictions such as alcoholism should be called diseases, we sometimes lose sight of the humanity in the equation. This is the story of a man beloved by so many, and yet who ultimately felt he could not go on in this world.
I'm not a mental health professional. There is a lot I don't know about this illness. I do know that stigmatizing mental illness only makes things worse. I do know that you cannot cure it with money. I do know that there are no magic pills or quick fixes. My hope is that this unfortunate loss spurs us all to stop turning a deaf ear to this issue.
Rest In Peace Robin
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
Canadian Mental Health Association: Depression
Stephen Fry's Documentary "The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive"
I used to be a huge Mel Gibson fan.
My grandparents had a copy of "Maverick" on VHS that I damn near wore out from watching so often. By the way, since I'll never be able to do a full review of the movie (for reasons I'll get into in a bit) I'll say I still remember it very fondly. It was a lot of fun and the cast was top notch. (Author's Note: It occurs to me I allowed James Garner's passing to go by without properly paying my respects...I'll have to rectify that.)
I loved the Lethal Weapon movies and even latter day movies like Payback were among my favourites. Overall, if you would have asked me 10 years ago (well 11 considering the Passion came out on 2004) to list my favourite actors, Mel would have certainly been named among them.
I am no longer a fan of Mel Gibson. I don't feel I need to go too much into detail to explain why. His track record of being an abusive, misogynistic, racist, religious fundamentalist, alcoholic, rageaholic, batshit crazy asshole have been well covered elsewhere.
It's not so much a case of not being a fan anymore as it is I actively work to avoid putting money in his pockets (yes I realize the irony of giving Maverick a recommendation). That gets more to the heart of what I want to talk about today, which is how we treat the line between the performer and the art.
I'll be the first to say, my Gibson prohibition is not unanimously viewed as the "correct" way to go about things. For many people I have talked to about such things, the art and the performer are always separate. So my refusal to watch ANYTHING Mel Gibson is in (Note to filmmakers I like: quit putting Mel in movies I might legitimately want to see) is in no way to be considered what I believe to be the right thing to do. It's purely on a personal level. Everybody's list is different and not having a list is perfectly acceptable.
What interests me, however, is how hypocritical it makes me to have this prohibition. I'm gonna be honest here and just say that there are a lot of artists I continue to show patronage to, who have some combination of the qualities that led Mel Gibson to land on my shit list.
Sean Connery, Josh Brolin, Steve Austin, Dennis Hopper and John Lennon all had problems with domestic violence.
Malcolm Young, Jake Roberts, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Drew Barrymore, Robert Downey Jr., Steve McQueen and Jack Lemmon all battled substance abuse (Fact: The first time Jack Lemmon publicly acknowledged his battle with alcoholism was during his interview on "Inside the Actors Studio". You could hear a pin drop during the silence that followed.)
Matthew Broderick killed a woman with his car, John Landis and Steven Spielberg were involved in the on set death of Vic Morrow (and two underaged actors who were not supposed to be working at the time) on the set of the Twilight Zone movie.
Stanley Kubrick, Alfred Hitchcock, Orson Welles, Joan Crawford and Steve Jobs were all well known for their reputations as emotionally abusive basket cases.
That's all off the dome by the way, I could keep going for a long time here but I feel I've illustrated my point. What is it that will change my perspective on an artist so much that I will refuse to ever patronize anything they do? I've always believed in the statement "you vote with your wallet". In Mel Gibson's case, I think it's because the image of the man has become synonymous with any character he tries to play. It's like trying to go back and watch those old Naked Gun movies that had OJ Simpson clowning it up with Leslie Neilson. I have trouble seeing anything but OJ Simpson.
Charlie Sheen found himself on the list for similar reasons, although there was an added dimension to his particular decent into madness. Not only did he hit most of the Mel Gibson meltdown checklist, but added a layer of overt egomania to it.
I think a big part of a reason I won't pay money to watch these guys is I feel like I would be contributing further to their decline. One of the things that fascinates me about the cult of personality in our modern age is the absolute relish with which the public loves to watch an icon fall.
South Park did a brilliant episode called "Britney's New Look" which painted a chilling picture of the dark side of popular culture. In the episode, Britney has had her well publicized meltdown after being hounded by the paparazzi and the public. The boys sneak into her hotel room posing as her children in an attempt to get a picture of her. Upon seeing that she had been tricked, Britney grabs a shotgun and blows the top half of her head off.
Britney survives the ordeal (while still missing the top of her head) and the boys, feeling guilty for having pushed her over the edge, find themselves the only ones defending her when the world seems intent on continuing to push her out into public. At one point she is sent out to perform her new song at an awards show and all everybody talks about is how she has put on weight and can't sing. The don't care that she's missing half of her head.
I won't spoil the rest of the episode, but it is definitely worth a look. A single half hour of television made me look at celebrity obsession a whole new way.
I think a part of why these two men in particular have managed to raise enough bile within me to avoid them completely, is because I don't wish to follow them off the cliff. I'm Stan and Kyle in the South Park story trying to undo the damage when it's already too late.
Craig Ferguson, host of the Late Late Show, had a similar epiphany regarding the cult of personality, in one of his best serious monologues. Especially coming from a late night talk show host, whose job involves regular mockery of celebrities, it was a real eye opener.
Man, it's getting heavy in here.
I need some more Crazy Mel pictures.
I'm not in any way excusing the behavior of Mel and Charlie. I'm merely trying to figure out why they in particular hit that "Nope!" button so very hard.
I think it comes down to a combination of fan guilt (ie - we created the monsters so now we have to stop them), and a sense of betrayal that comes from someone you once liked crossing that line of no return. (Also see the sad case of Chris Benoit for another example of someone whose work I will never be able to enjoy again for a different reason. That's far too lengthy a topic to go into here.)
I don't know where the line is on this. This is a topic I just end up with more questions than answers. Is it wrong to allow personal stuff to impact art? Am I unfairly singling out Mel and Charlie while giving others a pass for the same behavior? Maybe we're all hypocrites? Are Mel and Charlie simply easy targets, playing the whipping boys while others skate on by?
Do you have a prohibition list? What do you think about the separation of person from art? Let me know in the comments.
Hi, my name is Mitch and I write things sometimes.