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.