Per usual, Mel Gibson was drowning in controversy last month when he scored his first post-recordings cameo on 'The Hangover 2,' only to have the offer whisked away after cast members complained. If it boiled down to nothing more than continual Gibson backlash, that would've been the end of the story -- a bad break for Mel and victory for those hoping he'd leave the 'biz. However, as with most things in life, it's not that simple.
Since the first film boasted a cameo by Mike Tyson, the anti-Gibson sentiment immediately set up a ranking system of what criminal offenses can be tolerated, a virtual road map of what you can get away with in Hollywood. Though both men have DUIs, anger issues and cases of domestic violence littering their pasts, Tyson is also a convicted rapist. Immediately, the story became not about another professional pothole for Gibson to jump over, but rather a matter of Hollywood hypocrisy and what little importance is placed on instances of violence against women.
The best thing about Gibson's ongoing drama is how perfectly this set up discussion about the topic, and the people having the discussion. As a discourse on the industry's on-going hypocrisy when it comes to the actions of its members, violence against women was ripped out of sex and gender-defined topic shackles and into mainstream discussion.
Brian Clark, over at Movieline, came up with a guide to Hollywood morality. Though written with humor, it boils the issue down into rather fitting columns of what's forgivable. Murder is not forgivable, but drug abuse is. Racism is less forgivable, while selling out friends during a Communist witch hunt sits on the fence. When it comes to women -- rape is mostly forgivable while domestic abuse is forgivable.* It's just one man's snarky writing, but there's enough evidence to back it up -- how Mike Tyson and Roman Polanski have been given passes, and Charlie Sheen and Alec Baldwin enjoy success no matter what they say or do. Meanwhile, there's a huge movement to end Mel's career, and though he admitted to physical violence on those tapes, it's his words that have people up in arms.
This latest controversy is just a perfectly wrapped example of Sarah Churchwell's piece at the New Statesman during the summer, in which she asks: "Using a racist word is, on the evidence, a far greater social crime than a man physically assaulting his girlfriend, or telling her that she deserves to be gang-raped. How is this possible?" She goes on to write about the well-documented trajectory of Roman Polanski's controversy, and Polanski's opinion of those who condemned him: "If I had killed somebody, it wouldn't have had so much appeal to the press, you see? But ... f**king, you see ... and the young girls. Judges want to f**k young girls. Juries want to f**k young girls. Everyone wants to f**k young girls!"
While his attitude might be disturbingly skewed, there is a point on how the world sees women. Men and women joined together for the petition to help Polanski, including Monica Bellucci and Tilda Swinton. Emma Thompson even signed it at one point, and had to be convinced to remove her name. Whoopi Goldberg took to the View to educate us that Polanski's actions weren't "rape-rape."
And then there's the loud champion of Gibson, Jodie Foster. Our Jenni Miller wondered about the actress' dedication to her friend. But it goes beyond the support of friendship. In an event celebrating women in Hollywood, Foster used the opportunity to state that Gibson is "an amazing actor, an incredible friend, a loyal friend of mine for 18 years. ...incredibly loved by everyone who ever comes into contact with him or works with him ... truly the most loved man in the film business, so, hopefully that stands for something." It can stand for a lot of things, but not an excuse or reason to ignore his actions.
Here we have two very women-centric avenues -- a popular television show and a female-centric celebration -- and both are used to condone or excuse violent actions towards women, rather than strive for an environment of safety and respect.
Though one in four women has experienced domestic violence, and one in six will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes, Hollywood is teaching us that violence against women isn't very important in the scheme of things. Of course, there's no evil group of cinematic warlords pushing this agenda, and most people who perpetuate it probably don't mean to. (I doubt any of the actors on 'The Hangover' thought of the implication of their actions, and simply felt like they were taking a noble stand. I would be immensely pleased if they spoke out about the subsequent press.) Nevertheless, this blase indifference exists towards women-centric violence, giving a blinding green light to such actions. We already see how image affects girls nation-wide, but think about what this indifference says to those women who are sexually assaulted or beaten across the world. If we don't show that we care -- that it's a very important issue -- these women will suffer in silence, never coming forward because the environment is overrun with hostility and a desire to ignore or downplay the problem.
You might be one of those people who deny there is any imbalance between men and women, or fear the unfortunate stigma that clutches to the word "feminism," but you simply cannot ignore this issue. Rape isn't only a "feminist issue." It's a problem for humanity. We don't ignore school shootings because we're no longer teens in high school. We don't ignore tragedies because they didn't directly effect us. We didn't shrug during the tsunami or turn off the TV and ignore 9/11 because we didn't know anyone who passed away that day. We shouldn't ignore this, and surely not let it become a secondary or tertiary issue alongside drunken rants and voicemails.
We wouldn't seek revenge when our daughters are called a rude name, only to ignore them when they came home with a black eye. The same rule should apply to all women.
*This piece is not meant to only validate sexual violence against women. The narrow focus is due to the nature of the column.
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