Let me ask you something: Suppose you walked out of your grocery store and in the parking lot, hovering near the door where there’s traffic…where there’s an audience…a so-called homeless person is ranting about something. You can’t discern a theme inside of what he’s saying, but you can tell that every third word is a racial epithet or profanity or some unwieldy combination of both. Do you stop and listen?
Nah. You keep moving toward your car. You don’t pay attention and you aren’t hurt by anything that you might happen to hear because you don’t grant the speaker any credibility. He’s a mess. He’s “nuts”, he’s drunk, he’s, you know, one of those guys.
So why did the entire planet stop in its tracks and dig into actor/director Mel Gibson’s inebriated ravings?
I understand that he’s a celebrity, that he has fame. And with that, the fact that this event defines itself as “news” is a whole other issue. I’m wondering how we got to where being physically attractive and photographed in moving pictures becomes a position from which you can stop the rotation of the earth. What conditions are in place that exalts Gibson’s parking lot rant high above that of the fellow I first described? Never mind that it might prove we are seriously wasting all of our 21st century connectivity and instant communications on bar floor puke. Why are we listening?
Because he’s rich. Notoriety and/or celebrity are somehow superheated by money. Money is credibility. If Mel Gibson had simply made a few Road Warrior films and was now struggling to keep his ABC hour drama “Kangaroo Kop” on the air, then anything out of his mouth would have played faster, shorter and much smaller in the media. But instead, he became wealthy enough to produce big budget films with his own money. Money talks. And we feel compelled to listen, because of the undying respect we have for money.
Because he’s presumed to have a great life. A major symptom of our addiction to celebrity is the assumption that life itself is better for these people that we crown with fame. That’s why we eat-up anything indicating that they are unhappy, though no amount of that ever puts us off the belief that the fabric of their lives is superior; that it is silk to the noisy corduroy pants of our life. That Mel Gibson can be a drunken ass like any of us brings a moment of short-lived relief. Then we immediately go back to that “silk” theory, asking: “Why does a guy who seems to have it made get hammered and screw everything up?”
That question also comes from our belief that people who achieve that level of success aren’t just lucky, they’re smart. I’ll give you this: That you can put over a piece of tripe like Gibson’s Christ movie and get people to treat it seriously, again because it made money, indicates a certain level of cleverness. But do you believe that, say, a pickpocket is a smarter person than you because they have the skill to reach in and take money out of your wallet before you even realize what has happened? If you’ve ever lost 20 bucks betting on Three Card Monte, you probably walked away with a begrudging respect for the dude that cleaned you out. But would you say to your daughter, “Marry that guy. He’s really smart?”
I wish I could boil it down to “Mel Gibson is just a good looking carnival worker,” but I can’t. Unfortunately, it runs deeper than that. We give these people a certain power over our lives because we’re convinced there’s something magical in what they do. Yet all the while, we know deep in our hearts that’s not the case. The magic of the movies hinges on all of us believing there is some magic to the movies. When we’re reminded that, like us, “stars” are capable of carrying a festering ugliness in their souls that they might vomit out at the worst possible time, we’re sad but it passes. And then we talk of forgiveness because, as mere mortals without magic, we would want to be forgiven.