The media’s reaction to “tapegate” was predictable. “Mel Gibson is a colossal fuckbag. A sick colossal fuckbag. Case (and career) dismissed.” I’m just as happy as the next person to see him go, but before we hang Gibson out to dry I think it’s important to peel back some of the scandal’s Hollywood patina and ask ourselves why critics have latched on to Gibson’s racist remarks and virtually ignored his hateful verbal assault against women. Headlines overwhelmingly decried Mel Gibson’s “racist rant” when racist pejoratives are mere footnotes peppered throughout piercingly misogynistic tirades.
My initial reaction to “tapegate”: “Oh, Mel Gibson’s a dick? Duh. NEXT!” I hadn’t actually listened to the tape. I blithely read about it in between yawns and doing actual work. Then I read that he’d managed to construct a sentence that didn’t include the words “cunt” and “cock.” He told his ex Oksana Grigorieva it would be her fault if she were raped by a pack of niggers.
As a black, I don’t like it when people use that word—EVER. A slideshow of torture sessions commenced in mind. And now here’s Mel being gagged with his own testicles before his daily waterboarding treatment. Here’s Mel with his tenth serving of chitlins and Tabasco. Go Mel!
This exercise was fun for a short time; we all know Gibson makes racist remarks. The “Ta-da! I told you Mel Gibson is a belligerent racist fuck that doesn’t deserve to have a career” piece has been written. Moving on.
Then the tapes kept coming and, as the bitter seed had already been planted, I decided I had to listen to them. My cursory knowledge of what to expect did not prepare me for what I was about to hear. Whatever you’ve read about them, listening to them is a whole different enchilada.
I listened to each tape, one after the other, in my room with the lights off. I did not do this because I thought it would be an interesting exercise in testing for rape fantasies, wherein Gibson’s verbal assault conjures the purported guilt-ridden masochist lurking in every woman. No. I did this because I was tired. I only decided to listen to the tapes after I realized I couldn’t sleep even though I desperately needed it. It was a surreal thing to enter Gibson and Grigorieva’s nightmare in the comfort of my own room, in bed with a calm Brooklyn summer night outside my window.
Judging by Grigorieva’s voice, it sounds like she was in bed too. In fact, she sounds completely exhausted. This shared state of tired-yet-still-awake inspired immediate empathy in me. Had I listen to the tapes in the morning or at work (which, bad idea!) I’m not sure I would have had the same visceral reaction.
I was shocked by the brutality of Gibson’s language. What would he think of next? What could he say to drag his self down even further and what sort of mental jujitsu would he use to try and drag her with him? To drag me with him? By the third tape I felt physically ill. I felt that Gibson was yelling directly at me. Addressing me. Accusing me. Threatening me. Grigorieva was just a ploy in this crazy fuck’s twisted game of abuse.
- You should just fucking smile and blow me, because I deserve it.
- I need a woman not fucking little girl with a fucking dysfunctional cunt.
- You need a bat to the side of the head, alright? How about that? You need a fucking doctor. You need a fucking brain transplant. You need a fucking soul.
- You’re a moving violation. If you get raped it’s your fault for showing off your fake tits like they’re some special deal. How much did they cost, those fakers?
- You can rot unless you crawl back, suck my cock and say you’re sorry. In that order!
Gibson says “nigger” and “wetback” once. The above is a fairly accurate survey of Gibson’s vitriol, and the above is not racist. It’s searing misogyny. The headlines focused on Gibson’s racial slurs because his 2006 drunken anti-Semitic speech was such a hit and because it’s oh-so-au courant to debunk “post-racial” theories. It also suggests that people are more agitated/swayed by racism than sexism.
This was not the first time I felt I was being forced to chose between the two. During the last Democratic Primary I was faced with the same conundrum: no matter who I voted for, it would reflect on my loyalty to my race or to my gender. It’s a task that I find more and more common, but never any less taxing. After listening to all of the tapes, the word “nigger” hardly made a dent on me. It didn’t resonate as much as Gibson’s other hurtful words. I was fiercely upset by the demeaning language used against Grigorieva. In this instance it was so clear to me that my being black was secondary to my being a woman. I don’t always feel this way. Being black in America is informed by such recent, devastating historical realities. These realities are very tangible and urgent to me, whereas feminism sometimes feels foreign. And one cannot forget that feminism in American was at one point couched in racist thought as well.
These tapes offer pathetic textbook examples of racism and hardcore evidence of projected male aggression towards females. Of course, they are both terrible. But, you know what’s even more terrible? To read three supposedly critical accounts of the incident by men who declare Gibson’s lunacy a sign of the times without ever calling him to task for his blatant sexism. Frank Rich, Lee Siegel and David Brooks reported on “tapegate,” but only Brooks is willing to at least touch upon the subject of verbal abuse and misogyny:
That man is like a boxer unleashing one verbal barrage after another. His breathing is heavy. His vocal muscles are clenched. His guttural sounds burst out like hammer blows…He pummels her honor, her intelligence, her womanhood, her maternal skills and everything else…He’s not really arguing with her, just trying to pulverize her into nothingness.
In the end, Brooks’ piece is about the culture of inflated self-love, about the narcissist epidemic threatening to destroy Christian values such as humility and sacrifice. That’s more than I can say for Rich and Siegel. Rich’s op-ed was totally disjointed. He seemed be blame Gibson for the apocalypse and all ill will toward mankind. It read like the expression personal vendetta (justifiable when one considers Gibson once threatened to kill Rich). Rich was too busy ragging to write a coherent piece that addressed the tapes. Similarly, it seems Siegel decided to write about “tapegate” just so he could insult Rich for writing yet anther op-ed that doesn’t say much about anything. In each instance, the writing was less about the content of the tapes and more about how these men can’t get their head out of their asses to address a subject that takes them out of their comfort zone.
To their credit, Rich, Brooks and Siegel did not claim “tapegate” was chockablock full of racism. They did propose wider negative cultural implications. Why they didn’t pinpoint sexism as one is beyond me.
Mel Gibson is a very sad and confused little man who could do nothing to quell his childlike desire to be wanted, to fit in and feel loved. The tapes are a case study in male aggression — the violence, the delusions of self, the barbaric incantations used to justify any and all irrational behavior — projected against the backdrop of a society that prefers to stage a full blown media circus before calling attention to serious issues.
We don’t live in a post-racial society. Nor do we live in a post-sexist one, but I don’t think addressing one has to come at the expense of addressing the other. As much as I hate the word “nigger,” I also hate misogyny. And I especially hate that we can’t seem to get our heads around overcoming one without neglecting the other.
[Lauretta Charlton has been here before! Also, is great.]