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Mel Gibson Is More Than Just A Racist Fuckbag: Tapegate Revisited

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.

Some highlights:

  • 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.]


  1. Sooz wrote:

    “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.”

    I figure it is because we EXPECT guys to berate women using gendered and sexual insults.

    Monday, August 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm | Permalink
  2. Gnatalby wrote:

    Spot on.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 2:48 am | Permalink
  3. Katie Wisniewski wrote:

    Ugh I was in the breakroom at work discussing all the awful things i would do to Charlie Sheen if I ever met him (one of my favorite acitivites) and one of my coworkers went up to me and SCOLDED me for not seeing the “tortured bad boy” inside Charlie Sheen. When someone is hateful towards women we turn the other cheek, we say “boys will be boys”. Im sorry but if you’re old enough to have prostitutes, you’re old enough not to be called “a boy”. The sad truth is, if Charlie Sheen was doing racist stuff his image would take a much more serious hit.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 11:50 am | Permalink
  4. Samantha B. wrote:

    Seconding: “spot on.” I would also add that, as someone who was in (mostly emotionally) abusive relationship at one time in her life, what drives me chock full of nuts is the instantaneous and entirely disingenuous demonization of someone like Mel Gibson, or before him, O.J. Simpson. There’s no acknowledgment that for years/decades both were seen as famously “nice,” charming individuals, and that this is part and parcel of the abuser’s pathology. The onus is immediately flung on to the woman, “why should she stay?” Once there’s intractable evidence of a (male)celebrity’s abusive tendencies, there’s no owning up to the fact that mounds and mounds of people were fooled and taken in by a pathologically hyper-manipulative persona. So when it’s just down to one woman’s word against a man’s, as it was once in my life, it’s always, “Well, but he’s such a nice guy.” You’re a frazzled mess at that point, so your word can’t count for jack shit, right? And, at least in my case, there were only a handful (well, a few fingers’ full) of people I could turn to that didn’t treat me with complete suspicion at a time when I really fucking desperately needed to be treated as someone worth listening to.

    So the holier than thou sanctimony that gets thrown at Gibson and Simpson grates the fucking hell out of my nerves. In a flicker, they’re the dudes with the black hats on their heads, with zero acknowledgment that, as a society, we’d put them both in glaringly white hats for year upon year upon year.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 12:09 pm | Permalink
  5. AMC wrote:


    I had the same reaction to this as to reading Chelsea Handler’s quote in EW about Charlie Sheen and how he is such a woman beater.

    Like-he’s beaten almost EVERY. Woman. He’s. Been. With. He “accidentally” shot one of his wives/gf’s. I’m sorry no, NO, NO! You do not ACCIDENTALLY shot your SO in a fight. This is not Monty Python. “Well I really didn’t mean to-”
    “Didn’t mean to, you put your sword right through his head!”
    You gotta have OJ levels of denial to think a proven woman beater “accidentally” shoots the woman they are fighting with.

    With Mel, two things. One, of course everyone ignores the overwhelming misogyny and it makes me stabby.

    But also people seem to be glossing over the racism *cough Whoopie COUGH*

    When it’s more than just saying the epithet-yanno, cause it ain’t like saying black men are dangerous packs of animals looking around for white women to rape was THE number one excuse for lynching black men for years OR ANYTHING!

    On a lighter note, I am now at the point where I find the tapes funny. I mean seriously-the way he gives that BraveHeart cry of “NOOOO-I need a woman!” *beats hairy ugly chest* cracks me up every damn time. Plus the “I have no friends!”
    Gee, really Mel?

    Also-really Whoopie I-get-off-on-defending-proven-scumbutt’s-Goldberg? Of COURSE he isn’t going to be racist around you or Danny Glover-he thinks you run in packs!
    Like werewolves.

    Tuesday, August 10, 2010 at 1:19 pm | Permalink
  6. Samantha b. wrote:

    You gotta have OJ levels of denial

    That sort of gets back to my point. The assumption here is that because OJ Simpson can state something so obviously untrue that can nonetheless be read as unwavering conviction, he must of course be experiencing “denial” rather than, say, he may be a hell of a fucking manipulative liar. Implicit in the word “denial” is some sort of victimhood, as if he lacks agency in the scenario.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 8:09 am | Permalink
  7. AMC wrote:

    @Samantha B. Actually, I was referring to the denial of the JURY in deciding OJ was innocent-that fucker knows damn well what he did, as do Mel and Charlie. I misstyped as I was writing quickly. I meant that anyone who thinks Mel or Charlie was innocent is as in denial as the jurors on the OJ trial.

    Wednesday, August 11, 2010 at 12:28 pm | Permalink
  8. Samantha B. wrote:

    Okay. The “OJ type denial” has become a running trope, so I read it as such. Sorry for reading you wrong.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 8:01 am | Permalink
  9. AMC wrote:

    @Samantha B. Oh no problem, it was my bad how I wrote it. Yeah, OJ wasn’t in denial, everyone knows he did it.

    Thursday, August 12, 2010 at 9:38 am | Permalink
  10. snobographer wrote:

    Between the Gibson coverage, the Lawrence Taylor coverage, and media coverage of every instance of misogyny from “Iron My Shirt” to Yeardley Love to “Vote For Me Because I Don’t Wear High Heels” to “Anchor Babies” and “Welfare Queens,” I’m starting to think it violates some obscure broadcasting legislation to talk about systemic misogyny on television without snickering up one’s sleeve and/or offering an alternate viewpoint that the bitch really had it coming.

    Saturday, August 14, 2010 at 4:02 am | Permalink