Saturday, August 2, 2003

Frank Rich on Mel Gibson's martyr complex

Perhaps "The Passion" bears little resemblance to that script. Either way, however, damage has been done: Jews have already been libeled by Mr. Gibson's politicized rollout of his film. His game from the start has been to foment the old-as-Hollywood canard that the "entertainment elite" (which just happens to be Jewish) is gunning for his Christian movie. But based on what? According to databank searches, not a single person, Jewish or otherwise, had criticized "The Passion" when Mr. Gibson went on Bill O'Reilly's show on Jan. 14 to defend himself against "any Jewish people" who might attack the film. Nor had anyone yet publicly criticized "The Passion" or Mr. Gibson by March 7, when The Wall Street Journal ran the interview in which the star again defended himself against Jewish critics who didn't yet exist. (Even now, no one has called for censorship of the film — only for the right to see it and, if necessary, debate its content.)Whether the movie holds Jews of two millenniums ago accountable for killing Christ or not, the star's pre-emptive strategy is to portray contemporary Jews as crucifying Mel Gibson. A similar animus can be found in a new book by one of Mr. Gibson's most passionate defenders, the latest best seller published by the same imprint (Crown Forum) that gave us Ann Coulter's "Treason." In "Tales From the Left Coast," James Hirsen writes, "The worldview of certain folks is seriously threatened by the combination of Christ's story and Gibson's talent."Now who might those "certain folks" be? Since no one was criticizing "The Passion" when Mr. Hirsen wrote that sentence, you must turn elsewhere in the book to decode it. In one strange passage, the author makes a fetish of repeating Bob Dylan's original name, Robert Zimmerman — a gratuitous motif in a tirade that is itself gratuitous in a book whose subtitle says its subject is "Hollywood stars." Another chapter is a screed about how "faith is often the subject of ridicule and negative portrayal" in Hollywood. One of the more bizarre examples Mr. Hirsen cites is "Sophie's Choice," in which "passages from the New Testament are quoted by Nazi officials in support of atrocities that were committed."