Idol Chatter hardly needs to add to the barrage of quips, canned responses, and commentary about Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic outburst during his arrest early Saturday morning. Sadly, even in the 21st century, and even from stone sober blatherers, talking crazy about “the Jews” is about as surprising as a cyclist failing a urine test and, pathetically, less consequential: Mel will continue to make movies and Americans will continue to go see them. The folks who might have abstained from his flicks because of his “Jews start all the wars” tirade likely already abstain because of Mel’s refusal to denounce his father’s Holocaust-denial views, and because of “The Passion” itself.
Two questions, however fall clearly into Idol Chatter’s orbit: how Mel’s late-night chat affects the future of Christian filmmaking, and how to summarize Mel’s career in the field, which is likely over. (His spokespeople are even sounding vague about his proposed series on the Holocaust, conceived as a sop to those who found “The Passion” disturbingly anti-Semitic.)
Much of the buzz “The Passion” created in Christian film circles, and the access to the wider cinema market it suddenly promised, will no doubt be harmed, if not quashed, by Mel’s mumblings of Saturday night. None of the Christian filmmakers I’ve encountered have betrayed any of Mel’s millennial mania, but if the scandal won’t end Mel’s career, skittish producers will be less willing to take risks with other, fledgling filmmakers who depict Jesus, lest they share the taint of anti-Semitism by association. This is a shame, since even those who disagreed with “The Passion” had to see that it promised, at least, more intelligent screen explorations of the Christian story and message.
Indeed, future films about Jesus (or old-fashioned Jesus figures) are the more sorely needed because of “The Passion.” Mel’s latest eruption betrayed just how lost he is amid the affinity many conservative Christians have developed toward Judaism and today’s Jewish people, beyond the old Christian right’s attachment to Israel as the custodian of the Holy Land. Theologically, some important evangelical voices see Jesus as one who came to the Jews as a Jew, bent on reforming his own religion and society; the world’s salvation, some new thinking goes, came not in despite of his co-religionists’ history, but completely on its terms, and on its wings. It’s an exciting and interesting route to go down, and one Mel’s ugly spiritual cataracts apparently prevented him from seeing.