Sunday, July 30, 2006

The hate that dare not speak its name

Mel Gibson's anti-semitic tirade after being stopped for DUI has been confirmed.

This means that Mel Gibson almost certainly joins Michael Jackson and Tom Cruise as Hollywood A-List celebrities whose careers have been severely damaged if not ended by their private lives.

Unlike Jackson or Cruise however there are very good reasons to beleive that Gibson's private anti-semitism made its way into his films. It is difficult to see how he could get away with The Passion of Christ now.

Long before he was suspected of anti-semitism however Gibson's films were notable for their peculiar portrayal of British history. Soon after Gibson first came to notice in Mad Maxm Gibson starred in the 1981 movie Gallipoli which shows the Dardanelles campaign from Rupert Murdoch's perspective. This takes some liberties with the truth since Murdoch's objective is to vindicate the role of his father. Most notably the Australian Colonel J. M. Antill who commanded the attack is turned into a British 'Colonel Robinson' and a benevolent Australian general is invented who calls of the attack (this never happened).

In addition to taking liberties with the details of the campaign the movie is based on a much larger fictions that the original strategy behind the campaign was flawed and that the Allies were more careless with colonial lives than their own troops. The British gernerals were equally careless regardless. And that was why Winston Churchill argued for the Dardanells campaign in the first place, unlike the pointless battles taking place over a few yards of undifferentiated territory in France the Dardanells campaign had a clear strategic goal: to cut the Germans supply lines to the Arabian oil fields. The German capitulation finally came after this was finally achieved in 1918. It is now known that the 1915 campaign had a much better chance of success than was realized at the time, the Turkish forces were at one point in retreat until they were rallied by a then unknown commander Mustafa Kemal later known as Kemal Ataturk.

The distortions of Galipoli might be dismissed as mere historical license if not for the fact that Gibson's later films Braveheart and The Patriot both share the same approach.

The film Braveheart is based on the spurious claim that Edward I launched an invasion of Scotland with the intention of destroying the indigenous population of the country. While such things certainly happened in the 19th and 20th centuries the concept of a 'nation' let alone a 'state' in the modern form simply did not exist at the time. The idea of massacring peasants or rather serfs as they then were would make no more sense to the medieval mind than massacring cattle, sheep or any other chattel that had belonged to the other side.

Nor was there any need since what we now know as 'guerilla' tactics had not yet appeared, Robert the Bruce is generally credited with having invented them.

There is certainly no evidence for the claim made in the film that Edward I invoked the 'ancient law of 'jus primae nactis', there being no evidence whatsoever that such a law ever existed or was even referred to as having existed until the late middle ages.

The other dimension Braveheart deliberately conceals is the fact that the Highland tribal Lairds shown in the film were in fact largely descended from the same stock as the Norman aristocracy in the South. Guido de Baliol, the ancestor of the John de Balliol in the film was a Norman lord who fought with and for William the Conqueror. The first Scottish war of independence was really a dispute within the Norman aristocracy. Neither England nor Scotland existed in the form we now understand them as.

In the Patriot Gibson invents attrocities against civilians in a war notable for their absence. This is acknowledged in the script where the audience is told that the event may not appear in the history books.

Update: Gibson later referred to his comments as 'unspeakable', hence the title.

In Hollywood some bigotries are acceptable and others are not. He won two Oscars for Braveheart. Those are probably going to be his last. I don't claim that anti-British bigotry is as big a problem as anti-semitism, clearly it is not. Even so Gibson's personal contribution to the field of anti-semitism is likely to be somewhat minor while his anti-British libels have gained much wider currency. At root he is clearly a man who has a deep seated sense of grievance and hatred that he wishes to spread.

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