Friends With Mel Gibson

Jodie and Mel at Madame Tussauds. London, 2007.

People are still talking about Jodie Foster’s speech.  After receiving the Cecil B. DeMille award at the Golden Globes, she kinda, sorta came out, confirming Hollywood’s worst-kept secret. As Alonso Durade noted, Foster has played the coy card for decades – thanks to her publicist, and the fact that “anyone who has a presidential assassin use you as inspiration rightfully gets a lifetime ‘I want my privacy’ pass.”

But as thoughtful and heartfelt as her speech might seem, it gives me agita.

The nature of Foster’s speech suggests that her notions of private and public are somewhat confused. She describes coming out as an act that would necessitate “a press conference, a fragrance, and a reality show.” I’ll concede that there is something of this in the world. But really? It’s a grave exaggeration to claim that coming out necessitates grand performances, reality shows, and snogs with Marion Cotillard for ratings.  (Although if it turns out there is an Ian McKellan reality show I’ve missed, I want to see it.) Indeed, Durade points out this is a false equivalency that insults the many brave people (and actors) who have come out as part of the struggle for civil rights.  Publicity is a crucial component of human rights activism, and celebrities are lightning rods for attention and key means of generating interest and sympathy.

And why drag Honey Boo Boo into this? Certainly one might make such references as a gesture to those lives lived in public in search of celebrity, but it also comes off as a condescending jab at inappropriate celebrity—that which comes, “unearned” to the working class and Southern.  It becomes a dark partner to Amy Poehler’s playful appreciation, “Only at the Golden Globes do the beautiful people of film rub shoulders with the ratfaced people of television.” It could be that Foster identifies with the joyfully boisterous Honey Boo Boo far more than she does with any of the Kardashians, who might be a more apt target.  But perhaps this is the vision of public and private that comes from living 47 out of one’s 50 years in the public eye.

Moreover, there seems to be some misplaced disdain in a speech that mocks Honey Boo Boo but describes Mel Gibson as a lifesaver. I don’t doubt that there is a deep friendship there, and one that is mutually rewarding, but this was truly unsettling as it made me think of how Hollywood seems to give a free pass to men who beat women. Even if we forget his well-documented racist and anti-Semitic outbursts, this is a man who allegedly punched his wife in the face—twice—one time knocking her teeth out, because, as he states on the notorious tape, she “f*cking deserved it.” And he is not the only one. Charlie Sheen, who has a record of assaulting and abusing his partners (and even allegedly accidentally shooting one), continues to work, starring in the FX show Anger Management. And that behavior is not the violation of the morals clause that got him fired from the TV show Two and a Half Men; no, apparently he was fired because he began to harangue his producers. Insert “WINNING” joke here. Or don’t.

It is deeply troubling that these men continue to receive support in the entertainment community. And by support, I mean jobs and invitations to award ceremonies, I don’t mean help for their illness and recovery. That would be welcome. Although in a world where so few rapists go to jail and where vaginas are more regulated than handguns (HT Shannyn Moore) such violence seems too depressingly common to be treated as a pathology.

There is something that grates at me when I think about privacy and the intersection of these domestic and professional lives. Privacy seems to be a discourse that allows one to sidestep the necessary discussions that help us to improve the world.  People are calling this a night for women. Tina Fey and Amy Poehler were outstanding and hilarious hosts. Lena Dunham won awards for Girls. And Jodie Foster does deserve recognition for her lifetime of cinematic service. But this success turns sour, when I think of Jodie Foster dismissing the work done by courageous actors and advocating privacy in the same breath she praises her friend Mel Gibson. Something just feels off.


Photograph courtesy of rbieber. Published under a Creative Commons license.

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