When Mel Gibson went on his anti-semitic-with-a-dash-of-sexist rant about two months ago, there was really nothing interesting to be said. There was plenty of material there for legitimate indignation and topical humor, neither of which I thought would be particularly blog-worthy at the time.
This morning’s news about Florida Congressman Mark Foley checking himself into rehab for treatment of alchoholism reminded me what about the Mel Gibson incident had been so particularly distasteful. In case you haven’t paid attention to the media recently, (Republican– not that it matters) Mark Foley resigned after being accused of sexual harassment of minors through internet messaging. This is made even more awful when one learns that he was on the House caucus on Missing and Exploited Children. (There’s a running coverage on abcnews.com which credits itself with forcing Foley’s resignation. There’s a lot of sensationalist material there, the character of which is definitely worthy of its own analysis.)
What reminds me of Mel Gibson about Foley’s recent interest in rehab is the way both public figures found a way to attach their despicable acts– some might even characterize them as unforgiveable– to a “forigiveable” disease. In a rhetorical move worthy of almost-awe, Mel Gibson’s apology to the Jewish community not only trumped up the importance of humility, thereby attempting to resituate Gibson as a “true” Christian, but also drew subtle parallels between anti-Semitism to alchoholism.
The rationale, I imagine, was that if we can understand alchoholism as a disease, then surely anti-semitism could be one too? One perhaps even caused by the former? Now Foley is seeking help for his problem with drinking, which suggests to us that his sexual exploitation of his pages is somehow a result of his disease. Moves by both these figures is an expert way to side-step moral culpability (not to mention potentially diminish legal consequence), and I’m horrified by both.
2 Responses to Mark Foley Takes a Page out of Mel Gibson’s Book
Being an alcoholic doesn’t make you anti-semitic. If you attempt to hide your prejudice in polite company, drunkeness might lower your inhibitions enough to allow you to say what you ususally just think . . . the problem isn’t that Mel was drunk, the problem is that he’s an anti-semite.
So is it immoral to think something? I’m sure someone’s thought about that a lot more than the 3 seconds I’m giving it right now, but here goes: Anti-semitism is more than just being incorrect or misinformed. It’s misinformation with a long history of hate and unthinkable violence (i.e., pogroms, the holocaust — not that people quietly hating you because of your religion isn’t bad enough without them actually killing you).
As for sexually expoliting teenage girls . . . sigh. I’m sure if you really want to, being drunk might make it easier for you to feed your id with disregard to anyone else. But people get drunk and DON’T sexually harass kids, too — all the time. Alcoholism is serious business, but people still have a choice to help themselves, join AA (maybe even before they get caught).
The emphasis on rehab is, I think, drawing on an all-time favorite American theme — the conversion narrative. These were popular since Puritan times and maybe even before. A big part of the conversion narrative is to tell in detail exactly how low you sank before seeing the error of your ways. This part of the story panders to those who are fascinated with sin but who lack the cojones to actually commit it, who then propel your story to the best seller list. It’s a very American genre.