In Defense of Casting Stones at Mel Gibson

E.D., I have a great amount of respect for your frequent calls for us to rise above passing judgment over other people, and to keep in mind the inner turmoil that Mel Gibson is clearly living with. I sympathize with your sense that we’re griping about the splinter in his eye, casting the first stone, and that we don’t have all the facts. Finally, I’d agree that people should be free to enjoy the art they wish to. If we only enjoyed art made by sane, well-adjusted people, we’d run out of choices pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, I think passing judgment is a good thing for society to do in this case, fair or not.

Certainly, me and my wife have had what she calls “kitchen sink fights” before. And couples must fight, as the man said. And, absolutely, the pain of a collapsing romantic relationship can lead people to say terrible things. I’d never want my private life in the depths of its worst moments to be made public that way, and especially not recordings of those kitchen sink fights.

But, here’s the thing: I don’t fight that way. And I’d imagine you don’t either. What disturbs me about those tapes isn’t the language; it’s the level of misogyny. Me and my wife fight about all sorts of things, most of which are fairly stupid. But the way she dresses doesn’t “hurt” me. It doesn’t “humiliate me” if other men find her attractive. Because, ultimately, on some level, I realize that it’s none of my damn business. Whether or not other people find her attractive isn’t something I expect her to control for my sake or me to control for her sake. This isn’t Saudi Arabia, and her autonomy isn’t something she’s done to me. It’s a fact- and a good one.

I think I hear something different than you do in those Gibson tapes. I hear men from my family who try to control the women in their lives. I hear the possessive, always wounded, always manipulative and controlling, insecure creeps whose wives come to my wife for therapy. I hear someone who’s entitled to sex, entitled to tell his partner how to dress and behave, and who ultimately relates all of the choices she makes in her own life to his personal happiness. I hear the man I might have been, if I hadn’t had the extreme good fortune to be sexually attracted, from a young age, to the sort of smart, independent women who wouldn’t take my crap. Acting like that was simply not an option. And it’s totally freeing to accept that your loved ones will think, act, dress, and be whatever way they want to in their own lives without it hurting you or feeling you need to control them.*

Nevertheless, celebrities are not known for surrounding themselves with people who won’t take their crap. And men, or women, who behave this way are often excused because “everyone gets jealous” or “it’s none of our business”. And, of course, none of us can do anything to change how someone else acts in their own personal relationship. But for society to say in a forthright way that men, or women, who treat their loved ones this way need to stop doing so- that doesn’t strike me as a bad thing. Since this is a site that’s leaning libertarian as of late, I think it’s also very healthy to reflect on the ways that bullying individuals can limit the autonomy of others in their private lives, and how often this impacts women. In terms of casting stones, it’s worth remembering that the specific context of Christ’s comment was a city stoning a woman to death out of rage at her sexual choices.

* Please note: This post is intended to detail the factors driving my own opinion in this particular case. In no way do I mean to suggest that Kain disagrees with my feelings about these particular gender issues. We’re just emphasizing different things in this case.

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40 thoughts on “In Defense of Casting Stones at Mel Gibson

    • @Dara, Thanks for the note! I removed a sentence from the post referring to that incident and really I did so because I didn’t want to give the impression that the violence greatly changes the character of that conversation for me. When a man talks to his partner that way, in my experience, violence is always hovering in the background, whether or not it erupts. So I didn’t want to give the impression that, if he hadn’t hit her, I’d view the tapes differently.

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      • @Rufus F.,

        That’s a really eloquent way to put it, and I appreciate that you find the two kinds of violence to be comparable. But in my experience, I’ve often found that the easier it is to attribute rhetorical violence to individual pathology–oh, he’s just sick; oh, he’s just angry–the more resistant people are to admitting that something said in anger can also be reflective of broad misogyny that infects the rest of the relationship. This is the sort of thing that worries me about E.D.’s plea that we can’t understand Gibson’s “mindset;” it’s a denial that his behavior could possibly fit patterns of misogyny and domestic abuse.

        It tends to be much harder to deny that rhetorical violence always has the threat of physical violence behind it, however, when there’s actual evidence of physical violence as well. The firm line between words and deeds that people-not-you often draw kind of has to wobble then, if not disappear outright. So just for the sake of the readership–and E.D.–I think it’s salient.

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    • @Dara,

      regarding this:

      “I was replying to Will H’s comment that “If this material is to be used in evidence, then it should be reserved for the hearing. At that time, it becomes a matter of public record, but not until then.”

      —–

      My reply to you was put into the wrong place by mistake I had originally meant it for Will H. My bad.

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  1. Dara and Rufus –

    Listen, I’m completely aware that the violence in the words and the implied physical violence are the same beast. Even in my most terrible fights I have never even considered going to that place, though I have said hurtful things, things I regret saying enormously. Even if the physical violence conveyed in this conversation didn’t happen (and we don’t know how it happened or what happened exactly either) the violence in the words, in the misogyny is very real. And very disturbing.

    Certainly Gibson should be judged for this. I only hope to point out that people are more complex than we cast them in the mob we call the court of public opinion. People have deep scars that shape them and shape their actions. Pain and addiction and mental illness.

    Nor do I mean to blame the victim when I call into question his girlfriend’s motives. I think we are likely looking at two people in bad places in their lives. She can be a victim and still be a very bad person; he can be a very bad person and still be deserving of more than the mob. Or perhaps they are neither ‘bad’ people, but simply flawed people who found themselves in hell. There but for the grace of God go I.

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    • @E.D. Kain, Absolutely, and again I wasn’t trying to say that you’re of a different opinion about misogyny or violence or any of that. I just see an upside to the court of public opinion that I wanted to point out. Lately, of course, I’ve been reading these tragic plays in which the Greeks reflected on the dangers of anger and violence and even misogyny, and it occurs to me that the court of public opinion might serve the same function for people today, even while it tends to shave off the nuances. It allows us to say, in a general way, this is the road we’d better not go down ourselves. I’d agree though that the danger is turning individuals into the Other that allows us to externalize our own failings.

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      • @Rufus F.,
        Outstanding response. Your deduction and application of Greek Tragedies – outstanding. I truly appreciated you last two sentences as these hit the nail on the head:

        It allows us to say, in a general way, this is the road we’d better not go down ourselves. I’d agree though that the danger is turning individuals into the Other that allows us to externalize our own failings.

        Well said and answers many questions.
        C’ya

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  2. You make valid points, all; but I believe the truth of the matter lies somewhat deeper.
    Of course, this man is very sick, and the situation has gone on to the point where it’s truly dangerous. That goes without saying.
    But to say that this is misogyny is missing the point. That’s a symptom, and not the disease itself. The same with the alcoholism.
    Playing out his worst moments publicly does nothing to get this man the help that he needs, and it does nothing to protect the others from him. It’s just rubbernecking of the worst sort. I believe it does more to escalate the situation than it does to resolve it. In fact, it seems like it placed that resolution two steps back.
    There might well be a time when it would be appropriate for the public to review this, but I believe there are more important aspects of it that need to be attended to immediately than to provide some carnival sideshow.
    I don’t really know what’s going on, and I don’t care to. I just hope that he is able to get the help that he needs.
    If simply being on the road to Damascus would make him see a blinding light, then I would say that’s where he needs to be. I think this sort of thing is more like a security checkpoint before he’s allowed to enter the turnstile to the road; ie it only serves to delay what is truly needed. That doesn’t make him any more whole, and it doesn’t make her any more safe.

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    • @Will H.,

      Sorry, that was my bad. I agree that it “doesn’t make him any more whole, and it doesn’t make her any more safe.” But what if it gives another woman somewhere, whose abuser isn’t famous and who is convinced that the abuse is her fault or that no one would believe her, the strength to get help? This is, I think, some of what Rufus hinted at in his post by addressing the social utility of shame.

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        • @Will H.,

          If leaving abusers alone had the same success rate as heart medication, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

          This may not be the most fair way to put it, but what would you suggest as an alternative way to make sure women know that this sort of behavior is unacceptable?

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          • @Dara, I don’t believe that women are so foolish that they are unable to see that this sort of thing is unacceptable.
            I’m not advocating leaving him alone. I’m advocating letting the proper authorities deal with the matter.
            And there’s no way I could equate the general public as being the proper authorities without advocating vigilante justice.
            And I suppose that’s where we’re headed with this, is under what circumstances and to what degree is vigilante justice not only permissible, but desirable.

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            • @Will H.,

              “I don’t believe that women are so foolish that they are unable to see that this sort of thing is acceptable.”

              It’s not about foolishness, it’s about being manipulated. Do you believe that all victims of domestic abuse take action against it?

              There’s also a big difference between shame and vigilante justice.

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            • @Will H., Will, I’m sympathetic to your point that the scorn of the general public is not going to help Mel Gibson, and that there’s a freakshow quality to all of this. And I’m sympathetic to Kain’s point that it’s ugly to kick someone when they’re down. I was just trying to show another side of public scorn, which Dara rightfully calls the social utility of shame.

              Nowhere did I suggest that the public either has the authority to punish Mel Gibson or that they should have that ability. Talking about the public denying a sick man medicine or enacting vigilante justice is completely ridiculous because the public hasn’t that power or authority and nothing in this post suggests at all that I think they should, or that the public having an opinion on the matter is somehow tantamount to them enacting vigilante justice.

              Sensate beings have opinions and they express them. I see it as similar to the couple across the street from us, with small children, who used to have screaming fights that always ended with the cops being called. Yes, the neighbors had some nasty things to say about them among themselves, and that probably didn’t help them. But, it’s also how communities establish for themselves what behavior is healthy and what’s poisonous. And if their kids heard that and absorbed it, I think that’s a plus.

              It’s not that women don’t know that it’s unacceptable for a man to beat a woman, but what cultures find acceptable is always in flux and they’re are always trying to define it. And again, I’m focusing on the language because it’s still not that clear to everyone that talking to your partner that way, in itself, is unacceptable.

              Obviously, you couldn’t know this, but where I’m coming from is that my father talked to my mother (and me) that way during my entire childhood. Eventually, he hit her a few times and she left him (for another man who hit her), but I was about 17 at that point. While I knew that hitting her was unacceptable, and I never really liked the way he talked to her, I also thought that maybe this was just human nature. The fact that my father was terrified by my mother getting a job and a driver’s license (!) I equated with the fact that my Grandfather never let my Grandmother have a job or a driver’s license; which I equated with the fact that, as a 17 year old boy, girls were both fascinating and terrifying to me. It wasn’t that I thought it was exactly healthy- I just thought that state of mind was unavoidable and I never heard anyone say that it isn’t, or that healthy people don’t behave that way, even if violence isn’t a factor.

              What happened, of course, was I fell in love with a beautiful, amazing girl for the first time in my life, and I eventually started thinking and talking that way, thinking it was unavoidable human nature. She soon left and broke my heart, and it was the best thing that could have happened. Because I never went down that path again, not even mentally. Jealousy is poison. Nothing good ever comes from it.

              So I know that our nature can be reformed through shame. I’m not saying this will ever happen to someone of Mel Gibson’s wealth or age or stature. Probably not. My father is much kinder today, but still blames my mother for leaving him. And I would never say that the public has some authority to punish Mel Gibson, beyond not watching his lousy movies. Nor that they should.

              And I still do see what you and Kain mean about the ugliness of the whole spectacle and public fascination with it. I agree with that. My point was simply that there is also an upside to people expressing their opinions on this topic. Because maybe it will lead to some teenager joking about Mel Gibson and his girlfriend around their friends or parents, and hearing someone say, “you know, right, that it is totally unacceptable to treat a woman that way?” I never heard anyone say that before my first girlfriend did. It’s a good lesson to learn.

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    • @Will H.,

      It could make her feel more safe, in that this makes sure she never gets another terrifying phone call from him, that threatens her with violence. At the very least, being threatened and screamed at likes this is emotional abuse – why she needs to be concerned about protecting her abuser is beyond me. If this stops him from doing this again, more power to her.

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    • @Will H.,

      additionally, this ceased to be a private matter when he hit her. This is a crime, no matter what the underlying pathology was there to create the conditions for making him commit this crime. Protecting criminals by keeping their crimes secret and private, does not help anyone. As much power, influence and money that he has, I’m sure he could have always made sure that this be kept quiet (or at least, always at the level of “he said vs. she said”) if it had remained behind the scenes.

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      • @silentbeep, I made that same point earlier.
        The general public has no authority to act in such a matter.
        If this material is to be used in evidence, then it should be reserved for the hearing. At that time, it becomes a matter of public record, but not until then.

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          • @Dara,

            whether or not she is able to use the tapes as evidence is not really my concern. the fact that the tapes can be used as a way to protect her from further abuse, with or without the authorities, is the point. The authorities can still be dealt with, whether or not they actually help her to a sufficient degree is another matter. Not every woman who goes to the authorities in such cases are sufficiently helped or protected from their abusers.

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            • @Will H.,

              letting as many people know that you are the victim of abuse, is actually a great deterrent. This man would’ve been protected through more privacy – this is not normal circumstances, we are dealing with someone that has huge celebrity status and notoriety and relative wealth. To counteract Gibson’s considerable advantages, I think Oksana made a fine decision, considering the extremely unusual circumstances. For non-celebrity such a public airing may not be necessary to keep one safe, nor would radaronline care.

              But even for “non-celebrity” expert advice is often given to the abused, to tell neighbors, one’s children’s schools, family, friends, that you are in danger. In this case, it may keep her safe.

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        • @Will H.,

          I am not talking about using this tape as matter of a legal public record. What I am talking about, is that as soon as he hit her, which he never denied, in fact he said she “deserved” it, this went beyond “a really ugly fight between two just very angry people.” You don’t need a jury to know that domestic violence is not acceptable ethically, morally and not even legally. At that point, in my mind, she had every right to do what she had to do (short of violence) to keep her emotionally and phyiscally safe from her abuser.

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          • @silentbeep, Then the next time he goes to hit her, we know exactly what type of recording the people in Chicago should listen to in order to pronounce her as “safe.”
            Maybe they could just play a tape of the 9-11 attacks as you go into an airport and stop all the searches.

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        • @Will H.,

          I am not talking about using this tape as matter of a legal public record. What I am talking about, is that as soon as he hit her, which he never denied, in fact he said she “deserved” it, this went beyond “a really ugly fight between two just very angry people.” You don’t need a jury to know that domestic violence is not acceptable ethically, morally and not even legally. At that point, in my mind, she had every right to do what she had to do (short of violence) to keep her emotionally and phyiscally safe from her abuser. If that meant doing this in the most public way possible, more power to her. This is a powerful man, with lots of money to spend on lawyers, more than the average person, she was up against a lot here.

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          • @silentbeep, It is simply not feasible that for people in Chicago to listen to a recording of something that took place in California several months ago might keep anyone safe.
            Playing the tapes in the media is not about keeping anyone safe.
            It is an escalation of the one particular situation.
            It doesn’t protect anyone. It doesn’t resolve anything.

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            • @Will H.,

              this is where we are just going to have to disagree, and this kind of victim-blaming is really upsetting to see here on this amazing blog – i’m disapointed. yes, it can keep someone from having to face future threats, future violence, and future physical assault from a very public figure – making it as public as possible, with hard evidence that he did hit her (ex. him saying “you deserved it”) creates a situation where he dare not try and do it again for fear of further exposure. I don’t understand why keeping abuse as secretive as possible when its coming from a very public figure, is Oksana’s concern. We have no idea what kind of relationship or what kind of threats Gibson was capable of after he admitted hitting her.

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  3. To Rufus F. hereTo be clear, it’s not that I don’t agree with that, it’s that I don’t believe that right now is the appropriate time.
    I’m sure there will come a time; but it’s just that right now isn’t it.
    And just as anyone can see that your mother getting a job or a driver’s license wasn’t really what the underlying issue was in the above example, the things that jump out at first really aren’t the issue here.
    And I’m not blaming the victim here. No matter what she may have done, hitting her was inexcusable. The phone threats were inexcusable.
    But there is an underlying cause.
    I don’t believe that making the situation more unhealthy for the participants is likely to yield a desirable result. I’m not sure what will.
    But I am opposed to escalating the matter in such situations.

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  4. I think the only thing Mel Gibson’s recorded rant does is illustrate that anyone can be a violent psychopath. Violence knows no social boundaries.

    Beyond that, I think it’s useless. I don’t think Gibson will be one whit less likely to smack someone else. He won’t even be one whit less likely to hit this same person. Given abuser psychology, he’ll view it as further proof as her need to be knocked around.

    Nor do I think it will help convince some nameless abuse victim decide to leave. More likely, the thought pattern will be, “God if Mel Gibson will threaten her that way, my man will probably follow through on it.” If anything, this tape shows that walking away doesn’t make you safe.

    What it might do is kill Mel Gibson’s career. If enough public outrage is lodged, he might (possibly) become untouchable. Given that his box office draw is down, I find that a lot more likely than any other outcome.

    The other thing it does it potentially taint the jury pool for future legal actions. From this point forward, any action against him for violent behavior will begin by asking potential jurors if they have heard this tape or been influenced by it.

    As far as hearing all sorts of other people, that’s unavoidable. But Gibson deserves to be judged on his own actions and his own case. If we hear other voices to the point where the facts of this case are overlooked, then it is a miscarriage of justice – and it does absolutely nothing for those who have already been turned out by the justice system.

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