Now May Be The Time to Come to the Aid of Your Local BigotNow may be the time to come to the aid of your local bigot.
The recent Mitt Romney tar baby episode and Mel Gibson's "Jewish problems" are classic examples of what happens when someone speaks without thinking. I was as appalled as anyone by their words and actions. They weren't defensible, they were stupid and reckless, and both men should know better than to use them whether they actually believe them or not.
In Mitt's case, the furor died fairly quickly with his explanation that he used the term to describe the Big Dig project as a tar baby, a perfectly acceptable use of the word according to most dictionaries - as "a situation or problem from which it is virtually impossible to disentangle oneself". Sounds like the Big Dig to me.
The crux of Mitt's offense comes from roots in an Uncle Remus story that depicted blacks in offensive ways. Since the context of Mitt's comments made it clear that he was neither talking about Bre'r Rabbit nor blacks, most people cut him some slack. Especially after he apologized profusely. In short, it was an understandable, although pretty stupid, mistake.
Mel Gibson? He wasn't nearly so lucky.
During an allegedly drunken tirade he yelped all sorts of anti-semitic slurs. In his case, the context was pretty clear. He wasn't talking about a collapsing tunnel, but about a large population of living, breathing human beings. To compound matters, Mel carried some baggage into the bar with him that night. Daddy Gibson famously called the Holocaust a hoax - something Mel never clearly disavowed - and his movie The Passion of the Christ was widely criticized for having anti-semitic overtones. These two "strikes", plus his tirade to the cops made it three. Now, he's struck out.
Since Mel's explosion, much of America's attention has been drawn to the case - even while larger and more important issues raged around us. Suddenly, everyone wanted to weigh in on Mel's guilt or innocence. Hundreds of behavioral experts - most of whom disagreed - testified to the power of drink to loosen one's inner thoughts. In possibly the stupidest face off, Scarborough Country intentionally volunteered a staffer to drink it up in a "controlled, scientific test" and then measured his ability to keep or blab his deep secrets. Others claimed Mel was or wasn't drunk based on a blurry cell phone video showing him drinking or not drinking depending on your point of blur. Everyone else - from housewives in Peoria to Rabbis in Yonkers - simply commented expertly on his guilt or innocence.
So let me be the one to come forward and say this. Even though Mel's words were clearly anti-semitic, in some ways it doesn't really matter if he believes them or not or even if he apologizes. So far, I've not heard one pundit address anything other than the words he used. Nary a word about whether Mel has ever actually discriminated against - or in any way acted against - a Jew.
If he has, I've not heard of it and that is the defining context for me. I happen to be a white male who is an atheist. At various times I've been referred to an anti-feminist carbuncle on the ass of every woman, a member of the patriarchy, a whitey, an infidel, a devil worshiping doomed shitheel and all manner of other less than appealing things. Despite all those words, I've never acted in a discriminatory fashion against any who have charged that I did. But more importantly, I've never gotten too bent out of shape about it either.
I do this because of a simple childhood maxim - "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me". Sure, it's important to speak civilly, but it's the actions that count. If you want to be offended because of Mel's words, knock yourself out, it's your perception and you're entitled to it. However, be aware that your laserlike focus on words over actions probably does both a disservice. Because people kvetch so much about real or imaginary insults, it's easy to label those insults as just another case of political correctness run amok. Meanwhile, actual discriminatory and truly harmful actions get buried in the noise and the perps get to walk away.
So here's a piece of advice for some on my thinner skinned American citizens - don't become a victim because of what some idiot says, stand up to them and show that you can't be hurt by their simple words. And while you're at it, call them on the carpet for any harmful actions. Then, hound them like ticks on a hound to show them you can't be pushed around.
By facing their words with your actions, you'll beat the bullies every time. And after all, isn't that the important thing?
The Poobah also appears at Bring it On!
Tech Tags: humor bigotry mel+gibson jews mitt+romney tar+baby media foia omnipotent+poobah
Truth Told by Omnipotent Poobah, Friday, August 04, 2006