Saturday, July 24, 2010

Why Do Mel Gibson’s Violent Tirades Matter?

If you haven’t listened to any of the tapes of Mel gibson’s violent and degrading verbal attacks on his partner (or, I assume, now his ex-partner) Oksana Grigorieva, you might not want to. They are disturbing for the level of potential for violent assault that they communicate; for their level of woman-hating; and for the intensity of the hatred he sounds like he feels toward Grigorieva in particular, for daring to be her own person. The tapes are, in a word, disgusting. (Links to them are available at the end of this blog, if you feel you must hear them.)

So why not just ignore them? Why do they matter? Much of the news coverage and commentary discusses Gibson’s threats and insults as if they are just the entertaining explosions of a fading celebrity. I have read articles from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times that focus on questions such as: 1) How his behavior is affecting his film sales, 2) How the Radaronline website is gaining in popularity by exposing his tapes, and, 3) How Gibson’s decline is connected to the overall weakening of the power of the Christian Right. I’m not saying that these articles mention the topics I listed; I’m saying that each of those topics was what an entire article was written about.

More important is what they aren't writing about. I haven’t succeeded yet in finding a single article that discusses what the Mel Gibson tapes show us about domestic violence, which is particularly striking given that domestic violence is the main issue that these tapes are about; they are acts of domestic violence in themselves, they refer to past domestic violence assaults by Gibson, and they contain threats of future assaults by him. The media response shows how powerful our societal tendency remains to avoid talking about male violence against women, and to try to change the subject to anything else under the sun.

Now I will answer my own question. The tapes matter because, 1) They show how terrifying Gibson’s behavior would be to a woman involved with him, 2) They show how an admired (at least by many, though certainly not by all) celebrity can be a terrorizer, and virtually a jailer, of women in private, and 3) They illustrate powerfully the mentality of men who abuse women, because Gibson in so many ways acts just like other batterers. What I most notice about Gibson is what an ordinary domestic violence perpetrator he is, not what a special one he is. Ordinary, that is, and very dangerous, as many ordinary batterers are.

There are multiple layers worth examining. Over the next several days, I will write more about this case and deal with the questions of:

  • How Gibson reveals the classic abuser mentality
  • How stunningly misogynistic his rants are (and I do not use that term lightly)
  • Why it’s important to understand the connection between his contempt for women and the rest of his well-documented bigotry
  • Why he should be considered dangerous
  • What this case shows about how our society needs to change in order to stop domestic violence (including a discussion of why Whoopi Goldberg’s comments about the case are so unfortunate)

And as I said, you really don’t need to listen to the tapes, especially if you’ve been through abuse yourself. But listen to them if you want to.

TAPE #1: Gibson Admits Hitting Grigorieva, Threatens To Kill Her

TAPE #2: Gibson Says He'll Burn Down House After Demanding Sex

TAPE #3: Gibson Screams Disgusting, Anti-Female Slurs and Vulgarities

TAPE #4: Gibson Tells Grigorieva That No One Will Believe Her That He Hit the Baby (But He Doesn't Deny It)