Is it Worse to Be a Racist or a Rapist? What Gibson and Polanski Teach Us

Last week we all watched as what was left of Mel Gibson's career died, along with his longtime agent, legendary talent rep Ed Limato. Following Limato's death it was announced that Gibson had been dropped by the agency that represents him, powerhouse firm William Morris Endeavor. Though his spokesperson tried to spin the news -- "At this point he doesn't seem to be in need of an agent" -- anyone could see what's what, namely that no matter how talented you are, there are some things that even Hollywood won't tolerate. The question the Mel Gibson case raises is just what that is.

Like a man on a mission of self-immolation, Gibson seemed to cruise through every public relations executive's "Worst case scenarios handbook;" being accused of domestic violence, making death threats, using the N-word, along with racial epithets against Hispanics in a span of a week. If there were an Olympics for being a jackass he would be this year's Michael Phelps, someone who not only won medals, but actually broke records.

But here's my question, what is it that's really finished off Gibson's career? Because the timeline of events, media headlines used, and other comparable cases -- from Roman Polanski to Chris Brown -- seem to indicate that allegations of assaulting a woman, or in the recently freed Polanski's case a girl, even with supporting evidence or a conviction, are not enough to permanently knock someone off of a pop cultural pedestal.

In Gibson's case it appears that everyone was so focused on not approving of his so-called "golddigging" girlfriend (whom Gibson accused of extortion) that whether or not he knocked her teeth loose became secondary to whether or not she was trying to possibly turn his knocking her teeth loose to her financial advantage. But the most telling clue regarding where our priorities lie, is that the majority of headlines chronicling Gibson's downfall in recent weeks, from major publications to small blogs, highlight Gibson's alleged use of the N-word on tape, not the fact that he appears to be terrorizing a woman with an infant on tape. It's as though everyone universally had it with Gibson only after tapes initially created to support her allegations of abuse happened to include his use of the N-word.

Now obviously I'm just as opposed to people using the N-word as the next person (okay, maybe more so since I am Black) but I was personally through with Gibson after "Sugartits Gate." (My theory has long been that those who don't care for Jews rarely care for Blacks, so I wasn't exactly shocked when it was alleged that Gibson doesn't have the warm fuzzies for my kind, despite his buddy routine with Danny Glover in the Lethal Weapon franchise.) But despite my opposition to hate speech, at the end of the day what our moms taught us as kids holds true: "Sticks and stones can break my bones but words will never hurt me."

But fists do hurt. So does sexual abuse. So why is it that much of Hollywood  is ready to welcome admitted statutory rapist Roman Polanski back with open arms, and much of black Hollywood is arguing that people like myself need to get over it already regarding Chris Brown's assault on Rhianna? (Note to Polanski and Brown: It might help some of us who think you're both poo to "get over it" if you were to display an ounce of real remorse over what you did, as opposed to remorse for the inconvenience it has presented to your careers. If you'd like to see how "remorseful" Polanski really is (or rather isn't) for violating a child, listen to him in his own words in one of his last TV interviews on the matter.)

We all know that Gibson, Brown and Polanski are not the first notable public figures to be accused of abusing a woman, and will not be the last. Besides the countless professional athletes who have been accused of assault, in recent years various elected officials have been accused of everything from choking a woman, to slashing a girlfriend's face (Click here to view a tally of members of Congress accused of spousal abuse as recently as a few years ago.)

But I guess the silver lining for abusers everywhere is that it looks like unless you use a racial slur while committing abuse you might be okay, career wise.

Unless, as O.J learned, you make the mistake of actually killing her (allegedly.)

Enjoy this piece?

… then let us make a small request. AlterNet’s journalists work tirelessly to counter the traditional corporate media narrative. We’re here seven days a week, 365 days a year. And we’re proud to say that we’ve been bringing you the real, unfiltered news for 20 years—longer than any other progressive news site on the Internet.

It’s through the generosity of our supporters that we’re able to share with you all the underreported news you need to know. Independent journalism is increasingly imperiled; ads alone can’t pay our bills. AlterNet counts on readers like you to support our coverage. Did you enjoy content from David Cay Johnston, Common Dreams, Raw Story and Robert Reich? Opinion from Salon and Jim Hightower? Analysis by The Conversation? Then join the hundreds of readers who have supported AlterNet this year.

Every reader contribution, whatever the amount, makes a tremendous difference. Help ensure AlterNet remains independent long into the future. Support progressive journalism with a one-time contribution to AlterNet, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you. Click here to donate by check.

alternet logo

Tough Times

Demand honest news. Help support AlterNet and our mission to keep you informed during this crisis.