A "Dear Ari" Letter

My friend Gavin de Becker has written an open letter to Ari Emanuel which appears in today's (Friday's) Hollywood Reporter. Since only people with absolutely nothing else to do read that publication, I'm reprinting the letter here. The views expressed are Gavin's own, I still have to work in this business. Much love.

Dear Ari:

My comments here are not personal; I don't know you, and Mel Gibson is not a client.
Rather, I'm writing about ideas. I read your letter urging the industry to take action "by
professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him." I expect you will one
day forgive him - at that moment, you'll see firsthand that words spoken in the heat of one
situation don't always retain their meaning over time.

About his alleged anti-Semitism, you wrote, "Now we know the truth."

I haven't found a lot of truth in drunken tirades. A drunken spouse spits out the words, "I
never loved you anyway!" Is that truth? A drunken idiot boasts that he can "take on the
whole goddamn bunch of you, you bastards, come on, I'll kick your asses." Is that truth?

Mel also reportedly said, "I'll f*ck you" to the Sheriff's deputy and that he'd spend all his
money to get even with the deputy, but you probably don't believe he'll retain those ideas over
time. You see, we pick and choose which words to invest with credibility. We project motives
onto people based upon what their words mean to us, because it's very difficult to reliably
know what their words meant to them at the moment they were spoken (particularly when
they're out of their minds drunk). And we've all learned that words don't reliably represent
beliefs. Some people have probably learned that on phone calls with agents, Ari ("You should
be getting double what your agents have been getting you; you're my most important client;
I'd never suggest anyone else for that part!").

After thirty years of predicting intent through assessing words and context, I can tell you if
we start taking the things people say when very drunk or very high or very angry as their
enduring truth, we're all going to have to reassess many relationships. Not long ago, one of
my sons told me, "I hate you, Man!" I decided he didn't mean it. Under the Ari-rule, my
forgiveness came too easy.

I recognize there is also some history in this situation. People had already speculated on
Mel's views about Jews, so words he might choose could be clues to those views - as we've
seen on the news. (Do the rhymes represent flippancy about anti-Semitism? No, but it's hard
to tell what's in someone's heart, isn't it?) If one honors the larger context of Mel's words
playing into a preconception some people had, then one must also honor the smaller context:
This was crap he said while very drunk, while being arrested, while scared, upset, out of his
mind. Is anybody really able to enter that mind and identify "the truth" within all the raw
humanness?

You wrote that "alcoholism does not excuse anti-Semitism," which is obvious. Also true
is that alcoholism cannot be used to prove anti-Semitism. You describe your position
as "standing up against bigotry." I suggest that your position is bigotry, bigotry about
alcoholism. And more than that, it's bigotry about humanness itself, for every one of us has
said terrible things.

I've heard (sober) agents say things so hateful and unkind that even Deputy Mee wouldn't
jot them down. Speaking of stenography during drunk driving arrests, that's happened all
of one time in the history of the planet earth, because cops don't give much credence to the
crap drunk people say. Even the man who was most abused, Deputy Mee himself, even he
says, "That stuff is booze talking." And he says, "I don't want to ruin his career," while you
advocate ending Mel's career outright. A list of people who can't work in this town based on
what someone assumes they believe - didn't Hollywood already suffer that experience?

Your standard would be very tough to apply fairly. If there were suddenly a public transcript
of all the thoughts that ran through our heads on our worst days, we'd have trouble finding
anyone we'd want to work with - including ourselves.

You refer to "tragically inflammatory statements" - as if Mel had said this stuff while
addressing the U.N. You take words that were sputtered in the back of a police car and link
them to "escalating tensions in the world." That's inflammatory. And the phrases in your
letter are the ones long used to inflame: "standing up against; times in history; how much is at
stake; cannot stand idly by."

There is anti-Semitic violence in the world - and there is Mel Gibson. They are two very
different things.

For God's sake, Ari, Mel hasn't said, "Forget about it!" He's owned what he did, called it
reprehensible, apologized, said he wants to understand the dark places those words came
from, has gone into rehab, and hit his saddest rock-bottom - right in front of the whole world.
He's hardly getting away with anything.

When you do forgive Mel, you'll be in the good company of many Jewish leaders, and if
you wonder why so many have been willing to forgive him, consider that Jews, having been
profoundly victimized by intolerance, know the value of tolerance.

We all have our prejudices, our bigotry, and our zealotry. It's all in all of us. We're built of
the same ingredients, just different recipes. Accepting that truth can help us feel compassion
for Mel and his family, right now when they need it. But I understand you're still angry. I
truly do. The whole thing will pass, and I'm sure you won't be going through your client list
identifying the ones who've said hateful things, abusive things, racist things - and asking the
industry to stop working with them too.

You're the one who boldly said "standing up against bigotry and racism is more important
than money." It's a position that would be heroic - except for the hypocrisy. We all fall down.
How quickly do we get up and make amends? That's what endures.

Gavin de Becker
Author of Bestselling Books about Violence and Words
Bar Mitzvah 1968, Graduated Hebrew School 1969
Never Been Really Drunk
Said Plenty of Regrettable Things When Sober