Gibson Swims With the Times

Actor-Director Mel Gibson purportedly touched all the plum race and sexual stereotypes in his racist rant at his former girlfriend. He wove together blacks, males, rapists, rape, and white women. The first thought is, this is what you can expect from the loose-lipped, even looser hinged Gibson who's practically made a recent career out of ticking off gays, religious folk, Jews, and women with his shoot-from-the lip slurs and insults. This is the same Gibson who virtually alone defended comedian Michael Richards when he was universally reviled for his own racist rant in 2006 -- "But my heart went out to the guy."

But any thought of blowing off Gibson as a loose cannon is a mistake for two reasons. Gibson is still a big, rich, influential, and bankable name in Hollywood. And whatever he says and does makes news, gets the ear of legions (many fans of his), is incessantly chatted up in the tabloids, and he makes money for the industry. But that's the least of the two reasons. If Gibson made the reported slurs, he swims with the times. Racism has been on full and ugly display the past year.

The Tea Party rallies that featured these signs and banners, "The Long Legged Mack Daddy," "Where's the Birth Certificate," Mississippi Freedom Riders," "Whoa Boys Take it from Here" (Obama waving to black and Islamic militants), the Confederate flags and the Texas state flag (separatist movement emblem). No attempt was made to mask the racist sentiment. Some protesters always seemed quite proud to openly send a message about race and Obama. The endless racist cracks, digs and slurs from talk show jocks, and on the legions of websites and blogs that bash President Obama and blacks, and not necessarily in that order.

The racial slips and gaffes by state and local officials, and one of the nation's biggest TV networks, Univision, recently cavalierly featured its hosts and guests on a primetime popular show, prancing around on camera with spears and afros mocking Africans. Then there are the studies that show that many of the same old, worn, and hackneyed stereotypes about blacks as violent, crime prone, immoral, and sexually rapaciousness, are repeated or internalized by countless numbers.

Gibson could have easily, in his sick, pique of anger at his ex-girlfriend, simply wished rape as his vengeful punishment for her without specifying any ethnic group, just any man. But he didn't. He linked his self-imposed punishment on her with race, specifically black men. This was not just the wild-eyed and ridiculous slur it seems. The image of the run amok, black man as rapist, is one of the oldest, and most durable of the vile stereotypes.

Gibson is indeed a piece of work, and based on his past verbal binges, his career should have been in the tank a long time ago. But he's Hollywood, and so he's tolerated, and the talk that this latest outburst could ruin his career is just that -- talk. It will take more than racist, stereotype-laced rants by a big name Hollywood celeb for that to happen. No, Gibson swims with the times.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Governed: The Year of Crisis and Challenge (Middle Passage Press).
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