On a recent episode of Family Feud, the contestants were asked to name something commonly associated with San Francisco. Like Mormons to Utah or Dukes to Hazzard, everyone and their brother knows San Fran is a haven for homosexuals, but after saying “trolleys,” the “Golden Gate Bridge,” and “Rice-A-Roni,” the feud ended with both families refusing to state the obvious.
After their defeat, the number three answer on the board was finally revealed, and lo and behold, the survey said, “Gays.” The contestants pretended to be surprised. I couldn’t get over their cowardice. Gays would have been my first answer. And unconstrained by the rules of political correctness, no doubt gays would have been most people’s first answer. There’s nothing wrong or homophobic about noting that there are a lot of gay people in San Francisco.
Political correctness did not hold sway when actor Mel Gibson went on his now famous phone tirade, spewing racist and violent language at his former lover, Russian pianist Oksana Grigorieva. Many observers agree that Gibson’s movie career might be over. After hearing the taped phone calls, in which this vile man verbally abuses the mother of his child in the harshest manner imaginable, it’s easy to understand why.
But what aspect of Gibson’s behavior is now being called a career-ender? That he was misogynistic? 30 Rock star Alec Baldwin physically threatened and verbally abused his own daughter in a voice message that was released to the public; his career couldn’t be better. Was Gibson’s worst offense that he physically threatened a woman? Actor Charlie Sheen shot his then-girlfriend Kelly Preston in the arm and was recently charged with assaulting his third wife, Brooke Mueller, and yet his television show Two and a Half Men is about to begin taping a new season.
No, when you break it down, Gibson’s worst offense seems to be that he used racist language, even going as far as to utter the N-word. Based on his past remarks about Jews and homosexuals, the well-publicized recordings only reinforced the image of Gibson as a racist, anti-Semite, and homophobe; his conservative Catholic creed certainly doesn’t win him any affection from the rest of the Hollywood set, either.
Still, if my own father ever heard me talking to a wife, girlfriend, or any woman for that manner in the same hateful way Gibson did, he would slap me silly. The racist comments would not be condoned or go unnoticed, but in the grand scheme of my offenses, it would be an afterthought. And rightfully so. Would a black man, whose wife or daughter was treated in this manner, be more concerned their abuser used the word “cracker” or about the physical threats and abusive language? Would a Jewish man react any differently? A homosexual man in defending his sister or mother?
Gibson’s blatant racism is not to be excused, but what does it say about a society in which men can viciously abuse women, verbally or physically, with less damage to their careers and reputations than when they use racial slurs? What does it say when director Roman Polanski can drug and rape a 13-year-old girl and Hollywood rallies to his defense, but Gibson is now — possibly permanently — persona non grata?
Political correctness is a hell of a thing. It’s the reason the actors are always smoking in I Love Lucy, yet sleep in separate beds, while today having a cigarette on screen will earn a movie an R rating, but near soft-core pornography is commonplace. It’s hard to imagine comedies like Blazing Saddles, The Jerk, or Airplane being made today; after all, each one is packed with humor based around gay and racist stereotypes.
This is not to say that genuine racism or homophobia should be promoted or even tolerated, only that the degree of offense we place on it today is perhaps perverse in its proportion, stifling speech and art in unprecedented ways. What is socially acceptable to discuss continues to become narrower. And in the 1970s or ’80s, contestants on Family Feud would have been much more likely to acknowledge the basic, glaring fact that plenty of homosexuals live in San Francisco.
Despite their various offenses, I remain a fan of Baldwin and Sheen’s work, and even Polanski’s, whose latest film The Ghost Writer is a solid political thriller. The same goes for Gibson. I would like to see more out of this great actor and director. His language in that phone call was deplorable, but far worse is his treatment of women, something that hasn’t seemed to affect the careers of many of his Hollywood brethren.
At its root, political correctness represents a political morality, something that continues to trump old-fashioned, conventional morality in the most bizarre ways imaginable.
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