Wednesday, July 14, 2010

On his side, her side, and the ugly truth

TRIGGER WARNING for domestic violence throughout, but definitely for the tapes on Radar Online.

Okay, so Mel Gibson has been in decline for some time now. Always a devout Catholic, he descended to a rather freaky level of fundamentalism as part of Opus Dei, he started making kind of scary-weird movies like The Passion of the Christ and Apocalypto, and then there was his sexist, anti-Semitic tirade after being pulled over for drunk driving, followed by his trip to rehab, which of course makes everything all better. Punchline: Once a hero, Mel Gibson is undeniably in bad, bad shape, and whether or not he’s a bad person, it’s undeniable that he’s a person who does bad things.

His most recent bad thing has come out in the form of several tapes revealed by Radar Online. One was simply terribly cruel, berating ex-girlfriend (and mother of his chlid) Oksana Grigorieva and using racial epithets. But the most recent tape has been more horrifying: Unhinged and out of control, he admits to beating her (saying she deserved it) and not-so-obliquely threatens several times to kill her.

What’s nearly as scary (and just as scary, in its own way) is the way some fans are coming to his defense, demanding photos of her broken teeth, wanting to know what she said to him before she started taping, wondering why she was taping him at all. There are two sides to every story, they say, and she’s certainly no angel, and there must be something just as sinister in her past to balance out this unbelievably horrific story. It has to be about her. It has to be her fault.

This recalls the not-so-publicized case of Juanita Bynum, who was mercilessly beaten by her minister husband in a parking garage; and the more-publicized case of singer Rihanna, who was mercilessly beaten by her boyfriend, convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown, in a car. In both cases, there was evidence--Bynam’s beating was witnessed by a garage attendant, and Rihanna’s gruesome ER photos were leaked to the tabloid press. But even in the face of that kind of undeniable evidence, some people simply couldn’t accept it--there had to be some kind of mitigating factor, something to keep this from being just another flat-out case of vicious domestic abuse. Something, more importantly, to keep Thomas Weeks and convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown from being just another flat-out vicious domestic abuser.

I don’t remember the outcry when Russell Crowe assaulted that concierge in New York, wondering what the man did to provoke a phone slammed in his face. And I don’t recall anyone asking for Naomi Campbell’s side of the story whenever she assaulted her assistants. But there’s something about this particular crime that makes people suddenly stop and search for a fair hearing, an unbiased examination of the evidence.

Why? Is it because Mel Gibson (like convicted domestic abuser Chris Brown and others) is a hero, a manly movie man who protects movie women, our Braveheart and our devoted father, who would never do such a thing? Is it because beating a woman is considered to be so far beyond the pale that such an accusation requires more evidence? Is it because we’re so quick to believe that a woman would lie and manipulate? Is it because, like with so much victim-blaming in rape cases, we prefer to pretend that there’s something she did wrong, a mistake we can avoid in order to avoid her fate?

Regardless of the numerous sides to Mel GIbson’s ongoing story, there is one side that can’t be ignored: Mel Gibson beat Oksana Grigorieva viciously, breaking two of her teeth. Deniers who still demand ER photos from that event can accept the fact that he admits it on tape--she deserved it. Deniers who wonder why she was taping him, who she wanted to leak the tapes to, can accept the fact that on the tape, he admits to beating her, and he threatens to kill her. That is the side that isn’t subject to he said-she said. That is the side that would be (will be, hopefully) admissable in court. And no matter what happens, no matter what else comes out, that is the side that is completely inexcusable.

There is no “other side of the story” that justifies violence. There is nothing a woman can do to provoke that kind of a beating. There is nothing a woman can say to a man to warrant him punching her. Whatever happened in Mel Gibson’s house or Chris Brown’s car, the side of the story that matters is the one where he responds with violence. And so as much as we’d like to believe our heroes incapable of such things, when we’re faced with this kind of incontrovertible evidence, we have to stop searching for excuses and mitigating circumstances and accept that, no, boys will not be boys, we don’t all make that kind of mistake, and there is nothing she could have done to deserve it.

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