David Brooks, "Sure Mel Gibson Seems To Be A Religious Bigot but the Real Threat to Civilization Is That Syrupy Mitch Albom Stuff". March 9, 2004
THIS might come as a surprise to you, say, if you just stumbled in for the first time, but I really have no use for Mel Gibson, aka The Australian John Travolta, or any of his movies I've been subjected to (I was paid to see that second Mad Max flicker, which I believe I described afterwards as "a Must See, assuming you think Tom of Finland was insufficiently apocalyptic"). If it's your $12 bucket o' popped pig feed n' petrochemicals, fine. I don't care. He's some guy who's made an inordinate number of movies I've seen ten minutes of without ever once caring about the eleventh. He made a bunch of money on faux-Celticism, but so does the Signals catalog. He made a bunch more money on faux-American military history, but so does the History Channel. He made a bunch of money with that Jesus slashfic, but so does You Know Who. I don't care. There's far too little theological mumbo-jumbo in the world, if you ask me. Which isn't to say there's not too much theological mumbo-jumbo enforced on other people, just that I wish everyone so inclined spent his time making movies and not foreign policy.
So he's a woman-beater, a racist, an anti-Semite, and a peabrain. There's a whole friggin' network of 'em on cable. This concerns me to the extent that I don't approve of such things, but not to the extent that I care because it's coming from a celebrity this time. As far as I'm concerned reaction belongs to his specialty market; let the people who treated him as the modern St. Sebastian, and his movie as the latest in a series of modern miracles which usually place Christ on a corn chip, deal with the real Mel Gibson. Preferably privately.
What doesn't need to happen--meaning, of course, what's guaranteed to--is a bunch of illiterates who could care less otherwise condemning his behavior just because it's on their fucking teevees, and behaving as though it's the first instance of lying scoundrelism they've had the misfortune to run into. Or, worse, using it as an opportunity to crank up the unlettered pop-sociology, and send the Times a bill.
Ladies and gentlemen, David Brooks. Like most other non-Christian "conservatives", and like all public moderates in the US of A who hope to turn a profit, Brooks is required to believe, or to pretend to believe, that Christianity is a universal force for good, a friendly neighbor who minds his own business and keeps his fence in good repair, and Family-Sized barrel of health-bestowing apples only rarely subject to worminess. When Gibson's personal and theological anti-Semitism was alleged to have reached the screen in The Passion, Brooks dismissed it with the counter-assertion that Mitch Albom's "schmaltzy psychobabble" was much more terrifying, because, y'know, Everybody Knows only a few whackjobs really believe all that fire and brimstone malarky, whereas as this touchy-feely spirituality stuff is everywhere ("As any tour around the TV dial will make abundantly clear"), insidious, and insufficiently respectful of authority.
Like much else in American "conservatism" generally, and specifically in Brooks' Boboland Leo-Strauss-with-a-Smiley-Face posturing, this is so jaw-droppingly self-contradictory that the charitable explanation involves pubescent sexual humiliation, twelve years of stolen lunch money and impromptu incarceration in one's own locker, followed by a life-long seething rage forced to content itself with sniggering references to psychological categories too arcane and polysyllabic for one's tormenters to catch. Jesus may've been clear about what was to be rendered to which Authority--more likely they fixed that in re-write--but then it was that same Authority which offed him rather unpleasantly for a bad case of sassmouth. Luther died in the middle of the 16th century, and since that time something like 50% of professed Christians have believed--at least by show of hands--that their relationship with the Almighty is personal.
Now, aside from the natural deference to the extreme end of the Crackpot Scale which is part of the protective coloration of the public moderate, there's the little matter that back in Aught Four Brooks was trying desperately to change the subject because, if nothing else, those foolish backwards Christian literalists no one takes seriously were needed at the polls that November. So much so that he uncorked the N-word:
We've got more to fear from the easygoing narcissism that is so much part of the atmosphere nobody even thinks to protest or get angry about it….
''Plagued by anxiety, depression, vague discontents, a sense of inner emptiness, the 'psychological man' of the 20th century seeks neither individual self-aggrandizement nor spiritual transcendence but peace of mind, under conditions that increasingly militate against it,'' Christopher Lasch wrote in ''The Culture of Narcissism.'' Lasch went on to call the therapeutic mentality an anti-religion that tries to liberate people from the idea that they should submit to a higher authority, so they can focus more obsessively on their own emotional needs.
Maybe somebody somewhere can seriously explain why Lasch is so goddamed popular with people who are fucking capitalist in their marrow; for the life of me I can't understand why they imagine he's always talking about someone else, or that anyone who professes monotheism is exempt. All I can come up with is that The Culture of Narcissism had its fifteen minutes right around the rise of Reaganism, and that in the Pop arena it somehow became confused with Tom Wolfe's "Me Decade" in the minds of perpetual AV nerds. Narcissism! That's it! That cheerleader who laughed at me when I asked her out, those long-haired bong aficionados who pantsed me in gym class, are all in Love with themselves! The culture is swarming with 'em, save for a few intellectual superior specimens like myself!
Never mind that Lasch was speaking of something else, not aggrandizing Self-love but an empty shell helpfully filled by ubiquitous commercial jingles and artificially-induced free-range covetousness. Never mind that in every other fucking instance Brooks, et. al, find self-love the highest ideal of Mankind, and junk capitalism its most important sacrament. Narcissism! It wasn't so much an observation, or a critique, as the assumption of a scientilicious buzzword as the last word in the Reaganite war on dirty hippies and, occasionally, the mocking laughter of pom-pom bedecked high-school desirables.
And even missing that point completely you're still left with a mass personality quirk driven by the junk capitalism at its core. Th' hell does Brooks want? No fences and no rabbits? Or all his lunch money back, with interest? Let's swap the horns of the Gibson/Albom dilemma for Amoral Unfettered Capitalism vs. this Brooksian laissez-faire where the Consumer is supposed to reverently keep to his place in the monotheistic Grand Scheme, but the Producer is free to do as he pleases until he gets caught, at which point Brooks will tsk-tsk the board of Goldman Sachs, or the constructor of shoddy deep-water drilling rigs while noting that Regulation, or The Ten People You Meet in Heaven, are a thousand million times worse. Dunno about you, but I'd choose the former.
Here, incidentally, is Brooks for the Time Capsule:
In their book, “The Narcissism Epidemic,” Jean M. Twenge and W. Keith Campbell cite data to suggest that at least since the 1970s, we have suffered from national self-esteem inflation. They cite my favorite piece of sociological data: In 1950, thousands of teenagers were asked if they considered themselves an “important person.” Twelve percent said yes. In the late 1980s, another few thousand were asked. This time, 80 percent of girls and 77 percent of boys said yes.
That doesn’t make them narcissists in the Gibson mold, but it does suggest that we’ve entered an era where self-branding is on the ascent and the culture of self-effacement is on the decline.
Says the guy who uses self-effacement the way carnival sideshows use a barker.*
And this is Brooks' favorite piece of sociological data (Ladies and Gentlemen, the Prosecution rests!) from which he draws the conclusion that we can't draw any conclusions, but if we could they'd back him up absolutely.
It was certainly interesting to read these in reverse chronological order, approaching the second knowing that to Brooks, now, the unambiguously, irrefutably, and indefensibly nasty psychopath Gibson has been revealed to be (rather than the cranky anti-Semite and "narrow sectarian" no reasonable person would take seriously), can be explained by…wait for it…
* The correct term is "talker"; alternately, and more fittingly here, "lecturer".