The Right Coast

February 28, 2004
More on The Passion
By Tom Smith

The annoying thing about this review in Slate is that it makes a number of good points about the movie. Regarding Pilate, for example, who gets tender treatment in the film.

This review by Christopher Hitchens is grotesquely unfair, an exercise in character assassination, pure and simple. But you almost have to admire it for its brutal efficiency. The logic is entirely baffling, but Hitchens, or "Hitch" I guess, to his pals, manages to cover that up pretty well. It goes like this. Hitchens heard from some unidentified guy that Mel Gibson one time made a lot of crude jokes about anal sex (as opposed to the delicate kind I suppose). It therefore follows he is a "queer basher." The term, notice, implies that Gibson has or supports physically assaulting homosexuals. Quite a leap from telling bad jokes, but that's one of the techniques in character assassination, a certain slipperiness of logic. Then the movie also proves, I infer, that Gibson is a repressed sado-masochistic homosexual himself, as were so many Nazis, as Gibson "probably" is also.

I wonder if Gibson could sue Hitchens in the UK for this column? I think he could in the US, but for NY Times v. Sullivan. It's been a while since I looked at libel law, but Hitchens is at least skirting close to a number of libels per se, I would guess. At a minimum, I think a nice, well-crafted letter from Gibson's lawyers might be in order. But perhaps not. Maybe the libel law has gotten to the state that you can call someone a Nazi and a repressed sado-masochistic homosexual and be just peachy. It wouldn't surprise me.

How do we know that Gibson is a Nazi and a repressed sado-masochistic homosexual? The argument goes like this. Gibson's father is a well-known holocaust denier. Asked about the holocaust in a Reader's Digest interview, Gibson replied in language, which Hitchens does not quote but paraphrases for his own purposes, that was ambiguous as to whether he thought there had been a holocaust for the Jews or not. The next bit of "evidence" is that Gibson also allegedly said, in some context or other--we are not told what-- that his father "never told him a lie." Since it is safe to assume, Hitchens says, that Gibson's father sometime or other told him his theories about the Jews, it follows that Gibson himself must regard his father's crackpot anti-Semitic theories as true. Utter, complete rubbish as an argument, of course, but undeniably slick. I think this might be what the law calls "a cooly crafted libel."

Both Hitchens and the Slate reviewer assert that the Passion is an exercise in sado-masochism. I think, however, that the claim that the Passion is an exercise in sexual sado-masochism is unfair in a number of ways. First, it is a bit hypocritical. I thought in our brave new world there was nothing wrong with being a homosexual into S&M. Are you saying there's something wrong with that? I thought it was, different folks, different strokes.

I think it is entirely likely, unfortunately, that word will go out among S&M types that the Passion is a movie not to be missed. I had my doubts about the guy in line in front of me, a black clad biker with whom I had a nice chat about his awesome chopper. But the fact that some, to use a value laden term, sickbirds will go to the movie for that one hopes are idiosyncratic reasons, does not mean the movie is sado-masochistic in intent. Indeed, by Hitchens and Andrew Sullivan's logic, where disapproval of something means that secretly one is drawn to it, they are the ones to be suspected for tendencies to dark sexual practices. I will leave it to readers to decide whom they would rather have babysitting their children. Personally, I would go will Mel.

It is true that a lot of sadism is depicted in the movie. The soldiers torturing Jesus are clearly enjoying themselves. But in my limited experience, perverse depictions of sadism and masochism glamorize them, make them seem appealing one way or another, and that can hardly be said of the Passion. The soldiers are shown to be horribly evil, drunk with their own wickedness in fact.

Sullivan and Hitchens just seem to be indulging themselves, casting slanders at Gibson and his movie in the hope some of it will stick. It's irresponsible and both of them should know better. Hitchens I would guess has no love for Christianity or Catholicism in any event, and who knows what passions are raging in Sullivan's divided mind. The Passion can be legitimately criticized for all kinds of reasons, but stooping to what is morally at least slander, even if it is not technically actionable, and I'm not even sure about that, is far beneath the standard Sullivan should hold himself to and the standard Hitchens should at least aspire to.