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Best of The Atlantic
Why Is Mel Gibson, Hollywood’s Leading Anti-Semite, Still Getting Hired?
Every day, as dawn’s rosy fingers reach through my window, I arise and check in with Twitter, to see what fresh hell awaits. Generally, by about 6:30, I’ve been made furious by the outrage du jour. But recently, I experienced more of a sense of bemusement than ire, as I took in Deadline’s headline: “Mel Gibson in Talks to Direct Lethal Weapon 5.”Gibson is a well-known Jew-hater (anti-Semite is too mild). His prejudices are well documented. So my question is, what does a guy have to do these days to get put on Hollywood’s no-fly list? I’m a character actor. I tend to take the jobs that come my way. But—and this hurts to write—you couldn’t pay me enough to work with Mel Gibson.Now, I love the Lethal Weapon movies (at least the first few). And Danny Glover’s a gem. But Gibson? Yes, he’s a talented man. Many horrible people produce wonderful art. Put me down as an ardent fan of Roald Dahl, Pablo Picasso, and Edith Wharton; can’t get enough of what they’re selling. But these three had the good taste to die. That makes it a lot easier to enjoy their output. Gibson lives. And Tinseltown need not employ him further.If Gibson is welcomed back to direct the latest installment of this beloved franchise, it may be time to stop publishing think pieces about the power of “cancel culture.” Because if he can continue to find big bucks and approbation in Hollywood, cancel culture simply does not exist.Gibson’s political beliefs are—as my father would say—somewhere to the right of Ramses (check out YouTube to see Gibson saluting Donald Trump at a UFC fight). He has said sexist things and yelled racist slurs, and that should have been enough for liberal Hollywood to cut him off. But his reported anti-Semitism has been more consistent, more open, and more egregious.[Read: Mel Gibson is not sorry]The fact that this doesn’t seem to bother Warner Bros. executives makes me wonder if, to them, “Jews don’t count”—as the comic David Baddiel posits in his book of the same name. Baddiel, a British Jew, argues that “polite” society treats anti-Semitism as a semi-acceptable form of prejudice. And most maddening and confusing is that the anti-racist, progressive left often seems to tolerate and, at times, produce it. It breaks my heart to ponder how many Jews must have been part of the process that led to Warner Bros.’ announcement.This might feel like a smaller matter if it didn’t come at a moment when members of my tribe feel the walls closing in again. Jews were the victims in more than 50 percent of religious-based hate crimes last year. In recent years, we’ve witnessed the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh, the murder at the Chabad of Poway synagogue in California, Jewish students harassed on college campuses, European anti-Semitism on the rise—these are the headlines that make us feel unsafe. Is this really the time to glorify a man like Mel Gibson?Yes, he has denied some of the stories of his anti-Semitism, like the time Winona Ryder said he asked her if she was an “oven dodger” at a party. Color me unconvinced. This is the man who directed and co-wrote The Passion of the Christ, a film that, in addition to earning Rotten Tomatoes’ highest audience score for a film in Aramaic (as of this writing), is also a gleeful attack on my people, portraying Jews as eager Christ-killers, a libel that has been used as an excuse to torment and murder Jews for two millennia.Don’t agree with my take on the film? Okay, let’s look at Gibson’s arrest record.In 2006, a fershnikit Gibson was pulled over on Malibu’s Pacific Coast Highway and detained for drunk driving. In the back of the police car, Gibson reportedly went on an anti-Semitic tirade, prompted by his (correct) suspicion that his arresting officer was Jewish. “Fucking Jews,” Gibson said. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world.” Gibson later claimed that, under the influence of alcohol, he had said things he didn’t actually believe, but, seriously, in vino veritas—I myself once stood up at Nobu after a bit too much sake and announced, “I wish I were taller!”If the police report doesn’t move you, let’s go to the tape.In 2010, recordings of voicemails and phone calls between Gibson and his then-girlfriend (and mother of his child) Oksana Grigorieva were publicly released. I recognize that my argument that anti-Semitism is somehow singularly excusable is undermined by what these recordings show, which is that in addition to being a rabid anti-Semite, Gibson also has deep malice toward women and people of color in his heart. Lowlights include Gibson’s telling Grigorieva, “If you get raped by a pack of niggers, it’ll be your fault” and “Shut the fuck up! You should just fucking smile, and blow me! ’Cause I deserve it!”You get the idea. Let me remind you also that Gibson pleaded “no contest” to a charge of domestic battery against Grigorieva in 2011.How can Warner Bros. (a company founded by Jews) possibly consider hiring this man again? On its parent company’s website I found a very laudable “inclusion” policy. It reads, in part, “WarnerMedia is committed to diversity, equity and inclusion, as moral and business imperatives. It is essential that our workforce, content and creative partners reflect the diversity of our society and the world around us.”[Read: How Hollywood redeemed Mel Gibson]Beautiful. Really. But may I humbly suggest that in addition to a robust inclusion policy, Warner Bros. needs an equally robust exclusion policy? How about “Don’t hire racist, anti-Semitic misogynists”? Free advice: Avoid this trifecta, Warner Bros. You want a triple threat? Don’t hire Mel Gibson; search for the next Donald O’Connor!And it’s not just Warner Bros. that’s wearing moral blinders. Earlier this year it was announced that Gibson will star in a John Wick origin series for Starz and Lionsgate Television. How did this guy become such a hot ticket again? Is it just that memories of his hate speech have faded, while Hollywood’s recollection of his box-office pull remains?It is inarguably true that the main targets of Gibson’s prejudice are the Jews, but what boggles my mind is that Hollywood is also overlooking his profound misogyny and forays into anti-Black racism. I wish anti-Jewish hatred alone were enough to get him cast into the wilderness, but, hey, if it has to be because of his other prejudices, I’m okay with that. Let him take the hundreds of millions he’s already earned in Hollywood and retire somewhere nice to contemplate his life choices. I hear the Judean Hills are lovely this time of year.I write this knowing that it’s more likely to lead to a boycott by Warner Bros. of Joshua Malina than of Mel Gibson. But if that’s the result, so be it. I’ve had a nice career, baruch Hashem. It would be great if higher-profile executives, producers, and actors would also take a stand. Then I could believe in this cancel culture I keep reading so much about. And I could also believe that Jews do, in fact, count.
Peloton Is Stuck, Just Like the Rest of Us
It was the best of pelotimes, it was the worst of pelotimes.If the graph of Peloton’s stock-price fluctuations were the blueprint for a new roller coaster, it would be a terrifying ride for anyone brave enough to strap in. The line undulates with disasters: Since the fitness-tech company went public in late 2019, it has weathered a virally bad holiday ad campaign, pandemic delivery delays so extensive that it bought up tons of pricey cargo-plane space, and a recall of one of its treadmills following dozens of injuries and the death of a child.Between those precipitous drops, the company had a better pandemic than nearly all other businesses on the planet. With gyms closed, Peloton’s stock price skyrocketed alongside sales of its spin bikes and treadmills, increasing more than eightfold from March to December 2020. By August 2021, the company had 2.3 million users paying nearly $40 a month to take classes on its “connected fitness” products—more than quadruple the number it reported two years prior. But the highs and lows have continued apace: Peloton’s stock tanked in November after the company reported quarterly sales far below its own expectations and slashed annual-revenue projections. As more people return to gyms, new signups have slowed and existing members are taking fewer classes. The Wall Street Journal gave the phenomenon a name: Peloton fatigue. (Peloton declined to comment for this story.)Since last spring, every up and down of the Peloton roller coaster has generated a volume of headlines that has felt at times disproportionate to the societal significance (such as it is) of a company that sells fancy exercise bikes. In part, that’s because Peloton is a quirky company whose cultish following inspires strong opinions, and whose existence has seeped further into mainstream pop culture—its handsome, exuberant director of cycling, Cody Rigsby, was a finalist on the most recent season of Dancing With the Stars. It doesn’t hurt that actual Peloton owners appear to be overrepresented in the ranks of national media. But the fascination with Peloton’s foibles is so durable, and apparently so widespread, that it suggests that something a little more complicated is afoot than a straightforward curiosity about the long-term profit potential of in-home spin classes. The question that people are trying to sort out about Peloton is, at its most basic level, the biggest unanswered question of the past year and a half: Are things ever getting back to normal again, or what?[Read: I joined a stationary-biker gang]In one sense, this is a practical question for Peloton—and Zoom, and DoorDash, and Amazon, and many others. They fell face-first into the ideal conditions for an extended windfall that they could not have predicted and that, may God have mercy on our souls, will not be replicated. With that comes some uncertainty: How much can what people did in the past year and a half really tell anyone about what they’ll do in the future?You probably don’t personally care about the quality of Peloton’s sales data. I certainly do not. But lots of companies make decisions—on manufacturing, on inventory, on hiring—based on this kind of year-over-year information, and a lot of them have nearly two years of data that will, at best, be tricky to use effectively as life continues to change. At worst, the numbers are absolute trash. If you’ve been looking, the effects of this phenomenon have been visible for months. Back in the spring, when vaccines were becoming widely available and people were feeling optimistic about the summer, even the fastest fast-fashion retailers were caught flat-footed. The information they traditionally rely on to produce new styles was still showing them a big, flashing neon sign that said SWEATPANTS.For companies such as Peloton, whose popularity soared based on the specific limitations of pandemic life, the question is how much they will figure into people’s lives going forward, assuming that people continue to feel comfortable going to gyms, offices, and restaurants. How much were their products and services convenient stopgaps, and how much does their success represent a more durable shift in how lots of people spend their money and conduct the day-to-day activities of their lives? For the businesses enjoying a post-vaccine resurgence, the problem is the other side of the same coin: Will everyone that left come back? How quickly? How many people should they hire, and how much of what kind of stuff should they have on hand? Their data aren’t so great, either. How do you know what next month’s potential horde of (finally) returning customers will want from you if you have little information on how the past year may have changed them?[Read: Peloton doesn’t understand the people who love it most]But these practical questions, about Peloton or any other business, are not really why these ups and downs seem to nag at casual observers so much. In the grand scheme of human thought, some things are easier targets for contemplation than others. “Do a significant number of people really prefer to exercise at home?” is a simple one. “Is the life I took for granted gone for good, in some ways?” is a little trickier to put your arms around.Isn’t that what we’re talking about here, in the end? Much of American life is mediated through consumer purchases, and following their ups and downs is how people take the temperature on all kinds of societal changes. Fluctuations in “consumer confidence” upend financial markets and spring leaks in presidential-approval ratings. Knowing what’s selling and who’s buying offers a window, however imperfect, into a lot of less concrete ideas. Maybe if people stop buying Pelotons, or stop using the ones they have, that means they’re doing the things they did before the pandemic—working out at the gym, playing on rec sports teams, going to spin classes in real life. Maybe that’s a measurable indicator that we’re headed in the right direction, or at least the familiar one.[Read: America has pandemic senioritis]People have been trying to guess how the pandemic would change American life since the moment the pandemic began, and headstones have been carved for lots of things that will very obviously survive—handshakes, restaurants, in-person office work, and, yes, gyms. This is what people do when faced with the kind of bottomless uncertainty we’ve all lived in for nearly two years—they look for the signal in the noise, the clues about what might come next, some objective indicators of how to form their subjective beliefs.Spotting the limitations of this method is always pretty easy in hindsight. Most of our experiences are less meaningful in the broad sweep of history than they feel like they are while we’re enduring them, but in an information vacuum, any crumb of certainty feels like a feast. Knowing that doesn’t prevent us from making the same mistakes again, though. Last Friday, as news of the new Omicron variant spread around the world, Peloton’s stock ticked back up.
We Opened the Schools and ... It Was Fine
When the coronavirus pandemic first hit, many states and towns closed everything, including schools. Public-health experts didn’t know enough about how COVID was spread or how contagious it was, and the health-care system was overwhelmed in parts of the country. The American public could see the disaster unfolding in Italy, and many people believed that the U.S. needed to act before things got out of control.By the fall of 2020, still without vaccinations, many older Americans continued to be at significant risk. Given that kids could bring infections home, even if they weren’t at huge risk themselves, many schools remained online, in full or in part.[Read: COVID vaccine mandates for kids are coming]By the start of the next school year, vaccines were widely available for anyone age 12 or older. And many schools that reopened were able to implement measures that other institutions struggled with. Even so, people continued to worry about the danger that schools posed to society.Then classes began, and … widespread doom never really came—or, if it did, it didn’t come from schools.The Delta surge began long before classes resumed, and looking at the state-by-state data, you’d be hard-pressed to find bumps that can be pinned on the beginning of the semester. Last year, no surge happened in September either. Most states didn’t see any significant rise in COVID cases last fall until well into October.Schools aren’t the problem. They never have been.One of the frustrating things about the pandemic has been our inability, even at this late date, to understand why surges occur. They hit communities with mask mandates, and communities without. Last year, we believed that the surge from October through February was caused by seasonal changes. The cold drove everyone indoors, where COVID was much more likely to spread, and therefore cases developed more quickly. This year, though, the surge began long before the weather turned cold. Vaccines are certainly protective and likely mitigate the severity of surges locally. Even so, things may worsen again—the data right now aren’t looking good for much of the country, and many people fear more hardship to come from the emergent Omicron variant—but no predictable pattern has emerged to explain what sets off periods of dramatic increases.[Read: Omicron’s best-case scenario]What is pretty certain, however, is that schools are not to blame. They didn’t cause the surges. They didn’t cause the massive numbers of hospitalizations and deaths that Florida experienced this summer and that Michigan appears to be experiencing now. They haven’t done nearly as much damage as bars, restaurants, and indoor events (including kids’ birthday parties), which never seem to receive the same amount of attention.This doesn’t mean that kids aren’t getting COVID, of course. It doesn’t mean that kids aren’t in danger, haven’t gotten sick, haven’t been hospitalized by the thousands, and even died. Kids catch COVID, and transmission does occur in schools, but it is rare when precautions are taken. Because of this, the level of school transmission is sometimes lower than that of the surrounding community. Most schools are on guard, at least. Many require masks. More are being thoughtful about close contacts and group dynamics, and they enforce isolation and quarantine as much as they can. That may be inconvenient, but it’s hard to argue that it hasn’t made a difference.[Jessica McCrory Calarco: Why parents kept their kids home from school]This is especially true in higher education. Many colleges have led the way in the past year in protocols, testing, surveillance, and even vaccinations. And they’ve consequently been able to steer back to a state of near-normalcy. This seems to perplex much of the country, which doesn’t appear to appreciate how safe things are on campuses today. Images of packed football stadiums this year have been followed by predictions of horror to come. Many people see kids screaming and yelling in huge numbers and assume that outbreaks are imminent. For the most part, they haven’t occurred. Football games are outdoor activities, and those are pretty safe. Further, many more of those kids are likely vaccinated than the surrounding public, and vaccinations work.Some colleges made perfunctory-at-best efforts to control COVID, which did lead to some avoidable outbreaks, and even some closures. Other universities may arguably be going too far. Some are engaging in massive testing programs of the already vaccinated, which may pick up infections that are unlikely to be contagious. Others are limiting how many friends students can see in a day, or asking asymptomatic, vaccinated people to mask up outside and even in between bites and sips if they’re drinking or eating too slowly. Some schools have reverted to online-only classes because of breakthrough cases.It’s important to understand that preventing new cases completely is nearly impossible. Continuing to regulate behavior when you’ve already achieved a massive level of vaccination is likely to backfire. A school cannot expect to have no COVID cases when the community has COVID. Our goal needs to be “safe enough,” not perfection. That’s the approach many schools have taken, including Indiana University, where I serve as chief health officer.The public can stop fixating on schools. Schools are open and kids are safe—especially now that most can be vaccinated. We should celebrate that and stop holding these essential institutions to a standard that no other is even close to achieving.
Like Watching Six Different Marriages Fall Apart
What is happening to the Beatles? Whose idea was this? What is going on? It’s January 1969, and look at them: stuck on a soundstage in Twickenham Film Studios—the Beatles!—sitting around like a bunch of YouTubers, idly generating content. They burble; they dawdle; they pick up their instruments and put them down again. They are of the ’60s and they are above the ’60s. “I think your beard suits you … man,” George says to Paul. Planes of shifting color light up the white screens behind them, viridescent splodges and blooms of moody fuchsia, as if they’re trapped at the end of a rainbow. Everybody’s watching, everybody’s listening: nosy cameras, nudging mics, cables and crew members all over the place.Marooned in this quasi-industrial environment, the Beatles are trying—insane proposition—to write an album. Or get some songs together for a live show. It’s not clear. McCartney, it seems, had a notion that a process like this would get them back to basics, put the estranged Beatles back in touch with one another. Or are these, in fact, laboratory conditions for the dissolution of a creative unit? Kill or cure, maybe. So they’re scuffing through songs; bantering; giggling; eating sandwiches; drinking tea; drinking wine; drinking something orange; drinking something tomato-colored; looking heavily drugged (Lennon); looking beadily alert (also Lennon); ignoring one another; indulging one another; eyeballing one another; having earnest, shrouded, passive-aggressive circular Liverpudlian conversations regarding the future (or not) of their band.Peter Jackson’s The Beatles: Get Back, released in three episodes on Disney+, is a film about the Beatles, but it’s also a film about a film. Because while the Beatles are Beatling around on their soundstage, the director Michael Lindsay-Hogg is making or trying to make what will eventually become the unloved documentary Let It Be, to be released in 1970 after the band has broken up. He’s filming everything, without knowing—in the pure vérité style—quite what he’s filming. Let it all unfold, man. Let it happen. Let it be. And he too is being filmed: young and round-faced, clean-shaven amid the lusciously hairy Beatles, puffing on a cigar, keeping his cool (just about). “I don’t know what story I’m telling anymore,” he announces at one point. “At the moment we’ve got a movie about smokers, nose-pickers, and nail-biters.”From the nearly 60 hours of footage and 100-plus of audio produced by the Let It Be sessions, Jackson has quarried the almost eight hours of Get Back: That’s almost eight hours of symphonic tedium and fiddly revelation, of sitting around and diddling about, with a culminating blast of blinding Beatle-joy as the band plays its gig—its last gig—on the roof of the Apple Corps offices. Watching the whole thing, should you choose to do so, will be a tune-up for your negative capability—John Keats’s term for tolerating “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” The Beatles are on the Twickenham soundstage (miserable), then they’re in the Apple studio (less miserable), then they’re on the roof (amazing): That’s the narrative arc.January 1969 is not a great moment for the Beatles. It’s been 15 months since the death of the band’s visionary manager, and as the movie begins the boys are lamenting quite candidly the drift they’ve suffered since the loss of the man they call “Mr. Epstein.” There is talk of “grumpiness” and “doldrums” and jokes about getting divorced from one another. The drift is pervasive: What are they actually doing in Twickenham? If a concert is what they’re working toward, a live show that will also deliver the hoped-for climax of Lindsay-Hogg’s film, where exactly will that show be? In a Roman amphitheater in Libya? (“I think you’ll find we’re not going abroad,” Paul says. “Because Ringo just said he doesn’t want to go abroad.”) Or perhaps on London’s Primrose Hill? Ideas float and expire: The vagueness is enervating. Lindsay-Hogg expresses a need to be “flexible … about every aspect of the enterprise,” that perennial ’60s air of half-baked possibility/potential compounded here by the fact that, as the Beatles, they basically can do anything they want: hire a cruise ship, build a rocket, take over a hill in the middle of North London, commandeer the world’s television networks for a couple of hours. There is a sensation, too, of money flying out of the corners of every frame—Beatle money, Apple money, sacks of it, just flying out the window.[Read: What the Beatles Sounded Like Unedited]You find yourself thinking a lot about Ringo during Get Back, because he is the quietest and the stillest, and the most camera-aware. His face, his melancholy deadpan, is a permanent reaction shot. The other three are in a huddle, eye to eye, fur to fur, at ground level. But Ringo’s up on his drum riser, arms loose, in desolate repose, in his characteristic rubbery slouch. He is waiting, he is waiting, for something he can drum along to. Then out of nowhere it happens: his perfected ponderous groove, the leaden splash of his hi-hat, his beautiful shapely/shapeless fills and mysterious swing. Then it stops, and once again he is watching and waiting, drolly doleful and dolefully droll. It occurs to you that while John, Paul, and George are artists at work, Ringo is a work of art. And you begin to understand his Ringoisms, his absurdist inversions, his Heraclitean fragments, as little bulletins from a unique condition: the condition of being Ringo. “That’s the first thing you ever said to me,” Lindsay-Hogg remembers. “You said, ‘What kind of tree is that?’ and I said, ‘It’s a yew,’ and you said, ‘No, it’s not; it’s a me …’” Ringo nods sagely.The Beatles are definitely breaking up, both in Lindsay-Hogg’s movie and in Jackson’s. It’s like watching six different marriages fall apart: John-and-Paul, Paul-and-George, John-and-George, Ringo-and-John, Paul-and-Ringo, etc. Froideur, awkward jokes, jabs of insight. What’s the problem? Is it the owlish presence of Yoko at John’s side? Not really. Is it George, who shortly after sharing his hymn to mutability “All Things Must Pass” and getting not much reaction, takes off in a huff? Not really. It’s just the second law of thermodynamics. The inevitability of entropy. One scarcely believable scene finds the Beatles sitting around as if for an interview, slurping drinks, joined briefly by the actor Peter Sellers. The dialogue is Waiting for Godot via Joe Orton: Lennon: Your chance to win a fab free Beatle, send in 39 disc tops.McCartney: Wake up, Lennon.Lennon: Wake up, Lennon. It’s about time.McCartney: We just sit here and allow ourselves to be embarrassed.Mal Evans (assistant): Who wants tea?Sellers (who has had enough): Very kind of you, but I must be off.[Exit Sellers.][More chat. Lennon mentions being “stoned and high and watching films” the previous night.]McCartney: Is there any need to do this in public, Mr. Lennon?[More chat. Lennon starts reciting the lyrics to “Help!”][Ringo’s eyelids droop.] McCartney: We can’t carry on like this indefinitely.Ringo (rousing himself): We seem to be. Subversive, countertextual John; managing-the-situation Paul; nodding Ringo; brooding George; and a scarpering Peter Sellers … They really couldn’t carry on like that indefinitely, could they? Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead. Things improve when they get to their pokey studio in the basement of the Apple building. Billy Preston arrives, grinning radiantly, and adds a bluesy-gospelly pulse of electric piano to the proceedings. The music, and the musicians, perk up. “You’re giving us a lift, Bill!” exclaims a grateful Lennon. The songs take shape—“I’ve Got a Feeling,” “Don’t Let Me Down”—those great, late, decelerated, weight-of-the-world Beatles songs. It’s odd to watch: You see them coming together, these songs, take by lumpy take, but still you can’t shake the feeling that they arrived fully formed, direct from Beatle heaven. And then someone has the idea to play them on the roof. And quite suddenly there they are, the Beatles, five stories up, wind-ruffled and magnificent in their furs and beards, harmonizing, enjoying one another, with the grayness of rooftop London feasting on their final flaming-out colors. Everybody had a wet dream, everybody saw the sun shine … My God, they’re beautiful.