Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Jodie Foster Defends Mel Gibson, and Why I Think That's Okay

Jodie Foster, in her impassioned defense of Mel Gibson's character, unintentionally proves a point about domestic violence awareness: "incredible," "loyal," "loved" people are capable of being abusers.

I am downright bored by depictions of abusers as one of two types: 1) the bad-boy clod who gives "wife-beater" shirts their name (prototype: Stanley Kowalski), or 2) the "surprise!" abuser, who is the golden boy on the outside and a sadistic freakshow the minute the front door closes. And those types exist, sure, but the fact is that abusers are indeed, as they say of serial killers, "just like everyone else." Which is to say: Abusers, "just like everyone else," can be genuinely likable, and not in a false golden-boy way, but in a nice-guy-who-will-help-you-move sort of way. You can't spot them by the color of their eyes; you spot them when they start trying to control your actions, or shame you for yours, or when they push you, or more. There are certain red flags, sure, and I believe that intuition can serve as a strong guide here. But still: seemingly nice guys--vulnerable, witty, intelligent, accomplished, flawed, silly, helpful guys--aren't exempt from being abusers.

It's essential to ending domestic violence that we recognize this. As eye-roll as it sounds to someone who hasn't been there, it can actually be pretty hard to recognize abuse even when it's happening. Typing abusers means that the victims may be more willing to write off episodes of abuse as isolated. (Just as the "type" of victim--passive, weak, uneducated--means that every lengthy discussion I've had with an abuse victim has seen her say, at one point, something like "I couldn't believe that it was really me down on the floor/at the emergency room/actually saying that I'd fallen down the stairs.") Abuse is about the action, not about the entirety of the person, which is why it's impossible to use handy stereotypes for abusers. There is a definite cycle of abuse that's out there, and that template might not vary that much, but that cycle does not define the person; it defines the abuse, and that's what we need to focus on.

So: Mel and Jodie. I'm not thrilled to see anyone defending the character of Mel Gibson, who appears to be a racist, sexist, homophobic, anti-Semite. But it's noteworthy that she's not proclaiming his innocence or even saying that his character as she knows it means that certainly he is incapable of doing such horrible things. She's not accusing Oksana Grigorieva of lying. She's talking about her friend as she knows him, and is saying that she hopes to stand by him during his "dark moment." (I reckon that the allegations against him compromise more than a moment, but whatever.) And I think that's actually admirable in a way. Abusers don't need complete ostracization in order to change; they need intelligent support from people who are willing to give it. Abusers abuse because, among other reasons, they feel utterly powerless; it's a cheap route to feeling utterly powerful, even if only for a split second. Just as victims need a safe place to go, abusers need a safe--though not oblivious--place to process their actions if they're ever going to be able to heal. Shame is part of the reason abuse is kept secret; the longer that we insist upon letting shame be the only legitimate response to abuse--even as, finally, the shame is being pointed in the better direction (instead of backward at the victim)--the longer we'll keep the abusers, and the abused, in the closet.

Jodie Foster, by all accounts, is a smart lady. I have zero idea what she sees in Mel Gibson, and zero idea of why she's breaking her usual low-key-media mode for this. But it's important to her, clearly, and if Mel Gibson is ever going to get his shit together and stop abusing women, he's going to need the smart, tough love of one smart, tough lady. Jodie, don't let me down.

No comments:

Post a Comment