By Tom Plate
Professor at University of California, Los Angeles Director of Asia
Pacific Media Network
HOLLYWOOD _ Non-appearances can be deceiving
While New Zealand director Peter Jackson was bobbing on the Oscar stage
much of Sunday night (Feb. 29) scooping up awards for “The Lord of the
Rings: The Return of the King,” Australian superstar Mel Gibson was
nowhere to be seen.
In the battle of the South Pacific, the Kiwis, at the Oscars at least,
emerged as the clear winners.
The otherwise popular Gibson, the director and producer of a
controversial new film, was indeed in the Academy Awards audience, but the
controlled cameras panned away: The actor himself had chosen to avoid the
limelight as a star awards presenter on stage, according to reports. As a
healthy percentage of Hollywood big shots comprise U.S. Jews, Gibson
assumed a safer boo-immune profile in the wake of charges by critics and
Jewish leaders that his “The Passion of the Christ” takes the low road
In general, Hollywood is extremely tolerant of all points of view and
usually intolerant of intolerance. But the anti-Semitic “Passion” may
prove a historic testing case for the entertainment industry, for it is
also extremely tolerant of profits. Since it opened, “Passion” has
been rivaling “Rings” in box-office clout. Will “Passion” garner
Oscars next year if its profits turn out to rival “Rings?”
The profits paradox is in part the cultural paradox of California. The
state is really two states of mind.
One is represented by the ultra-chic cosmos of San Francisco and
Hollywood; the other is symbolized by the back-to-basic suburban nests of
evangelical Christians now scooping up “Passion” tickets _ and
evidently enjoying the sight of Jewish priests approving the bloody
beating of Christ.
Their motivation may be anti-Semitic or pro-inspirational, but the
movie tellingly depicts the last half-day in the earthly life of Christ
with uncommon violence. I trust the critics I have read enough to know
this is not a ticket I wish to buy, but I defend absolutely the right of
everybody _ including Christian rightists _ to see it.
The whole point of tolerance is to offer all people the widest possible
freedom of intellectual and cultural scope. California’s suburban
righteous infrequently evidence much understanding of that, which has
given another Hollywood superstar a boost. Apparently, Gov. Arnold
Schwarzenegger, a Republican, thinks he needs a diverting issue to take
people’s minds off the cascade of state budget cuts that are making
various constituencies apprehensive. The issue in question, which also
appeals to Republican President George W. Bush, is gay marriage.
Pointedly, the recently elected mayor of San Francisco, a true city of
light in many respects, supports it. Gavin Newsom ordered city officials
to issue licenses to gay couples. In response, the governor wants the
licensing terminated, and Bush even proposes a constitutional amendment to
prohibit same-sex marriage. This is America?
Worse yet, in this age of instantaneous information and global video
transmission, the California spectacle is making people around the world
wonder. Perhaps one might get Arnold’s attention by suggesting the
gay-bashing may not be good for tourism or for the image of a governor
once accused of overt sexual harassment of females. Why politically harass
Even Asia _ ordinarily a paternalistic family culture of the most
traditional kind _ has been moving toward more tolerance. In Cambodia,
legendary King Norodom Sihanouk, watching television news coverage of gay
weddings in San Francisco, affirmed his culture’s respect for personal
sexual preferences. In Taiwan, observers expect the local government to
legalize some form of gay marriage before long. In Hong Kong, where the
Chinese-language news media has begun to change its traditional
oppositional tune toward gays and lesbians, same-sex marriage advocates
have been increasingly relying on an article in the territory’s 1997
mini-constitution that would confer an absolute right to marriage and
family without reference to sexuality.
By contrast, in Australia, a pair of gay Melbourne men who married in
Canada has had to petition the country’s courts for local certification
as a married couple. Let’s hope they don’t have to endure anything
like the violent passion of Christ to have their basic rights respected.
Alas, John Howard, the conservative prime minister, is doing a
Schwarzenegger and condemning the idea. His Australian Liberal Party
recently shelved an amendment to its platform that would have honored gay
marriages. Ironically, the country’s so-called “Liberal” party
(it’s actually the more conservative of the two main ones) always
campaigns on minimizing government interference in the private lives of
citizens. But how that political philosophy can be squared with telling
people what their sexual practice must be in order to marry is difficult
to discern. Here in Los Angeles, we’d probably say: That’s just
Perhaps, but the Schwarzenegger/Howard game is certainly a crude and
bigoted form of entertainment, even by Hollywood standards.