As a casual student of Yiddish, I consulted three books — “The Joys of Yiddish” and “Hooray for Yiddish,” both by Leo Rosten, and “Every Goy’s Guide to Common Jewish Expressions” by Arthur Naiman — to find words to describe Mel Gibson’s career-threatening meltdown last weekend in Malibu. Because to my knowledge, the appropriate words don’t exist in English.
Yiddish seems like the way to go here, simply because Gibson’s drunken rant wasn’t garden variety. Those happen every day. Statistics show that in and around Los Angeles a celebrity is self-destructing every 30 seconds. They don’t all impact the public consciousness like a Nick Nolte mug shot, but they keep the agents scrambling, the rehab centers humming and the bloggers buzzing.
No, what Mel did was order “the whole shmeer” (the works). Apparently he saw Tom Cruise jump on the couch, lecture Matt Lauer about psychiatry and tout Scientology to anyone who would listen in a sudden attempt at career implosion and snorted, “Amateur hour. I can top that.”
So he did. He not only got pulled over for DUI at 2:30 a.m. on Friday after driving more than 80 mph, he became belligerent with the arresting officers, tried to flee to his car and had to be handcuffed, then yelled, “I own Malibu!” and “You’re going to regret you ever did this to me!”
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But his anti-Semitic remarks really set this apart from the usual formulaic Hollywood busts. He allegedly said, “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world” and then asked a deputy, “Are you a Jew?”
From gonstermacher to shlemazl
In one meshugge (crazy, wacko) performance, Gibson went from a gonstermacher (big shot) to a shlemazl (born loser), which is a remarkable transformation even in a town known for illusion and special effects. One might even exclaim, “Gevalt!” (a cry of fear, astonishment, amazement).
This is tragic, because at one time Gibson appeared to be a mensch (an honorable, decent person). He always had a smile for everyone, no matter what his or her religious or ethnic background. He had movie-goers lined up at the box office for such hits as the “Lethal Weapon” series, “Braveheart,” “What Women Want” and “Signs.” He gave to charity, including the Sheriff’s Department, which is another whole megillah (long complicated story). He posed for photos with fans.
But apparently Gibson’s underlying intent was to shmeikhel (deceive, fool, swindle) the public. While fueled by drugs and alcohol — he admitted his demons in a 2004 interview with Diane Sawyer — Gibson’s anti-Semitism caused him to become farbissen (embittered), despite his great wealth and success.
The world got a dose of Gibson’s farshtinkener (stinking) thinking in the movie that almost earned him enough money so he could indeed own Malibu, “The Passion of the Christ.” Although it brought Christians to the theaters in droves, the film’s depiction of Jews caused an outcry among Jewish leaders, many of whom concluded then that anyone who makes such a movie must be a shmuck (no translation needed).
But in Hollywood, the real sin — which transcends all religious affiliations — is in failing to worship a cash cow. So although regarded in some circles as a momzer (bastard), many were willing to say “Mazel tov!”(congratulations) instead of “Gai avek!” (go away, get out of here).
Not any more. Suffice to say that after he revealed his true anti-Semitic feelings, the Museum of Tolerance won’t be hiring him as a docent any time soon.
Rallying the industry
In and around Tinseltown, the sentiment toward Gibson today is best summed up thusly: “Ich bin dich nit mekaneh!” (I don’t envy you.) Ari Emanuel of the Endeavor Agency, the inspiration for Jeremy Piven’s character in “Entourage,” wrote in a posting on HuffingtonPost.com: “People in the entertainment community, whether Jew or gentile, need to demonstrate that they understand how much is at stake in this by professionally shunning Mel Gibson and refusing to work with him, even if it means a sacrifice to their bottom line.”
Gibson did issue an apology, calling his remarks “despicable.” But many interpreted it as a slick public relations response rather than a heartfelt mea culpa. Reading between the lines, they felt he was actually saying, “Host du bie mir an avleh!” (So I made a mistake. So what?)
Abraham H. Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, told the Los Angeles Times: “Mel Gibson’s apology is unremorseful and insufficient. His tirade finally reveals his true self and shows that his protestations during the debate over his film, ‘The Passion of the Christ,’ that he is such a tolerant, loving person, were a sham.” He also implored Hollywood executives to “realize the bigot in their midst” and “distance themselves from this anti-Semite.”
Oy vey iz mir! (Oh no!)
While Gibson’s critics and enemies plotz (laughing hard enough to explode) at his current predicament, the rest of the world may not find out if this incident has crippled his acting and directing career for quite some time.
Yes, he has a new film coming out called “Apocalypto.” But whereas “Passion” resonated with Christians worldwide, who put up with the long scenes of brutality and the Aramaic language because it served as a religious experience, “Apocalypto” sounds like box-office bupkes (beans, peanuts, an inadequate reward) about the mysterious Mayan civilization using the Mayan language and indigenous Mayan actors. So it probably would have gotten a tepid reception even without this latest uproar. As major Hollywood releases go, this one is already nifter (dead).
The same can probably be said about a certain screen icon’s career. Because right now, Mel Gibson has tsuris (trouble) up the tokhis (butt).
Michael Ventre lives in Los Angeles and is a regular contributor to MSNBC.com.
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