Hey, did you hear those Mel Gibson tapes? How ’bout that, eh? An intimate recording of a private phone conversation where a rich and famous lunatic implodes, huffing and puffing and screaming racist slurs and threatening to bury his estranged lady in a rose bush. That’s the gossip gold mine of the week, yes? Oh wait, this is old news? Oops. Well, my clock radio is slow, so I tend to get my current events a bit late. But nevertheless, that’s some pretty harsh stuff right there. Hearing the guy lose his shit like that is kind of a bummer. And an even bigger bummer to think that I’m going to find it much more difficult to empathize with the plight of William Wallace when I watch Braveheart for the 100th time. I used to get teary eyed at that climatic torture scene when his right-hand man, Stephen, stands anonymous in the crowd and closes his eyes in a pained tribute to his fallen friend, but I probably won’t get teary-eyed anymore. Even when I’m hungover. And I’m pretty sensitive when I’m hungover. That sucks. For the sake of Braveheart and my hangovers, I kind of wish we’d just minded our own business.
There’s been a lot of these tapes of celebrities melting down in the privacy of their own homes being released to the public lately. There’s the Mel one, of course. And then there’s the Alec Baldwin tape, where he calls his daughter a fat pig. And there’s the video of David Hasslehoff lying drunk and pathetic on the floor, slobbering over a cheeseburger. And then there’s the Christian Bale freak-out on the set of Terminator Salvation. All evidence that reveals to us, the general public, that our celebrity heroes are pretty much maniacs and assholes when the cameras are off. Well, then again, in Bale’s case, he went nuts on a movie set, with a bunch of cameras pointed at him, sort of negating any expectation of privacy, and showing that he’s not just an asshole, but a really stupid asshole . The others, however,as pathetic as they may be, were at least being pathetic in private. Shielding their assholery away from the public eye. Or so they thought.
I just so happened to be reading George Orwell’s 1984 one morning when I heard those recordings of Mel Gibson screaming like a madman being played on the radio. You know the story of 1984, right? It’s a “negative utopia” tale set in the not-so-distant future (1984. Um, 26 years ago) where an oppressive government has taken over civilization and retains control over its citizenry through constant monitoring of every movement of every individual. No word can be spoken, no movement can be made, no dump can be taken, without the government knowing. And should one of these individuals dare do something that Big Brother considers “dangerous,” well, that individual was soon to be toast. I found this tale to be rather chilling, as it unfortunately didn’t come across as a reality out of the realms of possibility. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no militia man by any means. But like any intelligent human who just wants to be left alone, I have a healthy fear of the government. And I’m not referring to this current administration in particular. No, I’m not one of those jokers who started shouting “1984! Atlas Shrugged! It’s all going to happen! We’re doomed!” when Obama was elected. I’m pretty sure those guys were shouting out book titles just to brag that they know what a book is. Had they actually read these books, they might have tried shouting out this shit a long ass time ago. The government was scary way before Obama came around.
Again, I’m not trying to sound like the Unibomber here. I don’t think we face imminent danger of the government watching us poop. I just think it’s practical to be watchful of any group of flawed humans that possesses the power to put us in a cage.
Anywaaaaaay, so I was reading 1984 when that audio clip of Mel Gibson being horrible came on the radio. And I experienced a chill of a different sort. Here I was reading about humans being controlled through the decimation of individual privacy, and then I’m hearing an individual’s private phone conversation on the public radio waves. Sure, Mel Gibson is an asshole. Sure, Mel Gibson is a racist. Sure, Mel Gibson is a maniac. But why in the hell do I know this? Why in the hell should I know or care that Mel Gibson sucks in private? Why am I hearing Mel Gibson’s private conversations on my radio? Why is the government hijacking Mel Gibson’s private phone conversations???
Wait a minute.
The government didn’t do that.
The government didn’t have anything to do with this.
A private citizen recorded this call. Another private citizen bought the recording. Another private citizen played that recording on the radio. And a whole bunch of private citizens listened. And judged. And destroyed the life of another private citizen.
The government didn’t do this. The people did this.
And there’s been a lot of this going on lately. Someone pointing a video camera at someone else happens to catch the person doing something stupid or embarrassing or regrettable, and boom, it ends up on the internet. And we all watch it, and we all email it to our friends, and we all laugh at the poor bastard who pissed his pants or fell down or faceplanted on his bike or cried or passed out, etc etc. And we laugh and laugh. Shame on the idiot who naively neglected to be on guard at every waking moment. Shame on the idiot for fucking up. Thank God that idiot is not us. Thank God someone else is to be the sacrificial lamb for the cruel hungry masses this time. Now, let’s destroy the idiot!
George Orwell warned that if we didn’t keep a watchful eye on our government, well then it would surely keep a watchful eye on us. I don’t think he considered the other scenario. That we’d become a world where you can’t have a phone call, have a drink, say or do something regrettable, without someone else recording it and posting it online for the world to see. And judge. And condemn. I was at a big block party recently and was standing behind a stage on which some ridiculous partying was occurring, and I spotted a photographer from a local paper snapping shots. Instinctively, I stepped away, pushed myself into the safety of the crowd, removed myself from the line of sight of that camera. I wasn’t doing a damn thing wrong. But I disappeared anyway. It just felt… out of my control. I don’t like that.
Some folks may express a different take on privacy: If you’re not doing anything wrong, they’ll say, then you have nothing to worry about. You know what? Fuck the guy who says that. First of all, I just might happen to enjoy doing things wrong. It’s a lot of fun. Second, any blowhard who acts as if he doesn’t do anything wrong almost certainly wears his wife’s panties when she’s not around. Everybody does something wrong. It’s the ones who claim otherwise that you need to worry about.
But really, I don’t want to know if the blowhards are wearing panties.
I don’t want to know what they do.
I don’t want to know what you do.
I don’t want to know what Mel Gibson does.
But I do want to know that I can make a phone call and be certain that only one person is going to hear what I say. The goddamn person I called. And that’s it.
Mel Gibson is an idiot, but even an idiot deserves to know that his personal phone call is, in fact, personal. And that he shouldn’t have to worry about the rest of the world hearing his idiot phone call. And judging. And condemning. Oppressing.
Orwell warned us of an upcoming age where we would be oppressed by our government. Is it possible that we’re entering an age where we’re oppressing ourselves?