By Steven Alan Carr

Fort Wayne Journal Gazette

Just as news was breaking of Mel Gibson’s Tequila-induced tirade against the Jews during his drunken-driving arrest, as fate would have such moments, Variety was publishing a full-page ad from Comedy Central lauding an Emmy nomination for the controversial animated series “South Park.â€?

“C’mon Jews,â€? the ad urges. “Show them who really runs Hollywood.â€? But rather than allude to the series’ controversial episode, “The Passion of the Jew,â€? which satirizes Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ,â€? the ad refers to “Trapped in the Closet,â€? another controversial episode satirizing Scientology. Earlier this year, Comedy Central canceled a scheduled rerun of the Scientology episode, purportedly under duress from actor and Scientologist Tom Cruise.

The two incidents both reveal and replenish the ongoing storehouse of a distinctly American obsession: allegations of Jewish control over Hollywood. Of course, the Variety ad makes an ironic reference to such allegations. And the Gibson incident does not so much reveal a belief in Jewish control over Hollywood as it shows how someone prominent in Hollywood still believes in Jewish world domination.

In “Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II,â€? published in 2001, I coined the term “Hollywood Questionâ€? to describe this storehouse of statements, ideas and half-truths concerning Jews. “Hollywood Questionâ€? is derivative of the earlier, arcane, though better known “Jewish Question,â€? which interrogated important matters at the turn of the last century like whether Jews should have the right to vote or own land. The born-again Hollywood version politely asks whether Jews should wield such enormous control over the emergent and powerful apparatuses of mass influence, given their supposed penchant for acting as, well, Jews.

In “Hollywood and Anti-Semitism,â€? I documented just a few iterations of the Hollywood Question. And Mel Gibson is hardly alone in modern Hollywood. As recently as 1988, when MCA/Universal released Martin Scorsese’s film “The Last Temptation of Christ,â€? the Rev. Donald Wildmon of the American Family Association wrote a letter of protest to the company asking, “How many Christians are in the top positions of MCA/Universal?â€?

Dolly Parton once explained a failed TV series about a gospel singer as a result of having to face people in Hollywood who “are Jewish. And it’s a frightening thing for them to promote Christianity.â€? After learning that the Riverside Police Department had visited a Rodney King-style beating upon Mexican migrant workers, Marlon Brando blamed the incident on Hollywood Jews who perpetuated the ethnic stereotypes that led to this violence.

Thus, when conservative columnist Cal Thomas weighs in on the Gibson affair (Journal Gazette, Aug. 4), he apparently remains oblivious to this history, even in the face of Gibson’s being slated to produce a miniseries on the Holocaust for ABC, an off again-on again arrangement for the network. Instead, Thomas minimizes the significance of these remarks, noting that “no honest person can say he or she has never felt bigotry against a person or group of people,â€? and wondering aloud why commentators care more about Gibson’s slurs against Jews than the “offense to his wife and childrenâ€? for carousing in a bar until 2 a.m. The incident then becomes a pretext for Thomas to rail about Hollywood’s bigotry toward “Catholics and conservative Protestants.â€?

The allegation of Jewish control, of course, is bunk. That Jews always act as Jews in a secular context has as much to do with Jewish religious identity as Mel Gibson’s driving drunk has to do with Traditional Catholicism. The latter sect rejects modern reforms to Catholicism implemented by the Second Vatican Council beginning in the 1960s, and it is the version of Catholicism with which Gibson reportedly identifies.

Yet the question of whether Jews can behave themselves within secular society persists because of a mind-bending combination of historical anti-Semitism; both legitimate and irrational unease with an emergent modern society; and, of course, in a culture in which Protestantism appears transparently natural and normal, the ease with which the American image of the Jew provides a convenient palimpsest for Christian and non-Christian alike to inscribe upon their deepest fears and worries.

If Jews maintain a higher profile within Hollywood than other groups, that is because the film industry, in its infancy at the early 20th century, was one of the few places where Jews could find employment while they were being barred from such fields as law, finance, top-flight universities or even from getting a room at a hotel.

Instead of acknowledging the shameful tolerance for anti-Semitism that existed within the U.S. before the end of World War II, some prominent Americans even today prefer to hide their persistent ambivalence toward both Jews and popular culture – in some quarters, a redundant distinction – by cloaking their Hollywood Question within the more polite and acceptable view of Christianity victimized by both the commerce and liberal politics of Hollywood.

The rigidly literal correctness of this position fails to consider an alternative: That while alcohol-induced fogs might bring upon politically incorrect views of Jewish intent, a preponderance of evidence would suggest that if one is anti-Semitic, one is much more likely to act as an anti-Semite. In producing the highest-grossing independent film in history, Gibson relied upon a discredited and anti-Semitic retelling of the story of Jesus. He adheres to an ultraconservative religious sect that rejects the Second Vatican Council’s call to not hold Jews responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus.

And while one cannot hold Gibson responsible for the views of his father, the fact that Gibson never fully distanced himself from the blatant Holocaust denial of his father Hutton Gibson has been cause for concern among many Jews.

Like others before him, Gibson already has embarked down the predictable trail of apologies and redemptive theatrics. The incident will soon be forgotten. A history of genocide already has shown that anti-Semitism goes way beyond any one person’s individual weakness or failing. Meanwhile, the Hollywood Question will continue to churn, occasionally surfacing for the next brouhaha, but mostly submerged beneath a history that many Americans while sober seem content to forget.

Steven Alan Carr is an associate professor and director of Graduate Studies in the Department of Communication at Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne. He is author of “Hollywood and Anti-Semitism: A Cultural History Up to World War II.â€? He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.