Oldman in need of a new script
Opinion: Why you have to be careful what you say about what you can (or can’t) say
‘Gary Oldman’s point is that were he to use those words about Mrs Pelosi then he would get in trouble, whereas liberals such as Mr Maher or Mr Stewart would, under similar entirely hypothetical circumstances, be given a free pass. ’ Photograph: Suzanne Plunkett/Reuters
Let’s be fair to Gary Oldman. He does seem to have grasped the inappropriate nature of his already notorious comments to Playboy magazine. Over the past few days, the British actor has been apologising like a man who’s stood on his mother-in-law’s hat after walking through a pigsty. A grovelling statement was put the way of the Anti-Defamation League. On Wednesday evening, he turned up on the Jimmy Kimmel Show and referred to himself as an “A-hole” (his cautious bowdlerisation). “Words can have meaning long after you’ve said them,” he murmured. By Golly, he said plenty of words.
Perusing the Playboy interview, one found no end of potential triggers for future controversy. At one stage, using an ingenious linguistic convolution, he managed to be outrageously rude to the Minority Leader of the House of Representatives while, apparently, making no remarks about her whatsoever. “If I called Nancy Pelosi a c**t — and I’ll go one better, a f**king useless c**t — I can’t really say that,” he mused. “But Bill Maher and Jon Stewart can, and nobody’s going to stop them from working because of it. Bill Maher could call someone a fag and get away with it.” Note the vital “if” at the start of the sentence.
Gary’s point is that were he to use those words about Mrs Pelosi then he would get in trouble, whereas liberals such as Mr Maher or Mr Stewart would, under similar entirely hypothetical circumstances, be given a free pass.
Oldman has a real beef about the supposed hypocrisy of Hollywood liberals. Then he moved on to discuss the political correctness that governs thinking at awards season. Apparently, “if you didn’t vote for 12 Years a Slave, you were a racist. You have to be very careful about what you say.” He also wondered why it was such a big deal for Alec Baldwin (a staunch Democrat, incidentally) to use “fag” as a term of abuse. If he’d stopped there then any one of those remarks (or others we haven’t space to print) could have become the centre of the story. But Oldman was just warming up. The ordure really began to fly when he addressed the consequences of Mel Gibson’s remarks to a police officer after his arrest in 2006. “The Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world. Are you a Jew?” The Australian is alleged to have remarked.
“Mel Gibson is in a town that’s run by Jews, and he said the wrong thing because he’s actually bitten the hand that I guess has fed him – and doesn’t need to feed him any more because he’s got enough dough,” Gary said.
He then went on to claim that: “we’ve all said these things”. Have we? Have we all claimed that: “the Jews are responsible for all the wars”? Interestingly, of all the remarks that Oldman made, the one that triggered the most anger was that phrase about “a town that’s run by Jews”. Yet it is undeniably true that many of the studio bosses are from Jewish backgrounds. In his subsequent apology to the Anti-Defamation League – a Jewish civil-rights lobby – Oldman explained that he’d just been reading Neil Gabler’s fine book An Empire of Their Own: How the Jews invented Hollywood. That tome explains how Eastern European Jews, largely from humble backgrounds, such as Louis B Meyer, Sam Goldwyn and Jack Warner invented Hollywood as we know it.
A tone-deaf person might ask why pointing this out continues to be a problem. Last year, Seth MacFarlane angered (among others) The Wiesenthal Center for — in the person of Ted the comedy bear – suggesting, at the Oscars, that “to work in this town you have to be Jewish”. In 1996, Marlon Brando pushed things further by claiming that the Jews “own Hollywood”. Funnily enough, one person who does now appear to appreciate the importance of caution in this area is Mr Gary Oldman. “I don’t condone the words in any context,” he told Kimmel. “I basically shouldn’t have used them in any context.”
It is useless to pretend that, when addressing issues of race or religion, our words are issued in a consequence-free void. Stating that Hollywood is “run by Jews” is not the same thing as claiming that, say, the Boston police force is “run by the Irish”.
Nobody has to (my knowledge) invented a secret worldwide Irish conspiracy to dominate the banking system and enslave the planet’s youth. Public figures must consider more than the literal meaning of their words. They must consider the uses to which those words can be put. Oldman has belatedly got his head around that concept. Next, he might want to send a polite note to Nancy Pelosi. Oh hang on. He didn’t actually say anything about her. Did he?