Mel Gibson, Lightning Rod

Most movie heartthrobs don't provoke controversy. Oh, there's plenty many of them will do to outrage the public. Alec Baldwin on national television during the impeachment trial, calling for the death by stoning of Henry Hyde, is a pretty good example of that. What I mean is that they won't do anything to offend the sensibilities of a far more important market - Hollywood.

Mel Gibson is an exception, perhaps the exception. Any actor who remarks, "Feminists don't like me and I don't like them. I don't get their point," clearly has no use for Tinseltown conventional wisdom. But there's more heresy where that came from.

For starters, Gibson is devoutly religious, and unapologetic about it too. To Redbook, he said that mankind was created for the purpose of "the afterlife. This life is just a testing ground. It's not a popular view, I know. People will...say that I'm sort of a mindless robot who's using religion as a crutch to get through life. Well, I'm not a mindless robot, but I am using [religion] as a crutch to get through life."

He's a traditionalist Catholic, an endangered species in Hollywood if ever there was one. From the stained-glass logo of his Icon production company to his willingness to publicly oppose not only abortion but also birth control - Neanderthal positions in the sexually frisky entertainment industry - he's not shy about it, either. "God is the only one who knows how many children we should have," he told the Spanish newspaper El Pais, "and we should be ready to accept them." He and his wife have seven.

What may rankle Hollywood trendies the most, though, is Gibson's distaste for the homosexual lifestyle. He parodied an effeminate hairdresser in "Bird on a Wire" - the activist group GLAAD was not amused, calling the parody a "demeaning stereotype" - and in the El Pais interview, he expressed puzzlement that anyone might think he was gay. "Do I look like a homosexual?" he wondered. "Do I talk like them? Do I move like them?"

Gibson also got in trouble with gays over his Oscar winner "Braveheart." GLAAD denounced as a "nightmarish stereotype" the flamboyant portrayal of one homosexual character, Prince Edward. Apparently GLAAD didn't care that the real-life prince actually was gay, or that his sexual orientation had, as one writer put it, "important plot ramifications in the movie." Gibson did, and refused to change the script.

Now there could be a new uproar, concerning Gibson's film "The Patriot," which opens next Wednesday.

According to the Drudge Report, in one scene in this Revolutionary War movie Gibson's character hands rifles to his sons. (One son is about thirteen years old, the other about ten.) The boys ambush British soldiers, killing more than a dozen. At a "Patriot" screening in Los Angeles, "a loud 'gasp' was the camera zoomed in for a closeup of the kids," read the Drudge account. "Shots are fired. Blood splatters on Redcoats."

It's more than likely that in our post-Columbine world, children firing guns in a major motion picture will prove controversial in certain circles. But it's shallow thinking in that it equates our fight for independence with the brutality of a few truly evil kids. As GLAAD did with "Braveheart," the anti-gun outfits who would denounce "The Patriot" would be ignoring the question of historical accuracy in favor of pressing their contemporary issue agenda.

For his part, Gibson, again, isn't backing down, stating that he and his children have gone to shooting ranges together, and that he sees nothing wrong with their using weapons for self-defense.

It would be easy to pigeonhole Gibson as a political conservative. Not necessarily. In the July issue of George, we learn that "one of [Gibson's] favorite films is Oliver Stone's 'JFK,' the conspiracy buff's 'Casablanca.' Gibson says that the criticism Stone received for playing footsie with the facts was a totally predictable media hose-job." Gibson himself says, "The Warren Commission was the biggest bunch of crap you can imagine, but nobody bothers to smear that, know what I mean?"

If that surprises you, consider that ten years ago Gibson starred in "Air America," which alleged CIA drug running in southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. Promoting the film, Gibson said, "In 'Air America,' we present the truth about war and business and how they're just inseparable. It's a business and somebody's getting rich...and it's always the wrong people...You stick your nose into other people's business with the excuse that you're saving the world from [Communism]. It's a handy excuse when all you're really doing is making a profit."

Say what you will of Gibson's views, you cannot help but admire his frankness in an industry that is thoroughly intolerant of independent thinking.