Alice Jones: Mel Gibson, lovable? Er, I don't think so

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The Independent Online

Proof, if it were needed, that film stars live on a different planet comes with Jodie Foster's declaration that Mel Gibson is "probably the most loved actor in Hollywood."

Granted she has her new film, The Beaver, starring Gibson, to promote, so you might expect a little hyperbole. But this is blockbusting turd-polishing. Over the last five years, Gibson has revealed himself to be a violent racist, blaming Jewish people "for all the wars in the world" and abusing and threatening to kill the mother of his child on his frequent drinking binges.

In The Beaver, he plays a burned-out, suicidal executive who, in an improbable act of self-therapy, starts to interact with the world via a cockney/Antipodean beaver (figure that one out, David Attenborough) glove puppet. There has, naturally, been much talk of parallels, bravery and redemption through art for Gibson. "He was willing to expose himself and talk about something he knows a lot about – struggling, wanting to transform himself. He found it kind of therapeutic and cathartic," said Foster, pictured below with her leading man. "He wants people to see that side of him."

This is utterly cynical on every level. If Gibson wasn't starring in it, no one would go and see this trite slice of mental-illness porn. So Foster is exploiting her leading man's notoriety. And he, in turn, is exploiting audiences if he thinks they'll see this healing tale and his hangdog face and forgive him for his real-life misdemeanours. Actors and their roles are two very separate things. The kind of glib, 90-minute redemption that Gibson is hoping for, thankfully, only happens in the movies.

Who'd be a Tory female MP? First, they must suffer the indignity of being called a "Cameron Cutie" and be photographed in endless simpering line-ups. Votes won, they must lurk on the fringes, only making headlines when they, to take this week's stories, are dropped from the candidate list at eight months pregnant (Annunziata Rees-Mogg) or get married in secret to an old rocker (Louise Mensch née Bagshawe). The few who do manage to totter into prominent roles must do so in silly shoes, lest we forget that they're women. This week, questioning Theresa May about the National Crime Agency on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Evan Davis couldn't resist referring to a pair of leopard-print heels the Home Secretary wore once, almost a decade ago. "Here's the crucial question. Would you eat your hat – or eat your shoes – if this reform is reformed again within the next ten years?" Even now, the most powerful woman in government is defined by her footwear in political discourse. Here's the crucial question, Evan. Would you have asked May's predecessor, Alan Johnson, the same question?

Occasional sexism aside, Today has its comforting contours, a bit like the hollows in your mattress. There's usually a big-hitter interview, which can stop you crunching your cereal mid-bite, followed by an academically challenging feature, where you can crunch away because you won't understand it anyway, with the odd wacky story or illuminating arts segment to complement your cup of tea in between.

This week, it was an arts segment that became a cereal-stopper as Graham Linehan took Justin Webb to task over the programme's "adversarial" and "artificial" interview techniques. The comedy writer – a prolific blogger and Tweeter and no attention-shirker – didn't see why he couldn't just talk about his new play without the bear-pit antics.

While I disagree that the BBC should offer anyone five minutes of free publicity unchallenged, he's spot-on about the artificial combat. I went on Today last year to talk about English National Opera's lack of understudies. In the absence of an ENO representative, James Naughtie stepped belligerently into the breach, rubbishing everything I said, often before I said it. I wouldn't have had it any other way; the grilling was thrilling. The point of the gladiatorial set-up is that it sometimes turns up nuggets of radio gold – as a huffy Mr Linehan proved so compellingly this week.