But then, just when I was in danger of having renewed faith in humanity, I visited IMDb.com (as I do on a nearly daily basis) and I saw this item; to summarize, a Fox News Radio commentator named John Gibson made cruel jokes about Heath Ledger and his involvement in Brokeback Mountain mere hours after his death, and refused to apologize for them the next day. Insensitivity from Fox News? I'm shocked! Incidentally, the tagline for this John Gibson's radio program is "The Real Deal...even if it hurts". I'm not making this up. "Especially if it hurts" would seem to be more fitting, and "real deal" is apparently a subjective term, in that the "real deal" seems to consist of whatever this John Gibson happens to think, even if it's at complete odds with reality.
There are no words for how angry and hurt and ... sickened I am about this. This John Gibson is a so-called "journalist", and not only does he make wild, unfounded, irresponsible speculations about the circumstances surrounding Heath Ledger's death and casts aspersions upon his character, but he makes stupid, tasteless, immature, and hurtful jokes about this one movie that he happened not to like. Gibson's entitled to an opinion about Brokeback Mountain, and has the right and privilege to express that opinion as he sees fit. But in the name of all that is decent, Heath Ledger was a human being and he deserves respect. He had family and friends who loved him and who are going through unimaginable pain and grief (and, I might add, bearing their pain and grief with remarkable grace and dignity) and they deserve respect too. Apart from the rudeness and inappropriateness of speaking ill of the dead, what kind of a coward makes jokes at the expense of a man who can't even defend himself? The unabashedly hateful things John Gibson said are like a defilement of the body by words, the verbal equivalent of what the lynch gang did to the character of Earl in Brokeback Mountain.
Once I spent a whole week analyzing Brokeback Mountain in depth, which included examining the parallels between the plot of Brokeback Mountain and the events leading to and following the murder of Matthew Shepard. And while I saw some similarities between Matthew Shepard and the characters played by Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal in that movie, until now I never saw nor expected to see any parallels between Matthew Shepard and Heath Ledger. No one committed an act of violence against Heath Ledger, but these "jokes" that Gibson made at his expense are not jokes at all, but what Father Roger Schmit, in The Laramie Project, calls, "the seeds of violence." When I read about the seeds of violence that this so-called "journalist" had sown, I was reminded of this moment from The Laramie Project in which Rulon Stacey, the CEO of the hospital where Matthew Shepard was treated after his beating, recalls the press conference in which he announced Matthew Shepard's death. He ended the press conference with a statement from Matthew's mother, "go home, give your kids a hug, and don't let a day go by without telling them that you love them":
And--I don't know how I let that happen--I lost it on national television [...] in a moment of complete brain-deadness, while I was out there reading that statement I thought about my own four daughters--and go home hug your kids--(He begins to cry) and oh, she doesn't have her kid anymore.
and then we started to get people sending us e-mails and letters. And most of them were just generally very kind. But I did get this one. This guy wrote me and said, "Do you cry like a baby on TV for all your patients or just the faggots?" [...] I guess I didn't understand the magnitude with which some people hate.
Well, Heath Ledger's parents don't have their son anymore, and Matilda Rose Ledger doesn't have her father anymore, but I hope someday she understands how brave her father was to take on the role of Ennis Del Mar, and take a stand in the face of such deep-rooted, irrational, but often sublimated hatred. I hope she will be proud of him and his legacy.