Joe Bageant, the Scots-Irish and Mel Gibson

Joe Bageant has just completed a tour of Australia and New Zealand, promoting his new book Rainbow Pie: A Redneck Memoir (published in Australia by Scribe).  In an interview with Tim Elliott of the Sydney Morning Herald on 4 September 2010, Bageant made a number of interesting points:  his first book Deerhunting With Jesus: Dispatches from America’s Class War (2007) – also published in Australia by Scribe – sold more than 10,000 copies in Australia: more per capita than in America.  And Bageant reports that”more than a third of the emails he receives are from Australians.  “This astounded me at first. Now I see that Australians are genuinely concenred about what’s going on in America.  All Australians I have met express the fear that Australia will go the same way as America,” Bageant said to Elliott.

In Deerhunting With Jesus Joe Bageant describes in great detail the demographic and historical background of the “Scots Irish” and the “Borderer” culture that has given the US a number of long-lasting terms and values such as “fierce”, “liberty-loving”, “individualistic”, “Freely religion” and “fighting to defend ” (pp. 197-220).  The best description of the Scots Irish and their impact on American politics and religion is by James Webb in his book Born Fighting: How the Scots Irish Shaped America (2004).[1] Their culture is violent and they are mean and nasty, creating a “strange mixture of working class violence and Presbyterian piety” (Bageant 2007, p. 198).  This is also the group that constitutes a large percentage of the white evangelical Christian base in America.

Who is the historical hero of this group?  William Wallace, the leader of the 1297 Scots rebellion against the English.  And what Academy-Award film features the life of Wallace – Braveheart (1995), directed and starring … Mel Gibson.

What can we conclude from this?  Long before the September 11th 2001 attacks, back when George W. Bush was just commencing his term as governor of Texas, Mel Gibson was already attuning to – or, better put, clearly articulating the unconscious hopes, dreams and violent historical memories of this group through film.  The Passion of the Christ was not the first time.  His four Lethal Weapon films also presented the same character each time – full of range and repressed violence.  But it was Braveheart when Gibson had already tapped into this element of American society, and which then became so apparent with the phenomenal success of The Passion of the Christ in 2004.


[1] James Webb is a Democratic Senator from Virginia, and was formerly a Republican who was the Assistant Secretary for Defense and Secretary of the Navy under President Ronald Reagan.

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