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Seeing Mel Gibson at the Oscars reminded me of an itch in my mind that I can’t stop scratching: Is it right to appreciate admirable work that comes from people with repugnant views?

I realized that I’ve been doing it without realizing it.

Throughout Western history, anti-Semitism — from simple “would you want your daughter to marry one?” social avoidance to a desire for genocide — has been an element in most people’s brains as constant and unquestioned as the air in their lungs. As a result, anti-Semitism must have been infected most of the writers, artists, musicians, and other geniuses whom I’ve respected. From Richard Wagner’s hateful opinions to Michelangelo putting horns on Moses’ head, great creators have seen the Jews, including me, as other than fully human, and usually less.

Sexism is another constant, as is racism and anti-gayness.

Don’t bother to tell me that these people were just accepting the common beliefs of their times. I don’t think that’s a great excuse, because in nearly every age, at least a few enlightened minds rose above the foolish prejudices surrounding them. Besides, one quality — maybe the key quality — that makes a person great is the ability and willingness to transcend the commonplace.

But that’s a side issue. The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, I’ve admired the work of artists even more hateful than Mel Gibson.

And you probably have, too.

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