That's a trick title. It can't*.
*Even in the seemingly unlikely event that the latest Mel Gibson violent tirade recording doesn't turn out to be authentic.
[Photo from smartdogs.wordpress.com]
A recently-released recording, purported to be of movie star Mel Gibson spewing hateful, violent, racist vitriol at an ex-girlfriend over the phone earlier this year, has renewed interest in the Mel-Gibson-is-a-hateful-jerk storyline, both online and in the mainstream media.
The AP story I linked to above (and again here) says that Radar Online, which broke the story, claims to have confirmed the authenticity of the recording, and says that Gibson has (so far) refused to comment on it.
A sequel even more action-packed than the original
In 2006, Gibson was reported to have gone on an anti-semitic tirade while being arrested on suspicion of drunk driving (an aside: if you Google "Mel Gibson anti-semitic tirade" today, you'll get 1.9 billion results).
Gibson may have recognized after the 2006 incident that his career could be in peril as a result. He apologized publicly, issuing statements including the following:
"I acted like a person completely out of control when I was arrested, and said things that I do not believe to be true and which are despicable. I am deeply ashamed of everything I said."
While I agree that reports of the incident portrayed what seemed to be a person "completely out of control," and that what he said was despicable, I never buy apologies in which people claim to have said things when drunk which they don't actually believe when sober. From what I've observed, people are more honest when they're drunk, not less.
To my ears at least, that statement sounded like Gibson was lying even as he sought to be forgiven for his racist remarks. In fancy PR terminology, we call that "not good."
Gibson's image has carried the stink of that incident ever since. Kim Masters, editor at large for The Hollywood Reporter, says that in "the mainstream Hollywood community" Gibson is "a pariah."
What will movie fans think this time around?
As bad as Gibson's 2006 statements were, his reported 2010 performance, which denigrates more groups in repugnant terms, is even more offensive (the recording is now available from a number of sources online, but do yourself a favour and take my word for it).
With that said, some people will still want to go see his movies because they like his movies, and don't care what kind of a person he is.
Yet others are racist and/or misogynist, and may be more likely to consider seeing his movies because they'll respect him for having expressed views similar to their own.
But if this recording is authentic, I suspect Gibson will have a much tougher time getting the rest of us to forget about this (now) pattern of hateful outbursts, and to want to support him by seeing his movies.
Is there anything he can do to improve his PR?
Of course; there are always things you can do.
- He can get some help -- if not for continued alcohol abuse issues, then at least for anger management and sensitivity training -- and then come out the other side and be open about it. He doesn't have to (nor should he) go on at length and share every gory detail, but he should honestly admit to having been wrong, apologize publicly, and encourage others who share his problems to get help.
- He can use his wealth, influence and profile to do good things; for example, contributing to the fight against racism and domestic violence.
- And of course, he can change his ways and make good movies, in the hopes that, with time, people will gradually put their disgust on the back burner (Americans are, on the whole, a pretty forgiving lot).
But PR can't fix everything.
While some people may be able to excuse one racist/violent outburst, I suspect many more won't be able to ignore two. Mel Gibson now appears to have shown that his reported 2006 tirade wasn't an isolated incident; it's an alleged pattern of behaviour which would seem to reflect the way he really sees the world.
If he does get help, admit to/apologize for his hateful speech, and make some attempt to atone by helping combat the kind of thinking he reportedly espoused, I suspect a fair number of his former fans will admire his guts, even if they aren't ever able to entirely like him again.
Good, honest PR, reflecting an earnest effort to deal with his issues and to change, could do Mel Gibson's image a lot of good, and could help mitigate the damage at the box office.
But if this latest recording really is what it appears to be (and, frankly, even if it isn't), Gibson won't ever be able to fully restore the good-guy, family-man image of his Lethal Weapon days. His name will always have an asterisk next to it, which I don't think any amount of PR will be able to completely erase.