Tuesday, July 13, 2010

How PR can return Mel Gibson to his former glory

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.


  1. This is just horrible and tasteless, but for those who want to learn more about the horrible things Gibson said, I found this site that puts his quotes against a background of kittens: http://www.buzzfeed.com/awesomer/the-13-worst-mel-gibson-rant-quotes-presented-by

  2. Maybe Mel just needs to yell and curse a lot to "get it out of his system" before going back to meditating and tending his bonsai garden.

  3. Oh Mel... Why didn't he learn from the last outburst? I think that some people will forgive him, some won't, and his credibility will continue to suffer.

    Someone is always listening, and I thought he would have figured that out by now.

  4. I haven't paid to see a single movie of his since his 2006 outburst, and this latest one just confirms that I will never support any movie he is involved in financially, either past or present.

    I really think his career has been ruined. He hasn't done a whole lot since the 2006 outburst, but with this latest ones, I don't see how studios will want to take a risk on him. He could always go back to directing his own films, but he'll have a hard time getting people to see anything with his name attached to it. I agree with you: if he even wants a chance at any sort of respectability, he needs to get some serious rehabilitation and be more honest about his demons.

    Alcohol does indeed make people more honest. I've witnessed drunken outbursts before, and the "I didn't mean it, I was drunk" excuse has never been one that works with me. Alcohol merely gives people courage to say things they wouldn't say sober.

  5. "He can use his wealth, influence and profile to do good things; for example, contributing to the fight against racism and domestic violence."

    Best advice ever. It would be extra nice if he didnt report to the media on all the "nice" things he's doing and let them find out on their own.

  6. Unless having the media report on what he's doing inspires someone else who shares his issues to change...