Mel Gibson’s woes

Michael Alan Hamlin

Posted on August 2, 2006

Scandal can destroy a career, but it doesn’t have to

In High Visibility, we acknowledge that scandal can destroy or severely damage a visibility career, even in the entertainment sector (A scandal can also launch an aspiring performer, but that’s another story.). Meg Ryan, formerly viewed as America’s sweetheart, may never recover from the aftereffects of her romantic liaison with Russell Crowe while still married to Dennis Quaid, and her bare-all but widely panned role in the mystery thriller, In the Cut.

A search on The New York Times online for “‘Meg Ryan’ and comeback” provides no entry dated later than November 2003. When the search is broadened to simply “Meg Ryan” current references pop up, but they are vacuous and often in the context of failure to make a comeback or “doing a Meg Ryan.” While Ryan could revive her career, there’s little to indicate that she will.

How will America’s hero, Mel Gibson, fair in the aftermath of his DUI arrest and reports of profoundly ungentlemanly conduct characterized by out-of-control racial invective? Gibson has a chance. For one thing, he’s apologized for his behavior, where Ryan sought to justify hers. The target of his malicious comments, the Jewish community, has largely forgiven his remarks. And his behavior, while intensely inexcusable, was the result of unreasoned thinking following excessive imbibing of alcohol.

On the other hand, some may believe that his behavior was the real Mel Gibson emerging. Gibson was criticized for his The Passion of the Christ by many in the Jewish community, who felt it portrayed Jews unfairly as the tormentors of Jesus.

Whether that’s the case or not, Gibson is doing several things right in order to recover: 1) He acted quickly to apologize and took a personal role; 2) He effectively evoked sincerity in the view of those who were the object of his remarks; and, 3) He didn’t talk about the future of his career.

However, even if Gibson is largely forgiven by his larger fan base – and the media will make this far worse than it is now before that happens – he should not expect to re-attain his recent but fragile highly admired stature as a thoughtful, well-intentioned good guy. At least not without a sustained period of credible atonement. Atonement could come from good works, donations to worthy causes (which he already does), and perhaps a candid autobiography in which Gibson chronicles his struggle with his demons and how he is learning to keep them under control.

A second scenario could be a prolonged quiet period (reacting helps prolong the story) after which Gibson reemerges with a new project (which he may have to finance himself) promoted in part by an accompanying communications initiative meant to create a new, more introspective brand for the actor. A major component of that brand might be the acknowledgement that he has sinned profoundly and that many may never fully forgive him. But that he has learned to accept their condemnation, and live with it.

And a third scenario could be a kind of defiance, in which Gibson acknowledges that he really isn’t the man many assumed. In this case, Gibson would become more transparent, raw, and confrontational. That probably won’t happen, but it raises an interesting question: Which scenario might represent the real Gibson? More to the point: Does it matter?

For those like Gibson dealing with scandal and its aftermath, it is critical to have a plan to leverage the visibility or ameliorate the negative buzz, to act quickly, and to continually revise the plan in response to its impact. Scandal doesn’t have to destroy careers although it will inevitably change them.

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