Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Gibson's meltdown - from a PR perspective

The damage to Mel Gibson's career cannot even be fully imagined just four days after his drunken, racist tirade during his arrest by Malibu police.

Fairly or unfairly, Gibson has always come across as rather unbalanced, and perhaps that's because of some of his film roles. But his personal life has, like it or not, become fodder for public consumption long before this lastest incident.

His blockbuster Passion of the Christ film sparked rumors that he was an anti-semite, and it's easy to get fired up over the "hidden" messages there. He argued convincingly at the time of its release that he was not a hater of Jews, and that the film simply told a story as it had been told for centuries. Most accepted this.

From a PR perspective, Gibson's apology (and then his OTHER apology) were the expected responses, as was the journey into rehab - ala Patrick Kennedy - and it seemed just about as contrived. And apologizing over and over again sounds like the Clintonian string of apologies for the Monica mess, which became at once more and more painfully detailed and dripping with contrition.

The problem is that many in Hollywood already hated him because of his success outside the system - remember he self-financed the blockbuster "Passion" - and because he wore his religion on his sleve. The fact that this religion wasn't Liberal Secularism was a cardinal sin in their eyes. Strike one against Mel.

However, he has now alienated many conservative Christians who will find his drinking, swearing and carousing unacceptable, and many Jewish people who were inclined to disbelieve that he really harbored hatred. (Whether he really does is open to debate. One commentator called liquor "truth serum" that opened what was in one's heart. That's debaable.)

The real problem is Mel Gibon's "base" is the conservative Christian. Alienate that base, and you're in more trouble than even George Bush, who must be secretly thrilled that someone now has lower approval ratings than he does.

Personally, of course, it's sad to see him self destruct this way, but no less sad than seeing the numerous other actors who have destroyed themselves with drugs, sex, alcohol or eating disorders. I can't imagine living in Hollywood among all of this disfunction.

If Gibson wants to claw his way back to win the hearts and minds of his fans, he needs to do far more than apologize several times.

I suspect a great role for his "comeback" would be a fictional or historical figure who hits rock bottom and finds his way back to the light, so to speak.

If I was his agent, I might say "Pick your favorite saint. In a year, after you're sober, you'll be doing that movie, and you will be in the starring role."