Mel Gibson may be a raging fool, but he also happens to be a genius. While the American Australian actor, director, and producer is feeling the heat this week for his starring role in the most career-damaging tape recordings since Nixon’s Watergate scandal, one can abhor the man without abstaining from enjoying his work.
Sure, Gibson’s phone recordings are alarming, but they certainly shouldn’t be surprising. For years, we’ve known this man is batshit, and while he may now appear crazier than his character in Lethal Weapon, there’s nothing wrong with still being a fan of this artist’s art.
While Gibson’s vulgar ranting makes Alec Baldwin’s infamous 2007 voicemail sound like a Joel Osteen sermon, this wouldn’t stop me from watching a film with Mad Max’s name in the credits. I don’t believe there’s anything shameful about exploring the work of a shameful individual. Of course, most filmgoers don’t share my position, as Gibson’s career and reputation are now dead (or at best, on life support).
Sure, I’m angered by this former icon’s arrogance, ignorance, alleged violent tendencies, and overt racism/sexism/anti-semitism, but I’m also disappointed that Gibson has blown his opportunity for future professional triumphs. Some troubled celebrities have continued to succeed after overcoming seemingly insurmountable personal woes (including the resilient, public-relations nightmare Charlie Sheen), but I can’t foresee another Braveheart or Apocalypto (two of the most ambitious and awe-inspiring films ever produced) hitting theaters anytime soon. Heck, the only thing less likely than another studio-financed Gibson epic would be a sequel to What Women Want.
I’ve frequently written about the “power of celebrity” and how America should hold its stars to higher standards. Still, I think the line between entertainers’ public and private lives needs to be stretched. We often confuse actors with the larger-than-life characters they portray, distorting our cultural values. TMZ may be entertaining, but it certainly isn’t interesting, and our obsession with stars’ “everyday” lives only sets us up for disappointment when we realize they are as flawed and fragile as the rest of us.
I often wonder if celebrities themselves lose track of their surroundings and remain in character when they’re away from their set. After all, wasn’t 24’s Kiefer Sutherland recently arrested for headbutting/”Jack Bauering” a fashion designer? Didn’t Christian Bale verbally “terminate” a crew member during a 2008 T:4 shoot?
If you listen closely to the Mel Gibson tapes, you’ll hear that he sounds a lot like a cross between his roles in Hamlet, Conspiracy Theory, and The Patriot (with a little Darth Vader added in). Essentially, Mel was just being who we knew him to be- the intense renegade we always loved to watch fight back on-screen. Only this time, unbenownonst to Gibson, it was real.
To be perfectly clear, I’m not defending Mel Gibson’s actions. I’m only trying to understand how an individual with so much to lose can throw it all away. For someone who once brought people so much joy, the fallen star has truly earned the masses’ animosity (while NBA icon Lebron James has taken fair criticism for his egotistical “Decision,” Gibson’s actions were significantly more offensive and help put things in perspective).
While I could care less about Gibson’s image, I do want to protect his artistic legacy. Like the auteur himself, Gibson’s projects have often been controversial, unconventional, and uncompromising. Society may deserve better public influences, but cinema certainly needs more like Mel Gibson.