Life After Gibson's Mel-Tdown

Everyone is asking whether the actor’s career is over. Maybe the better question is should it be over?

Two decades ago, Mel Gibson, who has shown a predilection for not thinking before he acts, played a character with the opposite problem: Hamlet.

Shakespeare's overly introspective Dane famously asked, "To be or not to be?" – a query that, in essence, has been raised about Gibson's career amid growing personal woe more out of “Hollywood Babylon” than the state of Denmark.

But with the media asking whether recently revealed audiotapes – purportedly of Gibson ranting up a vile storm – mean the actor is finished in show business, perhaps a better question is should his career be over?

The first major sign of a Gibson unhinging came in 2006 after he infamously spewed anti-Semitic comments during a drunk driving arrest.

But the fallout wasn't huge, in part, because the public was in no way a witness to the incident. This time, the panting, furious voice on the audiotapes hammer home the ugliness of the slurs and threats – especially when heard in the context of a domestic violence investigation.

Many of us likely listened last year to Christian Bale's prima donna tirade against a movie set crewmember, and to the abhorrent phone message Alec Baldwin left for his then-12-year-old daughter in 2007. As much as the tapes may have dimmed the stars in the eyes of some, both survived any long-term career damage because acting like a jerk isn't criminal.

Of all the evidence against O.J. Simpson, perhaps none was more powerful – at least in the court of public opinion – as his ex-wife's 911 call to police in which the former football star and former all-around good guy is heard raging in the background.

The book, of course, is still far from closed on the Mel Gibson story. And it should be noted that Hollywood – and the public – like a good redemption tale.

Tiger Woods is the most recent superstar to undergo the familiar ritual of seclusion, rehab and public self-flagellation – all over a matter that was largely private, and involved no known violence other than the beating absorbed by his Cadillac SUV.

Gibson already is taking a first, tentative step toward a public cleansing. An unnamed "friend" this week told People magazine the actor began therapy earlier this year.

Maybe he'll eventually seek absolution with an interview on "Oprah" or on the potentially friendly confines of "The View," where co-host Whoopi Goldberg this week called her pal a "bonehead" – but insisted he's no racist.

Gibson's hopes largely rest with the Hollywood establishment, which wants nothing to do with him now, but has been known to be forgiving when money is involved. How else to explain why troubled Charlie Sheen is still the highest paid TV performer on a middling show that inexplicably is the medium’s highest-rated sitcom?

Gibson might be done in less by scandal than by age (54), and a prime that passed as a box office draw long before his recent problems.

Ultimately, the Hollywood execs will do whatever they do, and Gibson could strike out on his own. But whether any comeback is embraced by the public will say more about us than him.

Or to paraphrase Gibson's "Hamlet" scriptwriter, "The fault lies not in the stars, but in ourselves."

Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multi-media NY City News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is the former City Editor of the New York Daily News, where he started as a reporter in 1992. Follow him on Twitter.

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