As the Mad Mel tapes leaked on the web last week -- phone calls allegedly made by Mel Gibson to Oksana Grigorieva, his former girlfriend and the mother of his eight-month-old daughter -- and the screaming invective became increasingly ranty, rapey, obscene and insane, pundits pronounced Gibson's career officially over.
Now that's swell news for anyone who's ever sat through Payback or Lethal Weapon 3 or Gibson's S/M version of the Easter story. But at the risk of sounding ungrateful, it's worth asking why Mel is being dumped now.
It would be nice to think that it's because of his unstoppable spew of vile, violent, hateful misogyny and racism. In the end, though, I don't think he's being punished because he's bad.
He's being punished because we know too much about him. Gibson has been revealed as weak, pathetic and out of control, qualities rated worse than bad in the celebrity hierarchy of values. Hollywood may be claiming moral outrage, but what it really feels is embarrassment.
The inevitable YouTube mash-ups can't get enough of Mel's hoarse, heavy breathing, as he goes beyond anger into wordless, primordial rage. More than anything that ragged panting -- the audible sign of unhinged desperation -- is the sound of his stardom ending.
Radar Online, the source of this sordid saga, shrewdly released the tapes bit by bit. Kicking off with a two-minute teaser of foul-mouthed, woman-hating insults, it soon followed up with an eight-minute death-threat-making doozie.
Then, just when we were all getting desensitized, Radar offered an absolute corker of sexual coercion and imagined arson, undercut with some fabulous irony when Mel shouts, "I'm being so f ing nice to you."
In terms of Gibson's star status, the most damning thing about his rants isn't their nastiness -- and, wow, they are breathtakingly nasty -- but their banality. Mel Unplugged comes across like a perp from some upscale Malibu episode of COPS.
And while Gibson's behaviour is threatening and scary, there's also the stink of ridiculousness. His lunatic sense of sexual entitlement, his aggrieved narcissism, his belief that financial hardship means losing your Lakers box -- they're all laughable.
One can see why the old studios kept their stars wrapped up. They understood that movie stardom has little to do with acting and everything to do with aura -- with a recognizable public persona that can be projected onto the screen.
The all-seeing Internet age means that control of the public persona is eroding. Mel's inner man has been let out, and that creepy little guy will never get back in the box.
So what kind of roles can Gibson possibly play, now that we've all heard his crazed, multi-instalment conniption fit? The interracial buddy movie is out. The this-time-it's-personal revenge movie is gone. The romantic comedy-- despite the stunning irony that Gibson once starred in a movie called What Women Want SEmD is off. Female audiences would be wondering when the sexy banter would slide into "bat to the side of the head" talk.
Gibson's latest project, the unfortunately monikered comedy The Beaver, features Mel as an unbalanced executive who communicates through an animal hand puppet. It's a boon to lewd headline writers, but the movie's adorably loony premise probably won't get out of post-production with Gibson's decidedly unadorable looniness still scarring the public mind.
The onetime Braveheart star's career is over, and it didn't even end with a bang. It ended with the rasping, rage-filled sound of his breathing.