Mel Gibson and Roman Polanski: Are they tarred forever?
In an ever-more interconnected world, finding common ground on morals is difficult, meaning would-be pariahs like Mel Gibson or Roman Polanski meet with only scattered and ephemeral outrage.
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The threshold for even “pariah-for-a-day” status is getting lower with every scandal, says PR and reputation expert Adam Kluger. But there is no guarantee of absolution or condemnation for any given offense, he points out. “It is a mixture of many factors such as likability, past track record, and the seriousness of the deed,” he says. Today’s public figures, whether athletes, movie stars or politicians, have the added burden of zero privacy. “Most of us have done or said things we aren’t proud of, but we don’t have to see them going viral all over the Internet and then edited and mashed up with the worst parts played over and over,” he says. This, of course, is aside from the very real fact that in the entertainment world, a “bad boy” image is often good for a career.Skip to next paragraph
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The media’s role is fueling a downward spiral in shared moral values, says Walter Guarino, strategic communication professor at Seton Hall University and president of SGW Advertising Agency. “Sensationalism may have been upgraded in order to enhance sales,” he writes in an email, adding, “with the speed of online news, bad news travels faster than ever,” pointing to the ratings value of the recorded Mel Gibson phone call.
“The line does get fuzzy about who decides who becomes a social outcast," says Mr. Kluger. "It usually revolves around the degree of criminality we as a society assign to each individual. If an Olympic athlete smokes pot, we'll forgive him. But I don't think Roman Polanski will ever have an image other than what he has now,” he adds.
While he would not have signed a petition in support of Roman Polanski as many big Hollywood names did, Mr. Wolfe says – “that is one act that is heinous and beyond the pale,” he says – he points out that the current consumer culture, “is one of forgiveness.” Even the Catholic church is not so quick to excommunicate people these days, because “a consumer culture needs customers.” Beyond that, he points to such thorny problems as the Hollywood blacklist, a postwar period in which many careers were ruined based on rumors and speculation. “While it is a good thing to have moral boundaries, there is always the danger of getting it wrong and condemning an innocent person.”
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