Johnny on the Spot

No doubt it is evidence of my dissociation from much of modern life, but until the recent libel trials I did not really know who Johnny Depp was and had never heard of Amber Heard. I did not know what they did for a living, though I had seen pictures of Depp in a number of advertisements.

I found it odd that such a man should be employed to advertise anything. Ill-favored by nature, he willfully added to his ugliness by means of idiot tattoos. If ever there was a degenerate, I thought, it was he. A friend has informed me, however, that he is a good actor, and since my friend is a fair judge of such things, I must believe him.

I did not follow the two trials, one in England and one in America, very closely. The span of life is but three score years and ten (a little longer these days), and one is told that one should live each day as if life will continue forever and as if each day is one’s last. The mutual recriminations of these two starlets are not really what one wants to have in one’s mind as one prepares for oblivion, though I am not sure what thoughts one does want in this eventuality.

“If ever there was a degenerate, I thought, it was he.”

At any rate, the outcome of the two trials was different in the two jurisdictions. In England, Depp sued a newspaper and a journalist for having published an article alleging that Depp beat Amber Heard, his then wife. The judge before whom the trial was held without a jury found that, on the balance of probability (the standard of proof required for a defense of truth in a libel trial), the allegations against Depp were substantially and in essence true, and that indeed he was a wife-beater, even if doubt remained about some of the details. The judge’s decision was closely argued over more than 120 pages.

The trial in America about similar allegations, held before a jury, concluded the opposite. My guess is…well, I won’t tell you what my guess is because, in situations like this, the devil is always in the detail, and I do not know all the detail.

However, according to one newspaper report that I read, some fans of Depp traveled thousands of miles to offer support to their hero. One of them said that she “loved” Depp.

I found it surprising, and somewhat dispiriting, that anybody could be so enthusiastic as this about a man who, whatever his real character might be, appears to exude degeneracy. Moreover, there is an appendix to Mr. Justice Nicol’s judgment that consists of a text message sent by Depp. As it is in the public domain—you can read the judgment online—I reproduce it here in full, with a trigger warning about its deep unpleasantness. Those who are very sensitive to vileness should avert their eyes to the following paragraph:

She’s begging for total global humiliation. She’s gonna get it. I’m gonna need your texts about San Francisco brother … I’m even sorry to ask … But she sucked Mollusk’s [I assume a reference to Elon Musk] crooked dick and he gave her some shitty lawyers … I have no mercy, no fear and not an ounce of emotion or what I once thought was love for this gold digging, low level, dime a dozen, mushy, pointless dangling overused flappy fish market … I’m so fucking happy she wants to fight this out!!! She will hit the wall hard!!! And I cannot wait to have this waste of a cum guzzler out of my life!!! I met fucking sublime little Russian here … Which makes me realize the time I blew on that 50 cent stripper … I wouldn’t touch her with a goddam glove. I can only hope that karma kicks in and takes the gift of breath from her … Sorry man … But NOW I will stop at nothing!!! Let’s see if Mollusk has a pair … Come see me face to face … I’ll show him things he’s never seen before … Like the other side of his dick when I slice it off.

This is not an expletive that escaped a man under the influence of a sudden access of emotion; it is the outpouring of a mind that makes the average sewer seem like a mountain stream. A man who could even think this, let alone see fit to immortalize it in a written message, has, in the phrase libel lawyers use, “no reputation to lose.” But I suspect that reading it would not in the slightest worry or give pause to those who “love” Depp and travel thousands of miles to express their support for him.

Indeed, I rather suspect that it is the very qualities that I find so unattractive about his persona that make him a hero to others. They have a gnostic attraction to what would once have been regarded as bad or even evil. They are like moths to a flame, though they do not want to get burnt any more than does the moth.

I came across this mentality very frequently in my former clinical practice. Women were repeatedly attracted to men who exuded abusiveness or cruelty like a cold front on a weather map. Anyone with the slightest experience of life could take one look at them and know that they should be avoided, and yet they never had any difficulty in attracting women to them.

No doubt feminists will deny the phenomenon or explain it away. But is it obvious that women are not the only ones with an antinomian attraction to the ugly, the bad, and the evil. In fact, one could almost say that it is the prevailing propensity of our time. It clearly exists, for example, in architecture. I strongly recommend that you look at the photograph of the city of Arles, in the South of France, posted on David Brussat’s architectural blog, if you doubt it. At least Depp’s tattoos disfigure only himself, but Gehry’s building disfigures a whole city, indeed a whole civilization, and it is difficult to believe that it was not intended to do so. But he could not have done it alone, without the cooperation of his patron and the city council. I say no more because I need to say no more: One picture is worth a thousand words, as a well-known humanitarian once put it.

Theodore Dalrymple’s latest book is Ramses: A Memoir, published by New English Review.

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