The larger message of the appalling Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial

I’ve been assiduously ignoring coverage about the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial. The headlines I’ve seen tell me that it’s incredibly sordid and I’m not sufficiently interested in either of these two people to care about the details. However, to the extent I’ve become aware of some of what went on in their home, it seems worthwhile pointing out that Hollywood is a deeply dysfunctional place that has way too much sway over our culture and, worse, over our children.

I’m an old movie buff. I love the fact that I can watch a movie from 1918, 1928, 1938, and so on and, through those movies, see people of the past moving in real-time. That’s the extraordinary thing about movies. For the first time in human history—and for a very short part of the span of human history—we get an almost three-dimensional window into the past. Even in black-and-white movies, people aren’t static. They’re living, breathing, talking, and moving. It’s wondrous.

Because I like reading about the old movies, I know that many of the old-time actors were people who had horrific childhoods, failed at most activities before drifting into Hollywood, were uneducated, engaged in distasteful habits (sexual perversions and substance abuse), and often ran afoul of the law. However, under the old studio system, these matters were kept secret, only emerging decades later, often after the star had died.

Beginning in the early 1930s, after the morality police started taking a whack at Hollywood studios for their decadent movies, Hollywood worked hard to align itself with American values. In the movies, the bad were punished and the good rewarded. Marriage and family were celebrated. America was presented as a virtuous country. Men were manly and women were feminine, except for the handful of character actors who played against the norms, always for laughs. Most importantly, the studio made sure that their actors were presented as avatars of American virtues: hard-working, family-oriented, and moral. The truth was irrelevant. It was the image that mattered.

When the studio system broke up in the 1960s, that tight control over the stars ended. The counterculture encouraged actors to present themselves as edgy and progressive. Now, of course, Hollywood actors, the majority of whom are marginally educated, try desperately to present themselves as intellectual heavyweights. The easiest way to do that is to ape the leftist politics on college campuses. “I may not have credentials but I can be every bit as crazily leftist as an actual college graduate.”

Image: Johnny Depp (edited). YouTube screen grab.

However, when you start reading about so many of the actors, you discover that they’re exactly like the people who drifted into Hollywood in the early years of the industry: horrible childhoods, broken homes, failed educations, failed work histories, distasteful habits (sexual perversions and substance abuse), and problems with the law. If they were your next-door neighbors, you’d do your best to keep your children far away from them. But because they’re “stars,” they’re admired. Worse, impressionable children fail to understand that their lifestyle choices are awful.

And that gets me to Johnny Depp. Over the years, he’s been politically innocuous. He’s also shown himself to be a talented actor. He gets points for both those things.

However, poor Depp is also the perfect star stereotype: Horrible childhood, limited education, substance abuse, and sexually perverse relationships. On-screen, he’s in control, even if his character is not; off-screen, he married a woman who was famously crazy and vicious and then suffered horribly at her hands because he’s weak and lacks internal resources.

The headlines tell the story: drunken binges, screaming fights, physical violence, severed fingers, drugs, fecal matter, and an atmosphere of paranoia and hatred. It made me think that, back in the old days, when ordinary people viewed actors with deep suspicion as immoral, they may have been on to something.

One day, we’ll look back on the second and third decades of the 21st century as the “great revealing” because we’re finally seeing past the shiny surfaces our institutions presented. We’ve learned that our American government bears little relationship to its constitutional guidelines and is scarily close to a third-world dictatorship. We’ve learned that our federal law enforcement agencies are dangerously corrupt. We’ve learned that those institutions to which we’ve entrusted our children, whether schools or corporate entertainment (Disney, Nickelodeon, etc.), aggressively indoctrinate our children into leftist politics and dangerous gender lunacy. And we’ve learned that the people who have a disproportionate amount of control over American culture are truly awful, second-rate human beings.

Dennis Prager is fond of saying “I prefer clarity to agreement.” Well, we’re getting our clarity and I think a lot of Americans are reaching an agreement: Our institutions are broken and must change. And getting back to Depp v. Heard, one way to start that change is to withdraw our money from Hollywood. These people really don’t deserve it.

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