The Culture Current: How To Handle The Johnny Depp Affair
You’ve almost certainly heard about what happened, by now. If not, here’s the rundown: Johnny Depp—Captain Jack Sparrow, Donnie Brasco, Tonto, etc.—recently made a bad joke involving “the last actor to assassinate a president”. Considering how he’d just been talking about Donald Trump, well…
Okay…first of all, as Conservatives, it is part of the point of who we are that we deal with facts. As the great Ben Shapiro (“Thug Life™!”) tells us, “Facts don’t care about your feelings.” In this case, we need to look at the context.
Here’s the line as we keep seeing it:
“When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”
Some of us even add that he says a little later, “Maybe it is time.”
Sounds…pretty bad, doesn’t it?
Now, let’s looked at the context. As Variety reports:
Depp is at the U.K. music festival as part of its Cineramageddon event. Presenting the first of the three movies he has selected, he asked festival goers: “Can you bring Trump here?” Responding to subsequent jeers, he said: “You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”
That’s our context. His question suddenly looks as if it’s not asked in speculation…but in actually something of a rebuke. The audience lashes out at Trump, and Depp jokes, “Come on, if he were here, I wouldn’t do anything—what am I, John Wilkes Booth?”
At least, that’s how it looks to me. Regardless…
Depp then added: “I want to qualify, I am not an actor. I lie for a living. However, it has been a while and maybe it is time.”
So…does “maybe it is time” refer to whacking the president, or to Depp going back to actual acting as opposed to lying? I don’t know. Worst case scenario, he’s jokingly entertaining the notion of going Booth.
Well, maybe I’ve been too generous. It’s more likely Booth. If so, then I’d say he did deserve the backlash that’s come. And so:
…[H]e went on to further qualify his comment, which some read as a reference to the 1865 shooting of Abraham Lincoln by actor John Wilkes Booth.
“By the way, this is going to be in the press and it’ll be horrible,” Depp said. “It’s just a question, I’m not insinuating anything.”
So he quickly notes that what he said isn’t to be taken seriously—and he admits that he’s going to catch all kinds of heck for it. Lo and behold, he was right about that. The backlash even reached the White House, which issued the following rebuke:
“President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead,” the statement, issued to ABC News, read. “I hope that some of Mr. Depp’s colleagues will speak out against this type of rhetoric as strongly as they would if his comments were directed to a Democrat elected official.”
Now, two more facts before I make my final argument. First, a big question is why the heck Johnny Depp—and while we’re at it, Kathy Griffin, Madonna, and those Shakespeare In The Park types—ever thought it would be a good idea to even go there. The answer, of course, is the “celebrity bubble”. When you’re in an industry where the vast majority of anyone open about politics are Lefties…you’ll tend to think that Leftism is the default point of view. Therefore, you’ll feel more “free” to run off at the mouth if you talk like a Lefty. Thus…you can expect quite a few Lefty celebrities who desperately need to get out more—casually spewing things that most of the rest of us would probably consider…shocking.
Now, that being said…last fact Number Two:
The day after Johnny Depp made that bad joke…he apologized.
A “save face” apology, to cover his behind? Well…look at his wording:
“I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump,” he said. “It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone.”
Notice something? Namely…what isn’t there?
There’s no “I apologize if…”—no “I apologize to anyone who might have been…”—no talk about anyone “potentially offended”. Capt. Sparrow owned up, right off the bat, to it being offensive: a bad joke, in poor taste, that sounded harmful and malicious. No ambiguous wiggle room to escape responsibility—he took it all, in full.
He “manned up”.
Now, with all the facts in mind…what do we do? Do we continue the outcries and calls for “boycott”?
In the interests of full disclosure, I didn’t have much motivation to see Pirates 5 anyway. I love the first three, and the fourth is okay…but the things I’ve heard about this one don’t motivate me to pay for a ticket. I’ll probably wait for the DVD/Blu-Ray. The point is, for me, a “boycott” would be meaningless—just like everyone who weren’t going to watch the Oscars anyway.
Now…what about Depp in general? Do we treat him as another pariah, or do we accept the apology?
Some of you may know my answer, already. If you don’t…remember my Six Rules For Boycotts. Specifically, Number Six:
THE SIXTH RULE OF BOYCOTTING IS: ALWAYS ALLOW, PUBLICALLY, FOR YOUR TARGET TO BACK DOWN.
Sun Tzu said: “Do not stop an army on its way home. A surrounded army must be given a way out. Do not press a desperate enemy.”
Of all the mistakes made by the Tarantino boycotters, this was the worst. I remember watching people I usually respected go on Fox News and proclaim—in no uncertain terms—that there was nothing—nothing—Quentin could do, to appease the boycotters. They said it was “too late” for him to apologize, because it would “clearly” be insincere, and “only” be to save the box office for The Hateful Eight (ironically a very pro-law-enforcement film, if you see it).
Watching that refusal to offer Quentin “a way out”, I knew full well what was going to happen: Quentin would look at those dismissals, shrug and go “Fine”…and publically refuse to apologize, and maybe even double down. Lo and behold—that’s exactly what he did.
Sadly, those on our side supporting the boycott refused to see the pattern for what it was, and just doubled down, themselves. Had those spokesmen for the boycott instead allowed—from the beginning—for a public apology from Quentin, for “misspeaking, and inadvertently over-generalizing”…it’s a good bet he would have given it, with a promise to “watch how I word that kind of thing in the future”.
“But Eric—but Eric! An apology would’ve been insincere, and just to get his box-office back—!”
Maybe. Maybe not. Regardless, I got two words for that: Who…cares…?
In the public eye—which is all that really matters, here—“personal sincerity” is irrelevant. A public apology, in and of itself, is a surrender in the fight. It means the target has given up their attempt at the high ground—ceding it all to you. And when you accept the apology, you accept that high ground.
However—if you refuse that high ground, you always—always—give up your own. And they get it all. No exceptions.
Let’s look at an example from the other side: Remember way back, when Rush notoriously insulted Sandra the Fluke’s, er, personal past? There was a big outcry, and sponsors dropped him. After the weekend, Rush made a public apology on his show. It wasn’t worth it to him to stand his ground, and he ceded it to her.
Sandra the Fluke shoved away his apology, snidely dismissing it. And with that, she destroyed herself, annihilating all the cultural appeal she’d gotten by being a “victim” of Rush. She looked petulant, petty, and completely self-righteous. She looked like a jerk, kicking Rush when he was down. Had she publically accepted the apology, she would have accepted the moral high ground—appearing gracious, mature, and worthy of respect from all sides.
But she didn’t. And all her support faded, aside perhaps from the most militant of pseudo-feminists. Where is she now? Your guess is as good as mine. Meanwhile, Rush promptly got the high ground back, and to this day he’s still riding high.
There you have it. Like it or not (and being a cinephile, I tend to lean to “like”), it is in our side’s best interests to accept Johnny Depp’s apology. Doing so allows us to keep the moral high ground the apology itself has already ceded to us—and it encourages further apologies from celebrities in the future. And that means more solidification of our cultural power.
Were we to reject these kinds of apologies, it would incentivize celebrities to not even bother—to stubbornly shrug it off and go on living in a bubble. Public apologies burst that bubble, as the celebrity acknowledges that a significant portion of their fanbase does, in fact, disagree with them politically—and as such should not be insulted.
And besides, as I said, Depp’s apology looks sincere. Certainly more than Kathy Griffin’s.
“But Eric, it’s all to keep his career intact—!”
Maybe. Maybe not. Who…cares…?
Power is power. And whether the apology is sincere or not, Depp giving it gives us power. Unless, of course, we reject it.
Captain Jack…I doubt you’ll read this, at least not for a long while, until someone drudges it up from the archives and shows it to you…maybe. Regardless, I say to you now: I accept your apology.
Image source: Wikimedia Commons/NJM2010
License: Public domain
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.