Fear and loathing on Hollywood’s boulevards

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Hollywood is among the most corrupt and ruthless settings in the world, equal to anything in the corporate boardroom or politics, whether in the White House or Westminster.
Hollywood is among the most corrupt and ruthless settings in the world, equal to anything in the corporate boardroom or politics, whether in the White House or Westminster.

In recent weeks, the whole world has seemingly tuned-in to the ongoing, tragic drama that was once called “the marriage of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard”. Social media has witnessed nuclear critical-mass levels of posts about the bizarre interior life of this celebrity couple. From long, puzzling dialogues on muffins between Ms Heard’s lawyers and Mr Depp’s expert psychologist, to video testimony by Mr Depp’s doorman delivered, while smoking, from his car, the proceedings are exceedingly strange even by Californian standards. Defamation trial of the century? Quite possibly.

Lay aside for a moment speculation and judgment about who’s the victim, who’s the good guy or the bad guy, or who’s got the cleverest lawyers. What we are looking at — if, in fact, we feel we must look — is a trainwreck of a relationship and the shipwreck of a marriage. Enough evidence has emerged under oath to reveal two deeply damaged and dysfunctional people, each with fundamental personal problems (“issues” in Hollywood parlance) going to the very roots of their daily existence.

Both Ms Heard and Mr Depp’s problems stretch back over decades and include highly self-destructive patterns of behaviour, exacerbated by their toxic relationship. It’s awful and everything that has emerged is either tragic, repulsive or both. Any victory for either will be purely Pyrrhic.

“Yet it is the emptiness of lives lived in what millions all over the world believe to be the near-summit of all possible aspiration: wealth, influence, power, fame, unlimited leisure and the adoration of legions of fans.”

Here, we have two of the most beautiful of Hollywood’s Beautiful People suddenly exposed, naked so to speak, as jaybirds. As the vomitous details of their relationship have emerged, a veil is also temporarily pulled back to reveal a far wider vista: the more-or-less basic realities of Hollywood and its false trappings of glamour, fame and wealth. We see only emptiness.

Yet it is the emptiness of lives lived in what millions all over the world believe to be the near-summit of all possible aspiration: wealth, influence, power, fame, unlimited leisure and the adoration of legions of fans. We are watching gods, unwittingly disrobed by a revolution of their own making, revealed as tragic failures at the simple task of living daily life well.

We should not be surprised. Hollywood is among the most corrupt and ruthless settings in the world, equal to anything in the corporate boardroom or politics, whether in the White House or Westminster. Meanwhile, the fame and wealth it offers its minions to create the illusions which fascinate so much of the world attracts us, like moths, to its alluring yet all-consuming flame. Actors, after all, are nothing more than people who can pretend to be someone else for a few minutes at a time.

Both Ms Heard and Mr Depp’s problems stretch back over decades and include highly self-destructive patterns of behaviour, exacerbated by their toxic relationship. Photo: CNS photo/Disney
Both Ms Heard and Mr Depp’s problems stretch back over decades and include highly self-destructive patterns of behaviour, exacerbated by their toxic relationship. Photo: CNS photo/Disney

We therefore sense why Hollywood has been one of the greatest enemies of truth, goodness and beauty in the modern age, especially in the area of human relationships. By “Hollywood” we can also mean the general entertainment business. This is not to argue that movies are evil. Hollywood has, on occasion, produced deeply good entertainment. Some good things do occasionally emerge from it.

Yet its overall trend has been to ridicule, tear down and subvert the true, good and beautiful, focussing instead on titillation, ever-descending levels of coarseness and crudity, the glorification of violence and ridicule for the worth and sanctity of human relationships. This is not to accuse Mr Depp or Ms Heard of being corrupt. They are clearly mere minions.

Yet for decades, Hollywood has also been a paradoxical indictment of our culture – both a symptom and an underlying malignancy. It could not have succeeded unless we made it successful ourselves.

“These last three weeks we might say that what has been on trial are not two people but one of two different ideals about how we should live.”

Christian marriage is unlike anything else in the world. It is inspired, in the most literal sense, by the synthesis of the Judeo-Christian tradition. It is the polar opposite, the antithesis of what has been broadcast from a courtroom in California over the last few weeks. Recognising that we are all weak and sinful, it places self-sacrifice and generosity for love of the other at the very summit of daily life – not material success or vindication in a bitter dispute.

“When I am weak,” Paul writes, “I am strong.” Compared to Hollywood’s counterfeits, the business of Christian marriage and the raising of human beings in families can only be called dangerous, subversive and revolutionary. It is also far more interesting, far more challenging and far more of an adventure than any romantic tale spanning 90 or so minutes on film. Crucially, it is also real. The business of loving when it seems difficult to love is what Christianity is all about. These last three weeks we might say that what has been on trial are not two people but one of two different ideals about how we should live.

And which we choose in our daily lives determines everything. Absolutely everything.