We’re all losing it in this political climate, some more than others.
With Twitter ablaze on an hourly basis with vitriol of all stripes, some of it funny, some of it horrifying, some of it educational and all of it exhausting, it doesn’t take a doctorate in political science to discern which side of the aisle people are supporting. You don’t have to scroll much, either. Half the time their allegiances are declared right there in their bios, or a pinned tweet tells the whole story.
And while millions of people are weighing in on Washington and international politics every day, the accounts with the little blue checkmarks by their name—many of them belonging to the celebrity set—can’t help but be at the center of many a back-and-forth about the current state of political affairs.
But as both opponents and supporters of President have been quick to remind us, the chatter isn’t confined to social media, though Trump’s own Twitter habit has often made the site ground zero for the latest headlines. Rather, the conversation is going on everywhere, at any given moment, all over the world, via every medium.
And while everybody’s talkin’ at us, we’re more inclined to be informed of what a celebrity is doing or saying at any given moment. A comment is only “controversial,” after all, once those who’ve heard it have whipped themselves, or others, into a frenzy.
Hot on the heels of ‘s misguided attempt at humor, her image-worth-1,000-words “joke” about calling for the president’s head made entirely too gruesome by her use of a graphic prop, has curried the public’s (albeit seemingly less of the public’s) disfavor with a made last night at the Glastonbury Arts festival in England.
“Can you bring Trump here?” the actor, who in a Funny or Die movie in 2016, said while onstage at a screening of his 2004 movie The Libertine. Reacting to the decidedly unenthusiastic response from the crowd, he continued, “You misunderstand completely. When was the last time an actor assassinated a president?”
That would be 1865, when struggling actor John Wilkes Booth fatally shot Abraham Lincoln.
“I want to clarify: I’m not an actor,” Depp added, drawing extra laughs. “I lie for a living. However, it’s been awhile, and maybe it’s time.”
A bit of a step beyond saying at the Women’s March in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 21, “Yes, I’m angry. Yes, I’m outraged. Yes, I have thought an awful lot about blowing up the White House.”
But not, in its hyperbole or lack of serious intent, much different at the end of the day. Yet both have been treated like official positions on an issue that have resulted in reactions from Trump himself—an inevitable cycle of events that we’d never seen much of in the past. True, had a far friendlier relationship with many of the Hollywood folks who either wouldn’t call themselves Trump fans or have publicly criticized the new president in some way. But George W. Bush certainly took his lumps from the Hollywood set, and it’s hard to recall any instances of him slamming Saturday Night Live or issuing a rebuttal to .
Even after flayed the Bush administration—in person, with the president just a few feet away—over the war in Iraq and other pressing issues at the 2006 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, the visibly angry Bush didn’t actually say anything.
“I’ve been there before, and I can see that he is [angry],” a former top aide to Bush told US News and World Report after the dinner. “He’s got that look that he’s ready to blow.”
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But that blew over, for everyone involved—though probably more so for Colbert. He continued to prosper, enough to see Trump recently in response to his increasingly no-holds-barred Late Show monologues, one of which prompted some calls for Colbert’s firing when he joked that Trump was serving as Vladimir Putin‘s “c–k holster.”
“There’s nothing funny about what he says,” Trump . “And what he says is filthy. And you have kids watching. And it only builds up my base. It only helps me, people like him.”
Indeed, Trump supporters and the administration itself have been able to seize on such moments to promote the idea that they’re the ones who are trying to achieve unity, but it’s those lousy liberals who are making cracks about killing the president and sowing discord.
Calls for violence are, of course, despicable. Obvious jokes about technically violent acts…is that just comedy and therefore OK, if not particularly tasteful (going by the definition of tasteful, that is, not the majority of the discourse to be found online)? Or should people, particularly those in the public eye who are going to make headlines with a tweet, let alone a taped speech, just shut up, even if they’re only joking around?
“By the way, this is going to be in the press and it’ll be horrible,” Depp predicted last night. “It’s just a question; I’m not insinuating anything.”
And we know he wasn’t, but it’s still bait for those just aching to record another instance of Hollywood vs. Trump.
“President Trump has condemned violence in all forms and it’s sad that others like Johnny Depp have not followed his lead,” the White House said in a statement obtained by NBC News. “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.”
Definitely more of a measured response than when Trump called Madonna “disgusting” in an interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity in response to her “blow up the White House” comment. “I think she hurt herself very badly. I think she hurt that whole cause,” the president said. “I thought what she said was disgraceful to our country.”
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“Some of the things that were said yesterday, I’m not going to give the person any credit, but one of the actors said that—or one of the singers said she wanted to blow up the White House,” White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus said on Fox News Sunday after Madonna’s comment was yanked out of context and made headlines everywhere. “I mean, can you imagine saying that about President Obama?”
“Obama, he’s a piece of s–t. I told him to suck on my machine gun. Hey, Hillary. You might want to ride one of these into the sunset, you worthless bitch.” So Ted Nugent during a 2007 concert. And then he in April 2012, “If Barack Obama becomes the president in November, again, I will be either be dead or in jail by this time next year.”
Nugent was at the White House earlier this year with and Kid Rock.
So no, Johnny Depp and Madonna may not have been saying that sort of thing about Obama, but “one of the singers” sure was spewing hate back in the day and it never sounded like he was joking.
Depp, meanwhile, has , saying in a statement obtained by E! News, “I apologize for the bad joke I attempted last night in poor taste about President Trump. It did not come out as intended, and I intended no malice. I was only trying to amuse, not to harm anyone.”
Kathy Griffin, though she later defiantly vowed to press on with her comedy, apologized for her bad joke, saying in an Instagram video, “I beg for your forgiveness. I went too far. I made a mistake and I was wrong.”
Even Nugent, in the wake of the shooting in Alexandria, Va., that left a Republican congressman critically wounded, last weekend that he’ll be going on Real Time With Bill Maher soon to denounce violence and violent speech in politics.
“I just think in these heightened exciting times politically, I am reaching out across the aisle and I’m saying we must all unite to bring no violence, no harm, to any of our fellow Americans,” he said on Fox and Friends.
The Secret Service confirmed to People that it was aware of Depp’s remarks—though they didn’t exactly have to be briefed. All they needed to do was check their phones. Threatening the president is a class E felony, but as Stanford law professor Nathaniel Persily in the wake of the Griffin controversy, “People are allowed to wish the president dead,” so long as they don’t express an actual intent to harm him. “To threaten someone you need words that encourage some sort of action.”
At the end of the day, for now, free speech is free speech and there is no sign whatsoever that the 24/7 Twitter war is waning, and minus sheer exhaustion there’s no sign that celebrities—just like the many, non-blue-checkmarked people on Twitter—who are so inclined are going to stop obsessing over the endless stream of headlines coming out of Washington and beyond, wherever politics are sold.
Words are going to get heated, feelings are going to be inflamed and, thank god, people are going to continue to make jokes. Even himself sometimes. But incidents of big stars of Depp’s caliber making comments that have potentially crossed a line actually remain relatively few and far between, considering the sheer glut of outrage, criticism and crafty (or wannabe-crafty) remarks on Twitter, many of them made by people you’ve heard of.
Silicon Valley and The Big Sick star Kumail Nanjiani in a new interview that he’s been tweeting so much about politics lately “because it’s all I can think about.”
Later he expanded on the topic, saying, “We’re in such a strange situation now, because there are different political sides, and they don’t talk to each other. They shout at each other on Twitter. I’ll be talking to someone and suddenly they’ll start accusing me of stuff, and I’m like, ‘That’s not me, I didn’t say that. You’ve projected this whole set of adjectives or beliefs on me.’ People are not really communicating—it’s just yelling. I’m certainly guilty of it, too. But I think empathy is extremely important in society, and if you don’t have it, everything falls apart. If there’s an answer to all of this, it has to be empathy.”
“No matter what you do, you’re never going to be able to control the opinions of all of these people,” , whose impersonation of Trump helped revitalize SNL this season and drew Trump’s ire, told in March. “They hate, because that is what they need to do, my political opposites.”
Meanwhile, Trump continues to act more like a fellow celebrity than holder of the highest office in the land when he bothers to name-check entertainers who’ve ruffled his feathers, such as when he called “overrated” after she railed against him at the Golden Globes. And the media, some of which started to celebrify the office of the presidency years ago by treating Obama like a rock star, is treating Trump accordingly by asking him how he feels about the likes of Madonna, Stephen Colbert and individual TV news anchors.
And so other celebrities will continue to treat him as such.
We’re all in uncharted waters as far as the depths to which the discourse has sunk, but that hasn’t stopped more and more people from diving in head first. Heck, they’re skinny-dipping. Johnny Depp knew he was going to bug a lot of people with his joke, but he made it anyway. The country, celebs and civilians alike, has gone mad and Depp just took our act on the road.