I keep getting angry messages, comments, emails, direct messages, and carrier pigeons, all imploring me to say something, anything about the Johnny Depp Amber Heard trial.
The longer I abstain, the more infuriated my audience is, which of course causes me unmitigated pleasure.
More to the point, I am not going to say anything about this trial.
I will explain in a minute why.
But one thing I can say about some of the participants in the trial, the mental health experts, quote unquote, who had appeared on behalf of Heard and Depp, these people would not have passed my first year test in the university. They should lose their licenses.
And I've said, I think my message is clear.
Right. Why do I remain silent on the Depp Heard trial?
Well, first of all, I don't gossip. This is an academic channel. It is not a self-help channel. It is not a mass channel, channel oriented for the masses. It's not a self-styled expert channel. It's an academic channel based on scholarship and good practices within psychology and psychotherapy.
Only a qualified mental health diagnostician can determine whether someone suffers from any mental health disorder, let alone a personality disorder. And to do this, to reach this diagnosis and determination, the diagnostician has to administer lengthy tests, some of which last for hours and required days of analysis. And then he has to conduct structured interviews with a person and then he has to interview his friends, family, co-workers, and everyone else around him in church or somewhere else. Only then, at the end of an extremely lengthy process, can the diagnostician make a determination which is often then often inconclusive because it contains comorbidities. We have something in psychology called differential diagnosis.
Many, many mental health disorders have commonalities. They share many features in common. It's very difficult to tell them apart without a very rigorous, onerous process of investigation.
To post online videos analyzing the alleged personality disorders of Johnny Depp and Amber Heard is the height of an ethical behavior. It is absolutely abhorrent and the people who do this are charlatans, con artists, and dilutants masquerading as experts, even if their names are preceded or followed with academic degrees. Shame on them, absolute disgrace.
And I will never participate in this circus and prostitute my channel just in order to obtain views, which is exactly what these people are doing.
But we are used to this, aren't we? Everyone in this dog is now a self-styled expert on personality disorders. People who even possess PhDs and so on, even people who are professors of psychology, they don't necessarily have expertise in personality disorders.
Psychology is an enormous field. Not everyone with a PhD knows what he's talking about when it comes to specific areas in psychology.
The people who presume to be and pretend to be experts online on YouTube, and this is an egregious phenomenon, never published anything on personality disorders, never participated in international conferences on personality disorders. They don't know what they're talking about. They spew out nonsense and misinformation in commercial quantities, emphasis on commercial.
So I'm not going to be a part of this wolf pack. I am not going, I am not going to whore myself in order to obtain views. End of story. Don't ever write to me again about this trial or any other topic in the news, because I don't do these things.
I went out of my way only twice. I violated my own principles only twice. Last time with Donald Trump, because I thought at the time in 2016, before he became a candidate, I thought that he is a present, clear and imminent danger to humanity. And I'm not sure I had been proven wrong.
But there is a more general, a bigger problem, bigger issue, which I can tackle safely and academically, subject to all the rigorous ethics of appropriate investigation and research.
And that's a question.
Why do we love celebrities? And then on a dime, overnight, we suddenly hate them.
What is this ambivalence? What causes this transition from infatuation, idolizing, co-towing, seeking their company by proxy, to absolute hatred, canceling them in cancel culture, or just hating them online?
The outpouring of vitriol towards Johnny Depp and Amber Hurry just goes to show, just goes to show that our relationship with celebrities are much more compounded and much more complex than we imagine.
I granted an interview to Super Interesante magazine in Brazil about this issue exactly. And I would like, with your permission and current indulgence, I would like to read to you questions and my answers.
The first question was, fame and TV shows about celebrities usually have a huge audience. This is understandable. People like to see other successful people.
But why people like to see celebrities being humiliated, asks the journalists. And this is my answer. As far as their fans and followers are concerned, celebrities fulfill two emotional functions, not one.
Celebrities provide a mythical narrative, a myth, a mythology, a story that the fan can follow and can identify with.
And celebrities function as blank screens, blank screens onto which the fan projects his dreams, hopes, fears, plans, values and desires.
In other words, celebrities allow us to indulge in wish fulfillment, in daydreaming, in fantasizing.
The slightest deviation from these prescribed roles provokes enormous rage and makes us want to punish, humiliate and take down the deviant celebrities.
They are there to fulfill a function, they are there to cater to our psychological needs and to support us. If they don't do this, they are dead in our eyes and we want them dead in reality.
But why? When the human foibles, vulnerabilities, misconduct and frailties of a celebrity are exposed, they revealed, the fan feels humiliated. The fan feels cheated, helpless, hopeless and empty.
And to reassert his self-worth, the fan must establish his or her moral superiority over the erring and sinful celebrity.
The fan feels humiliated because he had loved and trusted the celebrity. He had emotionally invested in the celebrity, he had affected the celebrity and the celebrity's misbehavior is perceived as a betrayal, as a knife in the back, as a form of mockery.
The fan must teach the celebrity a lesson and show the celebrity who is boss.
It is a primitive defense mechanism, narcissistic grandiosity coupled with splitting. It puts the fan on equal footing, the exposed and naked celebrity.
Unsatisfied with my answer, the journalist pursues his line of questioning.
Second question, this taste for watching a person being humiliated has something to do with the attraction to catastrophes or tragedies, asks the journalist innocuously.
And here is the answer of Sem Vaknin.
There is always a sadistic pleasure and a morbid fascination in vicarious suffering.
We like to see other people suffer because being spared the pains and tribulations that others go through makes us feel chosen, safe, secure and virtuous.
The higher the celebrity rises, the harder he or she falls. There is something gratifying in hubris, defied and hubris penalized.
Having digested my answer, the intrepid journalist continues.
Do you believe that the audience put themselves in the place of the reporter when the audience asks something embarrassing over a celebrity? And do they in this way revenge themselves?
I answer. I used to be, by the way, a journalist and an editor, and then an editor in chief. So I was heavily involved in journalism for close to 20 years.
I answer. The reporter represents the bloodthirsty public. It's like gladiator sports in the Coliseum. Gladiators were the first celebrities in Rome, belittling celebrities, demeaning them, humiliating them, watching their comeuppance in the public arena.
Now, that's the modern equivalent of the Coliseum, the gladiator ring.
Gossi used to fulfill the same function. And now the mass media and social media broadcast live the slaughtering of fallen gods, their clay feet.
There is no question of revenge here. Just shuttin' for it. The guilty joy, the glee of witnessing your superiors penalized and cut down to size and brought to your level.
It's a question of relative positioning. There are two ways about it. You can elevate yourself to the level of a celebrity, but few people are capable of this.
The other option is to bring the celebrity to your level, which most people do.
However, vicariously and unnoticeably. The reporter continues, in your country, who are the celebrities people love to hate?
Now, I'm not sure which country he refers to. I've lived in 15 countries, but I had assumed that he means Israel. Israelis like to watch politicians and wealthy businessmen reduced, demeaned, and slighted.
In Macedonia, where I live right now, all famous people, regardless of their vocation, are subject to intense proactive and destructive envy. This love-hate relationship with their idols, this ambivalence, is attributed by psychodynamic theories of personal development to the child's emotions towards his parents.
You idolize your parents, but then you gradually begin to envy them. Freud called it the Oedipal complex in the case of boys and the electro complex. Jung called it the electro complex in the case of girls.
There's an element of envying these godlike figures who are omnipotent and omniscient and infallible. Your parents, you carry this forward.
Celebrities, in other words, engage in transference. They become stand-in for siblings and parents.
Indeed, we transfer and displace many negative emotions that we harbor onto celebrities, a form of projection. Totally bedazzled by my inscrutable answer, the reporter continues, barely standing on his feet. I would never dare ask some questions that the reporters from Panico, another outlet, ask the celebrities.
What are the characteristics of people like these reporters?
Well, allow me to speculate.
Sadistic, ambitious, narcissistic, lacking in empathy, self-righteous, pathologically, destructively envious with a fluctuating sense of self-worth, possibly an inferiority complex. In short, me.
Next question. Do you believe the actors and reporters want themselves to be as famous as the celebrities that they are teasing?
Because I think it is almost happening. They are becoming celebrities, these reporters and these actors.
My answer, the line today between influencers and reporters and their subjects, this line is becoming thinner by the day, owing to the leverage of social media like TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and so on. Newsmakers and news people are celebrities today, merely because they are public figures. And regardless of their true accomplishments, what you see is what you get. But what you get makes you a celebrity. You appear an X amount of time on the screen. You automatically become a celebrity. The celebrity is famous for being famous. Of course, such journalists are likely to fall prey to up and coming colleagues in an endless and self-perpetuating food chain.
The insistent reporter continues, I think that the fans' celebrity relationship gratifies both sides. What are the advantages that the fans get?
And what are the advantages the celebrities get? What do both get out of such relationships?
My answer, there is an implicit kind of hidden contract between a celebrity and his fans. The celebrity is obliged to act the part. The celebrity should fulfill the expectations of his admirers. He should not deviate from the roles that these fans and followers impose on him, and he accepts implicitly by agreeing to become a celebrity.
In return to his obsequiousness, in return to his role-play, the fans shower the celebrity with adulation. They idolize the celebrity and make him or her feel omnipotent, immortal, larger-than-life, omniscient, superior, and sui genis unique.
But what are the fans getting for their trouble?
This requires a sip of red-wild.
I think what the fans are getting, above all, is the ability to vicariously share the celebrity's fabulous, and usually partly confabulated, existence. The celebrity becomes their representative in fantasys. The celebrity is an extension, a proxy, the reification and embodiment of the deepest desires and most secret and guilty dreams of the fans.
In this sense, it's a narcissistic process. The narcissist treats people around him as extensions, and the fans treat celebrities as extensions.
Many celebrities are also role models. They are father and mother figures, as I mentioned. Celebrities are proof that there is more to life than drab and routine and the mundane. Celebrities show us that beautiful – no, scrap this – perfect people do exist, and that they do lead charmed lives. There is hope yet.
This is the celebrity's message to his fans.
You can also become a celebrity one day. The celebrity is an inevitable downfall, and corruption is the modern-day equivalent of the medieval morality play.
This trajectory, from rags to riches and fame, and back to rags and worse, and back to fame, and back to rags, etc., this repetition compulsion proves that order and justice do prevail in the universe. There is cosmic justice, or at least poetic justice, hubris, vanity, grandiosity, reaching up above your level invariably gets you punished.
The celebrity is no better. Neither is he superior to his fans. His downfall proves this. It's very gratifying to watch a celebrity disintegrating and falling out of view. The discombobulated reporter is persistent, perseveres, and asks, why are celebrities narcissists? How is this disorder born in celebrities?
I slide seamlessly into my professor stance. Yes, I am a professor of psychology and an author of books about personality disorders, most notably malignant self-love: narcissism, or Revisited.
So I put on my professor mask and I respond. No one knows if pathological narcissism is the outcome of inherited traits, a sad result of abusive and traumatizing upbringing, or the confluence of both. Often in the same family with the same set of parents in an identical emotional environment, some siblings grow to be malignant narcissistswhile others are perfectly normal. And surely this indicates a genetic predisposition of some people to develop narcissism. It would seem reasonable to assume though at this stage there is not a shred of proof, mind you, but it seems reasonable to assume that the narcissist is born with a proclivity, with a propensity to develop narcissistic defenses. These are triggered by abuse or trauma during the formative years in infancy or during early adolescence. That much is true. The trigger is trauma and abuse by abuse, and referring to a spectrum of behaviors which objectify the child. Trait the child is an extension of the caregiver, the parent, or an instrument of gratification. Every behavior that doesn't allow the child to place boundaries, to separate, to individuate, all these behaviors are abusive. So, dotting, smothering, spoiling, pampering are as abusive as beating and starving the child. Abuse can be dished out by peers as well as by parents, or it can be the behavior of adult role models like teachers.
Okay, back to celebrities. Not all celebrities are narcissists, but some of them surely are.
We all search for positive cues from people around us. These cues reinforce in us certain behavior patterns.
There is nothing special in the fact that the narcissist celebrity does the same.
They also search for cues for feedback.
However, there are two major differences between the narcissistic and the normal personality.
The first difference is quantitative. The normal person is likely to welcome a moderate amount of attention, verbal attention, nonverbal attention. Healthy people want attention in the form of affirmation, approval, or even admiration.
But when healthy people are exposed to too much attention, it is perceived as onerous, difficult, and intrusion, best avoided. Destructive and negative criticism is avoided by healthy people altogether.
The narcissist in contrast is the mental equivalent of an alcoholic. He is insatiable. He is a whole without a bottom. He is a bottomless pit.
The narcissist directs his entire spectrum of behaviors, the entire panoply of conduct. In fact, the narcissist directs his life to obtain these pleasurable tidbits of attention.
The narcissist embeds this narcissistic supply in a coherent, completely biased picture of himself, the grandiosity, the cognitive distortion of grandiosity.
Then the narcissist uses narcissistic supply to regulate his labile, fluctuating sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
And this is a full-time job. He needs narcissistic supply every second of every minute of every day To elicit constant interest, the narcissist projects on to other people a confabulated, fictitious version of himself known as the false self.
And he tends to escalate behaviors.
As people develop tolerance to the narcissist, to his tricks and stratagems and gimmicks, to his eccentric and idiosyncratic behaviors, when they become inured, unresponsive to all his misconduct and all his attempts to attract attention. When they pay him no heed and they don't see him anymore, he escalates.
The false self is everything the narcissist is not.
False self is omniscient, all knowing, omnipotent, all powerful, charming, intelligent, infallible, rich, well-connected, etc.
The narcissist actually is not.
So he has to act. It's play acting.
And he radicalizes his play acting to extremes.
The narcissist proceeds then to harvest reactions, not to himself, but to his projected image. All the reactions the narcissist garners is to his false self, not to his self.
That's why he needs constant reassurance. That's why he works ceaselessly, indefatigably to obtain supply from family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, business partners, from colleagues. If these, if the adulation, the admiration, the attention, the fear, the respect, the applause, the affirmation, if these are not forthcoming, the narcissist demands them, extorts them.
Money complements a favorable critique, an appearance in the media, a social conquest, a career centered around attention. All these are converted into the same currency in the narcissist's mind, the currency we call narcissistic supply.
So the narcissist is not really interested in publicity per se. The narcissist doesn't really want to be famous or a celebrity or any of these. He is concerned with the reactions to being famous. He is concerned with the responses to being a celebrity.
The very fact that he is a celebrity or famous or accomplished means nothing to him because there's no him, there's no self, there's nobody there. It's an emptiness, it's a void.
He feeds off vampirically. He feeds off reactions and responses to his celebrity and fame.
He is concerned with reactions, not with appearances, not with substance. He monitors, how do people watch him, how they notice him, how they gossip and talk about him, how they debate his actions. It proves to him that he does exist through the gaze of these people.
The narcissist is a piece of collective action, is a kaleidoscope. The narcissist goes around hunting and gathering the way the expressions on people's faces change when they notice him.
He places himself at the center of attention or even as a figure of controversy, anything to garner attention. He constantly and recurrently pesters those nearest and dearest to him in a bid to reassure himself that he's not losing his fame, his magical touch, the attention of his social milieu.
This is where celebrity comes from. It's a variant of narcissism. The celebrity is a false self, writ large, leverage through media, show business and social media. It's a false self, it's fake.
Behind it, there's a wizard of Oz, cowering, small child, insecure not only of himself because he has no self, insecure of his own very own existence.
To feel alive, he needs to suck on other people's attention interminably and this is what celebrity is all about.
No wonder it's easy to hate celebrities. There is something alien, inhuman about the whole phenomenon.