Scarlett Johansson, Grégoire Delacourt, and the Case of a Self-Obsessed Celebrity
On Monday, June 10, 2013, The Independent reported that screen actress Scarlett Johansson is suing best selling French author Grégoire Delacourt and his publisher JC Lattes for describing a character in his novel La première chose qu’on regard as Johansson’s doppelgänger. The article can be found here. According to Johansson, the author’s use of her name is a “breach and fraudulent use of personal rights.” The author has responded rather eloquently, saying that he had no intention to insult Johansson, and that the character is a comment on celebrity culture and in many ways pays homage to Johansson’s screen persona. Then he went on to wonder if he would be sued by airbag manufactures for having one of his characters in his novel cause injury from an airbag.
This story represents another one of those hyperbolic, self-aggrandizing celebrity moments that can only be described as absurd. Years from now, people will not remember this story, but if someone were to stumble upon it, they would probably wonder whether or not The Independent swapped places with The Onion for a day. How can something like this be taken seriously? I do not mean this question as a rhetorical one. I seriously want to know how someone can take Johansson’s claim seriously.
Surely this moment, should it be accurately reported and should it progress in the court of law, will be Johansson’s downfall. Surely the decision she and her team have made to sue Delacourt will only tarnish her star image, perhaps irrevocably. While I can only speculate, I find it hard to believe that Johansson is in dire need of a legal settlement, and it is equally difficult to imagine that she is severely hurt by Delacourt’s decision to drop her name in his novel. If both of these are true, then I will fed-ex a string section to her immediately.
While I make light of this ridiculous situation, I think it is important to discuss as a successful outcome for Johansson can potentially threaten artistic expression. If an author such as Delacourt cannot use a public figure’s name in a creative, artistic way, what else will artists not be able to do? I can certainly understand if Delacourt used the novel as an excuse to libel Johansson or subtly and indirectly threaten her. But to simply incorporate her name into the novel to physically describe another character is not enough to warrant a lawsuit, regardless of whichever way her team wants to spin the law. Moreover, for Johansson to think that a minor concern over her image is actually significant in the larger scheme of the world, in which people starve and die and struggle to make the kind of money in their whole lives that Johansson makes in a month, is typical of the contemporary celebrity’s complete narcissism. This is no different than the stars who become upset after Ricky Gervais jokes about them at the Golden Globe Awards. In fact, it may be a little different, because those stars aren’t suing Gervais for money.
I do not personally believe that a lawsuit like this should see the light of day, but I hope that Johansson understands how damaging this can be to her career if it does–more damaging than Delacourt’s fictional words ever could be. I hope that she realizes how petty and out of touch she and those who represent her appear by following through with this case. To be clear: I don’t know anything about Johansson and I do not pretend to make any claims about her personage. I think she is a decent actress and her performance in Lost in Translation (2003) is a career highlight. All I can do is comment on the image that she promotes in the public eye, as reported by The Independent and other news outlets. This image is merely the case of another self-obsessed star who has lost touch with reality.
Those who have read Delacourt’s novel seem to agree that he presents Johansson in a favorable light. How much more favorable to how she is now presenting herself, only time can tell.
What do you think? Leave a comment.