Josh Trevino (a la Tacitus) wrote this account of uber-celebrity Ashley Judd on a trip to Africa. Someone's lawyers didn't like it - so it was removed from its initial page. Luckily for the world at large - someone over at Freerepublic.com saved a copy.
Whom the Gods Would Destroy....They first make jaw-droppingly attractive and immensely famous. Exhibit A: Ashley Judd, world-renowned actress, would-be leftist political agitator, and self-regarded humanitarian. I see in the latest issue of Glamour -- because someone showed me -- that Ms Judd has had some troubles. Deeply personal troubles. Inner, psychological troubles, including Ò[c]odependence in my relationships; depression; blaming, raging, numbing, denying and minimizing my feelings.Ó These things are, curiously, Òaddictions.Ó
As I read the Glamour piece, familiar things came back to me: Her need to mention her Òperfection.Ó Her relaying of third-party affirmations of her attractiveness and personal integrity. Her desire to make others' suffering about her. Her sly digs at her sister. And of course, her need to tell us all about it.
You see, dear reader, Ms Judd and I have spent some time together. Do read on.
To set the scene, I should note that in early 2005, my then-employer was a major donor to YouthAIDS, an ÒawarenessÓ organization that does some AIDS-prevention work abroad, but mostly appears to function as a sort of clearinghouse for the easing of the celebrity conscience. (For a sterling example of that, see its latest campaign.) One of its periodic publicity tactics is the sending of its celebrities on junkets to the wretched corners of the Earth: that's how Ashley Judd came to do a three-nation tour of Africa in the winter of that year. YouthAIDS invited the president of my employer, who didn't want to go (Africa-phobia being a common affliction of the less-traveled businessman). He passed it down to his subordinate, who passed it on to hers, who passed it on to me. For my part, several days in South Africa with a movie star sounded like a swell deal. And so I found myself on a very odd trip with a very odd person. Given that Ashley's ambitions of turning her online trip journal into a book have come to naught -- in part, no doubt, because the YouthAIDS staffers kept having to scrub it of bizarre details like rhapsodies on the tactile joys of cheetah testicles -- history must know the truth of that voyage. Or at least, my version of it.
And what, you ask, was travel with Ashley Judd like? For starters, there were the little things:
- She obsessively wiped down her little VAIO laptop with alcohol wipes. To sterilize it. As she did after. every. use. (In her Glamour confessional, she did mention this as a ÒcontrolÓ compulsion.)
- She was badly constipated, perhaps because she chowed down on Powerbars with alacrity. And she talked about it a lot.
- She was prone to making pronouncements about her spirituality. After an interviewer asked her about it, she replied: ÒChurch and religion are SO important to me. The God thing, the Jesus thing, the Buddha thing, so important to me.Ó
And then there were the bigger things.
My first meeting with her was in the South African Airways lounge in Cape Town. She showed us this photo of her rallying the Cats fans at a Kentucky basketball game. She said, ÒHave you SEEN this photo? I LOVE this photo. We weren't doing so well, and so I came out at halftime -- even though I was on crutches! -- and rallied the crowd. And they SAY....Ó -- dramatic pause -- Ò....that that made the difference in bringing us victory.Ó
Dumbly eager to ingratiate, and having swiftly realized that bringing up Ensign Lefler was a bad move, I responded: ÒOne of my friends sent me that photo, telling me what a big UK fan you are.Ó
Her eyes narrowed, and she assumed a look of boredom and disgust: ÒMmm-hmmm.Ó She turned away.
Days later, sitting across from Ashley at a pleasant little patio-restaurant on the sunny veld, I tried again: ÒMy wife wants me to tell you that she just saw De-Lovely, and she really liked your work in it.Ó
ÒWell, yeah,Ó replied Ashley, as if I'd just announced a blue sky, ÒIt's a good movie.Ó
Nothing quite seemed to work, and things only went downhill. One morning, just after 10am, I found myself in the lobby of our hotel in Johannesburg, waiting with the YouthAIDS personnel for a very late Ashley. I called up an acquaintance in town with whom I was planning to have dinner later, and in the course of the conversation, she expressed immense excitement at the nearness of Ashley Judd, whom she apparently admired. As she gushed about her admiration, lo, Ashley appeared, walking a bit aimlessly through the lobby, holding a steaming teapot in one hand and a handbag in the other. I should preface the following by relating that when at the RNC in 2004, Mo Rocca was actually generous enough to take my cellphone and chat with my wife for a minute (thus earning me some points on the home front). I figured I might do the same for this die-hard African Ashley Judd fan. Cell phone in hand, I walked up to Ashley, who wore a confused look as I approached. She pulled her handbag and teapot close to her, and I noted that the latter had a large WOMEN FOR KERRY-EDWARDS sticker on it.
ÒAshley, I don't mean to impose, but would you mind saying hello to one of your South African fans?Ó
She narrowed her eyes at me and snapped, ÒYes, I would mind. You need to give me some time to get the cobwebs out!Ó I apologized and backed away. My acquaintance did not speak with her adored celebrity, but she did get to overhear someone she knew annoy her. I ended the conversation and followed the YouthAIDS entourage out to the waiting vehicles. Ashley staggered forward, gripping her pot of tea and taking it into the car with her. One of the YouthAIDS staffers asked, ÒDo you want a cup for that tea?Ó She mumbled, ÒI have one somewhere.Ó But where? In that newly-rented Land Rover? She slouched into the back seat and disappeared.
When we arrived at the clinic we were visiting, a couple of the YouthAIDS people came up to me: ÒWhat on earth did you do to Ashley this morning?Ó I explained, and they told me that she was feeling terrible. Make that TERRIBLE, in all caps. The poor woman had her massage at 7pm the previous night, and went to bed shortly thereafter. If this seems absurdly early, know that Ms Judd required a whopping fourteen hours of downtime -- most of which was sleep -- per day. But Òtraffic noiseÓ woke her up at 6am (which struck me as unlikely -- she was on the tenth floor of a well-appointed luxury hotel in placid, leafy Rosebank). With the appointed fourteen hours thus interrupted, she slept again till about 9:45am -- which meant that when I ambushed her with the cell phone, she had just awoken. To top it all off, she was now convinced that she had caught some manner of cold or flu from one of the YouthAIDS staff members.
I need to add that this afflicted YouthAIDS staff member was a total trouper. She worked hard all day, despite her constant sneezing, sniffling, and coughing: three things Ashley Judd had not done once since awakening and seizing her teapot. The staff member? Sent home. Ashley Judd? She demanded the summoning of a Chinese healer-acupuncturist so she might be cured immediately.
Now, let me remind the reader that we were in bloody Africa. There are many lovely things about Africa, and especially about South Africa. Still, continent-wide, the standard for a good day there is pretty set:
- Do I own nothing?
- Is my flesh rotting?
- Do I have to sleep near or on feces?
If you can answer no to all three questions, you have had a good day in Africa! The YouthAIDS staff scattered to the four winds, seeking a Chinese healer-acupuncturist for Ashley. Mercifully, the hotel staff knew of one. They'd dealt with American celebrities before.
Meanwhile, we went to clinics. We went to an orphanage. We went to Soweto. And we saw horrible things. Dire things. Things like a kid so poor he glided past us on a single rollerblade. Yeah -- one on one foot. That impressed me. And every place we went, Ashley Judd swooped down like a good Southern matron and hugged the small children. She cried with destitute mothers. She stroked the heads of poor black people. The photographers from Glamour and Conde Nast loved it. And then, she's back in the car, and Ashley is tired, and Ashley is sick, and Ashley needs acupuncture. I asked the YouthAIDS senior person whether maybe Ashley was a bit spoiled, and she told me the story of how Ashley refused to do their first promotional tour to Cambodia unless she was allowed to fly British Airways first class all the way. ÒThat's quite an expense for us as a humanitarian organization....but we ended up having to do it.Ó
Slumming it for the shorties.
A profound love for humanity, but no time for humans: the very picture of the narcissist celebrity leftist.
Fast-forward a few days. The road to the De Beers mines in Cullinan is a long one, and so there was plenty of time for Ashley Judd, teapot in hand and this time with a cup, to hold forth on the critical issues of the day to the captive audience in her Land Rover. I sat behind her and listened to her monologues on her constipation, her preferences in clothing, and her water temperature preferences:
ÒYou have to drink warm water -- body temperature is best -- because otherwise the cold makes your gut clench up and the body has to expend energy warming it. That's why I never use ice.Ó
No one, including those who understood that this was utter nonsense, contradicted her. After all, she also believes in qi energy and the manipulation thereof by healer-acupuncturists. And that's not all she believes in:
ÒWe got this little wood ring....what was the tree called? Anyway, you burn it because, according to African folklore, it wards off evil spirits. Sort of like Native Americans and sage -- which I carry lots of and burn all the time.Ó
And then there was her little amulet around her neck:
ÒThat? That's Lakshmi, the Hindu goddess of Montana.Ó
No further explanation was offered. The amulet, by the bye, rested underneath another, cross-shaped one. [Ed. note: as I look up Lakshmi, I see that she is sometimes perceived as the Hindu goddess of money, so in fairness, perhaps I mis-heard that one.]
And then there was her participation in the great moral struggles of the modern era:
ÒI was so thrilled to meet Bishop Tutu. He has been such a hero to me. I used to listen to records of his speeches smuggled out in the 1980s. He so inspired me, with his fight against these forces that totally perverted and distorted what spirituality and religion are supposed to mean. I really think that his fight then echoes my fight today in my own country. I've gone and spoken with so many of these Evangelicals and these conservative churches, trying to open their eyes to what faith is supposed to be about.Ó Sigh. ÒIt's so much like Bishop Tutu's struggle.Ó
Historical NB: in the 1980s, Bishop Desmond Tutu was internationally known and his speeches were widely available. Furthermore, no one smuggled anything out on records. I'm just saying. On the positive side of things, Judd is one of the few Americans I've spoken with to appear to grasp that apartheid was at bottom a theological problem: although comparing the Afrikaner perversion of Dutch Calvinism with Christian conservatism in the United States is damned foolish.
In time, Ashley fell silent and began to brood. The other women in the car started complaining about how the Bush Administration makes NGOs receiving aid sign a pledge that they don't support prostitution. YouthAIDS founder Kate Roberts fumed, ÒThat's fucking ridiculous!Ó
ÒWhy,Ó I asked, Òdo you think it's ridiculous?Ó
ÒBecause it just stigmatizes and denies aid to a whole class of people, and it's an absurd precondition.Ó
ÒYou don't have to eschew prostitutes,Ó I said, Òjust prostitution. It's not like you support that, right?Ó
ÒOf course we don't support prostitution, Josh.Ó
ÒDoes it deny aid to anyone or restrict your work?Ó
ÒThen why not sign it if it's just pro forma?Ó (Ed. note: because they are pathologically unable to accept anything at all from the Bush Administration -- even aid grants.)
Like a descending Fury, Ashley Judd whipped about to face me. She barked, ÒWhy don't they ask them to sign pledges that they support gender equality? Equal pay for women? Education for women and little girls? Huh?Ó
A deathly silence descended. Did I want to get into a shouting match with the avatar of Desmond Tutu-in-America? No. Ashley rolled her eyes, let out an exasperated sigh, and faced forward.
We reached the mines and went into a local clinic. There, I sat across from Ashley Judd at a long table as we listened to a briefing on the facility. It was sweltering hot, and she shortly gripped her empty glass and looked around, mouthing the word Òwater.Ó I swiftly seized the nearby pitcher and poured Ashley Judd a cool, tall, refreshing glass of ice water. She looked shocked, and then glared at me. She released her glass, turned around, and pulled a bottle of (hopefully warm) water out of one of the YouthAIDS staffer's hands. She guzzled it all.
For lunch, we went to a delightful open-air restaurant run by an elderly Boer couple. We drank rooibos tea and scarfed down biltong in the heat of a veld afternoon, and all was lovely. Ashley Judd regaled us with tales of profound human suffering:
ÒI will never fly Virgin again. Last time, Dario and I were in the first-class section, and they seated us where we could hear EVERYTHING going on in the galley. Clink, clink, clink, the whole time. I asked them to stop, and the little motherfuckers gave me such attitude. It was horrible -- my husband saw what was coming, and he reached out to hold my hand, and I bawled all the way from Los Angeles to London.Ó
Later, emerging from a Catholic-run mental-retardation care facility with some particularly horrific cases of human misery, she leaned over to confide, ÒMy sister could never handle this. Not like I can.Ó
Ah, Wynonna. Fragile, glasslike Wynonna. Not durable and hardy like your sis.