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Vigna v. Levant: Serenity, Nausea, and Red Underpants

What goes on at a defamation trial? Read on and I'll tell you, for I bore witness to the spectacle of the ages.

Terrence Watson - June 25, 2010

Then there was the matter of "fudge", and this phrase from my notes -- “Fudge makes the courtroom laugh” -- jumped out at me, underlining the farcical nature of this entire exercise. We debated the meaning of fudge. I'm a philosopher and I find that unbearably trivial. It was at this point I realized that the red underpants were a fitting addition to this narrative.

I saw them, from the corner of my eye, as the plaintiff bent to gather his many, many boxes, full of useless screen shots, irrelevant transcripts, and (for all I knew) Ezra's grade school report cards. And I saw a lot of them, his red underpants. I have absolutely no reason to point this out, except it made several of us laugh. We didn't want to. We're not mean. But there is, within humans, the tendency to ridicule (I have read that laughter, in humans, is related to snarling.)

Ridiculing someone is not the same as defaming him. Comparing him to a Joe Pesci character, or George's dad from that Seinfeld episode, is not to libel him. And yes, I know there was more to the lawsuit than that, but that was still a part of it, and symptomatic, perhaps, of deeper questions or issues. "Were you mocking me? Holding me up to ridicule?" Vigna demanded at one point, reminding me of another Joe Pesci character.

I should not have laughed at any of this, and especially not the underpants. In a perfect world, run by human rights commissions, I would not have laughed at anything so superficial.

And yet I did. It made me feel mean, but I rode with it. As I spoke with Ezra after court was adjourned, he told me about his plans to go away for a while. I could not resist. I shot those underpants a look, preparing my diaphragm for increased volume: “That sounds like an excellent way to recover your serenity.”

It was passive aggressive, but my comment was heard. I left the courtroom, head held high, though I could not explain why, and quickly sought out the bitter stimulation of an Americano from the nearby Starbucks. The day was fine. There were beautiful women. My nausea, finally, had gone away.

I had, as a matter of fact, become quite serene.

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