America is an increasingly crass nation, true. But there are still some places where decorum and good breeding are expected and even demanded.
For instance, anyone acquainted with cryptid enthusiasts knows that a gentleman seeking introduction to their society must first build a solid repute for probity. In turn, those admitted to the drawing-rooms and salons of the cryptidologists know that only the most polished among them can aspire to the rarefied circle of Bigfoot hunters, the royalty of the cryptid-seeking community. And yet even Bigfoot hunters — elite as they are — can encounter self-doubt when they ask themselves, "yes, my poise and quality have made me a Bigfoot hunter, but do I possess the savoir-faire necessary to achieve a position amongst the Bigfoot hunters of Florida? Can I persevere in that imperial land, where the exacting standards for urbanity and good deportment strain the abilities even of graduates of the finest finishing schools in Tampa and Orlando?"
By necessity, when swimming in these heady waters, a good reputation is everything. So you see, when one Florida Bigfoot hunter accused another Florida Bigfoot hunter of being crazy, the latter had no choice but to sue for defamation.
Our story takes us to the aforementioned Florida, where Bigfoot is sought by our players. I admit that I — embarrassingly untutored in these things — labored under the naive belief that Bigfoot is a phenomenon of the Pacific Northwest. That, apparently, is an error on the level of believing that Duke is one of the Ivies. Bigfoot-hunting has a rich tradition in Florida. Some say that Bigfoot (never say Bigfeet; they'll wonder if you came in by the servant's entrance) migrated to Florida for its warmer climes and the easy supply of food (particularly in the late afternoon and early evening hours); those prone to unkindness suggest that the migration was a result of a Bigfoot flight seeking refuge from the increasing prevalence of Chupacabra-Americans in their traditional realms in the West.
Florida is supposed to be a land of civility and good judgment. But something went badly awry in 2005 during the Bigfoot Field Researchs Organization Expedition, an annual social event that is a jewel of the season like the Kentucky Derby or the opening of a new production of Die Walküre. The expedition — conducted by the intrepid Matthew Moneymaker, of the California Moneymakers — was quite ruined as a result of a disagreement between Moneymaker and Mr. John Johnsen, heir to the Grendel Films fortune and author of the esteemed philosophical work Hunt the Dogman.
It would be uncouth to delve into all of the details; ought not such things remain between gentlemen? Suffice it to say that Mssrs. Moneymaker and Johnsen have both philosophical and personal disputes, and allowed those disputes to ripen into open and notorious hostility. Some say Mr. Johnsen fired the first salvo, accusing Mr. Moneymaker of premising the expedition on money rather than art and science (surely this was a deft thrust at an unfortunate last name), and of mismanaging it entirely. He concluded, using the wit now in fashion among Florida's devotees of Mr. Wilde, . . . "[m]oney, sir, not the truth. . . . So if you want the people here or anywhere to hold anything you say as the truth, perhaps a soul searching is in order. What goes around comes around, sir. Perhaps the worm has started to turn."
This cheek quite overcame the better angels of Mr. Moneymaker's nature. In his response, he asserted that Mr. Johnsen's conduct on the expedition was quite inappropriate, and in his disquiet even stooped to use words like "not in the same reality as us" and even the insult-crescendo "colorful, middle-aged, paranoid schitzo from Tampa." He even accused Mr. Johnsen of booking the expedition upon false pretenses and bringing firearms with the intent of shooting Bigfoot, rather than merely watching Bigfoot and, ideally, communing with Bigfoot in some socially acceptable form or other. In addition, Mr. Moneymaker asserted that Mr. Johnsen is not a member of the mainstream Bigfoot hunting community, but a sort of conspiracy theorizer — a Bigfoot Truther, if you will — who subscribes to the controversial belief that the famous Patterson footage contains evidence of a Bigfoot Massacre.
This could not stand. Johnsen had no choice but to defend his reputation. Duels having sadly fallen out of favor — for let me assure you, a duel between experienced Bigfoot hunters is a thing of grave and terrible majesty — Johnsen turned to the courts and filed suit for defamation of character. You can find his complaint here and the docket of actions in the case to date here. Johnsen sues not just Moneymaker, but Cryptomundo, Inc., a company that reportedly runs the Bigfoot hunting site Cryptomundo, and its proprietor, Mr. Lauren Coleman. The complaint, as legal circumstances require, includes the offending communications regarding Mr. Johnsen. Mr. Johnsen asserts that he has falsely been branded as crazy and falsely accused of carrying firearms into the Ocala National Forrest.
But the legal system — which, after all, is a vocation for tradesmen — does not recognize the inviolability of good reputation of society's elite. Whatever the truth of what happened on that ill-fated expedition, Mr. Johnsen faces some formidable challenges. Under the First Amendment, we all have rather free reign to state opinions on a wide variety of matters. Courts — even courts in Florida — generally find that statements of opinion are by their nature not defamatory. Courts have often found opinions like "colorful, middle-aged, paranoid schitzo" to be protected speech. See, e.g., Lampkin-Asam v. Miami Daily News, Inc., 408 So.2d 666, 667 (1981) (calling plaintiff as “almost paranoid” was expression of pure opinion entitled to absolute constitutional protection); Wetzel v. Gulf Oil Corp., 455 F.2d 857 (9th Cir.1972) (calling plaintiff “nuts” and “crazy” was expression of pure opinion); Fram v. Yellow Cab Co. of Pittsburgh, 380 F.Supp. 1314 (W.D.Pa.1974) (statement that plaintiff's comments sounded “a little bit like the sort of paranoid thinking that you get from a schizophrenic” was pure opinion); DeMoya v. Walsh, 441 So.2d 1120 (1983) (calling co-worker “raving maniac” and “raving idiot” was pure opinion, not slander).
Regrettably, then, no matter how much the words "not in the same reality as us" cut Mr. Johnsen to the quick — no matter how much it hurt to have it suggested that he had some mental defect that did not allow him to see the same reality as other Floridians spending their weekends traipsing through the woods looking for Bigfoot – the courts may give him no solace. Indeed, in these dark days when the sort who become jurors are impudent and scornful of their social betters, there is a real danger that a jury may not believe that Mr. Johnsen has been damaged at all. They may even conclude that you can't hurt a professional Bigfoot hunter's reputation by calling him crazy.
I just don't know what the world is coming to sometimes.
Hat tip to Alan.