Some of you may remember (how could you forget!) when Lindsay Lohan sued E*Trade for featuring Lindsay the “milkaholic” baby in its commercial that debuted during the Super Bowl. Fortunately for the Lohan clan, and more important, for baseless lawsuits everywhere, the suit seems to have paid off. In September of this year, there were reports that Lindsay and E*Trade settled the case out of court and that the Lohans were “very happy” with the outcome (I’m sure, but I don’t know, they settled for two free online trades).
Emboldened by this success, the Lohans strike again! The latest victim: Glee.
On last week’s episode of Glee, Gwyneth Paltrow guest starred as Holly Holiday, a laid-back substitute teacher who likes to incorporate current events and popular topics into her lesson plans. In an effort to keep her Spanish students entertained, Holly asked her class, in Spanish, about Lindsay Lohan’s multiple stints in rehab: “Lindsay Lohan is totally crazy, right?” and “How many times has Lindsay Lohan been to rehab?”
Not surprisingly, those Lindsay references sparked Lindsay’s protective “momager” to take action. Dina Lohan claims that the Lindsay references were “tasteless” and she is now threatening to sue Glee for defaming her daughter (I bet nobody saw this coming…wink, wink).
Can Glee really be held liable for defaming Lindsay? It’s unlikely.
In Defamation 101, one of the first things you learn is that a defamatory statement must be a statement of fact, not opinion. And when humor is involved, a statement that is reasonably understood as a joke is generally not considered defamatory.
Glee is a funny show—it’s filled with humor, singing and dancing, and important life lessons. When the average viewer heard Holly Holiday ask whether Lindsay was “totally crazy,” he/she could not possibly think that the Glee writers were trying to describe Lindsay as being mentally ill. Instead, the average viewer probably laughed (Gwyneth Paltrow talking about Lindsay Lohan in Spanish is kind of funny, right?) and understood that the statements were meant to be a humorous take on Lindsay’s recent unreasonable actions. (I mean, how many times can a person go to rehab? For those of you who have kept tabs on Lindsay’s rehab track record, the answer is approximately five times.)
In other words, the Glee writers were merely expressing their opinions about Lindsay’s frequent rehab visits (and exits and re-visits and re-exits) and the drama surrounding her Beverly Hills court appearances. It is abundantly clear that Holly Holiday’s Spanish lesson was not intended to convey some false assertion of fact, but instead portrayed the Glee writers’ comical opinions about Lindsay-related current events. That surely cannot be considered defamation. Besides, Ms. Holiday might have been using “crazy” in its slang meaning of “excellent.”“Lindsay Lohan is totally excellent, right?,” demonstrating a subtle linguistic point of losing crazy’s “excellent” meaning in its “loca” translation.
Another important thing you will learn in Defamation 101 is that truth of the statements made is a complete defense. In other words, if the allegedly defamatory statement is actually true, then there can be no defamation. I am fairly certain that the Glee folks would have a pretty easy time proving that the statement about Lindsay’s multiple rehab stints was actually true. The Lohans will, of course, try to persuade the court that Lindsay is not insane, and the Gleelawyers will argue otherwise, including putting on the stand highly paid expert psychiatrists who will testify their mother is crazy if you pay them $600 an hour. The jury of Lindsay’s peers, a frightening thought, will decide.
I’ll leave the discussion of the increased difficulty public figures face in proving defamation for another blog. So, to sum it up, the Glee folks should not be too worried about Dina Lohan’s threatened suit. But I guess Lindsay won’t be making a guest appearance on the show any time soon…
I’ll leave you with this bit of unsolicited “legal” advice. If you badly feel the need to defame someone, as we often do, but want to play it safe, do it in a dead or dying language like Latin, Sanskrit or Yiddish. That way, you get the satisfaction, but nobody will understand what you’re saying.