Contempt (French title: Le m├ępris) is a film by Jean-Luc Godard released in 1963. It is the story of the end of a marriage, set against the backdrop of a conflict between art and commerce. Camille (Brigitte Bardot) falls out of love with her husband Paul Javal (Michel Piccoli) while he is rewriting the screenplay Odyssey by American producer Jeremiah Prokosch (Jack Palance). Paul is hired to work out a script for the new movie about Ulysses, directed by Fritz Lang (who plays himself) and produced by Prokosch. Because Paul abandons her by walking home while she drives with Prokosch in the producer's two-seater, Camille believes that her husband has sold her body in order to obtain the writing contract.

Prokosch, with his sneer and red Alfa Romeo, holds art films in contempt and wants Paul to help Lang commercialize the picture. Palance has one of the most memorable lines in movies with "When I hear the word 'culture' I reach for my checkbook".

"Contempt" is the failure or refusal to obey a court order. Court orders do not mean much if they cannot be backed by force. To take the most extreme example in U.S. history: in September 1957, the school district in Little Rock, Arkansas was ordered by a federal judge to desegregate Central High School by allowing nine black students to attend. The Governor of the state, Orval Faubus, expressed contempt for the judge's ruling by calling out the state National Guard to prevent the students from attending the school. When Governor Faubus failed to restore order and enforce the order, President Eisenhower dispatched the 101st Airbone Division to Little Rock.

Mostly, the mere threat of force is sufficient, but when a reminder is necessary, courts have contempt powers: the power to call upon the executive to restrain an individual.

Direct and Indirect Contempt

Direct contempt is contemptuous conduct in the immmediate presence of the judge. Lawyers are frequently the perpetrators of this kind of contempt, because lawyers, unlike the rest of us, have to spend a lot of time in front of judges. Direct contempt can be punished summarily. Thus, if I were to lose my temper and tell a judge to take his ruling and put it where the sun does not shine, the judge may instantly rule that I should spend a day or so in jail, and direct the bailiff to arrest and remove me from the court's presence. Judges have broad discretion in dealing with instances of direct contempt: an appellate court is likely to defer to the judge's decision about an act performed in his presence.

Indirect contempt is the failure to obey a court order, usually outside the direct presence of the judge. An example is failure to pay child support. Indirect contempt cannot instantly be punished. The court must require a hearing, and allow the "contemnor" a chance to prove any defenses (excuses). With the child support example, the defense might be that the contemnor has no money. Since being broke is not a willful failure to pay, there is no contempt for the court's order.

Civil and Criminal Contempt

The difference between civil and criminal contempt is purpose, and thus the conditions of release. Criminal contempt is punitive. The contemnor is sentenced to imprisonment for a definite term, to punish a specific instance of deliberate, intentional disobedience, following a trial and proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

Civil contempt, on the other hand, is remedial. The purpose is to coerce defendant to perform the act ordered by the court. Imprisonment for civil contempt is ordered where a contemnor has refused to do an affirmative act required by the provision of a mandatory order (such as an order by the court to answer certain questions). Imprisonment in such cases is not inflicted as punishment, but instead is intended to coerce a defendant to comply (e.g. answer the questions). No definite term of imprisonment is set, rather, the term lasts as long as the contemnor refuses to obey. Since the contemnor can secure his release at any time by compliance, he is said to "carry the keys of his prison in his own pocket.".

Contempt is the word I hear most commonly used to describe the intersection of the emotions of anger and disgust. It's also, I argue, the most dangerous human emotion because of how its components intersect. Anger makes one want to challenge or engage aggressively with something or someone. It's about navigating and preserving ones status in a social hierarchy by not being a doormat who others can take advantage of with impunity. Disgust is a response to things which are perceived as gross or infectious. It makes one want to avoid, remove, or destroy the offending thing. I see a lot of people conflate disgust and fear but fear only really covers the avoidance response. They might converge on destructive solutions in the extremities but your response to a dog turd and an rattle snake are very different things.

This conflation of fear and disgust is kinda rampant in social topics. Just to take an easy example: homophobia. I grew up in a red state and while I'm not a mind reader when I met people who'd I'd peg as homophobic they weren't scared of gay people, they were disgusted. I think most bigotry comes from disgust not fear. Back on the topic of contempt, if you find your carpet and floors covered in muddy foot prints you will be disgusted and if you find out that your housemates did this, don't think its a problem, and won't help clean up then you're liable to be angry. You might just want new living accommodations. Disgust unaddressed becomes contempt. This is really important to understand because anger carries a gut level immediacy to it's imperative and disgusting things don't have rights. Even if you don't believe that second claim it feels true in the moment and unless you're principled and/or self-aware it will drive your behavior. Contempt is a lethal emotion, literally. It's been the driving force behind more hate crimes and purges than fear. It's very different and it makes people act far worse.

It's also increasingly common. The political and social atmosphere of this decade isn't one of fear. It's contempt. I really hope that if somebody finds this node ten years from now it seems overblown, but I don't think it will.


Con*tempt" (?; 215), n. [L. contemptus, fr. contemnere: cf. OF. contempt. See Contemn.]


The act of contemning or despising; the feeling with which one regards that which is esteement mean, vile, or worthless; disdain; scorn.

Criminal contempt of public feeling. Macaulay.

Nothing, says Longinus, can be great, the contempt of which is great. Addison.


The state of being despised; disgrace; shame.

Contempt and begarry hangs upon thy back. Shaks.


An act or expression denoting contempt.

Little insults and contempts. Spectator.

The contempt and anger of his lip. Shak.

4. Law

Disobedience of the rules, orders, or process of a court of justice, or of rules or orders of a legislative body; disorderly, contemptuous, or insolent language or behavior in presence of a court, tending to disturb its proceedings, or impair the respect due to its authority.

Contempt is in some jurisdictions extended so as to include publications reflecting injuriously on a court of justice, or commenting unfairly on pending proceedings; in other jurisdictions the courts are prohibited by statute or by the constitution from thus exercising this process.

Syn. -- Disdain; scorn; derision; mockery; contumely; neglect; disregard; slight.


© Webster 1913.

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