The trial between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard continues its downward plunge, airing daily doses of dirty laundry, bringing out the worst in its audience.
Live-streaming on multiple platforms, featuring a wide range of celebrity witnesses, the trial has been a sordid spectacle from the beginning, a cruel parody of reality television; few other events are capable of maintaining this amount of attention for such an extended period of time – celebrity scandals usually fade as fast as they arrive on our timelines.
But the “serialized” nature of the case, the constant drips of new information, have turned this trial into a goldmine of content, launching small creators into the stratosphere – legal experts, armchair experts, and gossip merchants are all armed with pickaxes, hacking away like there’s no tomorrow.
Amid the swirling social media hysteria, it’s easy to forget what the trial is even about – defamation, concerning an op-ed Heard wrote in 2018 for The Washington Post, in which she names herself as a figure of abuse, without naming Depp. But Depp’s lawyers argue that the implication was obvious, that Heard sabotaged Depp’s reputation, and subsequently lost him several high-profile acting roles, such as the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
The jury will soon decide if Depp was wronged, but in the court of public opinion, he has already achieved a warped victory.
Johnny Depp, a superstar who has played several iconic characters in family blockbusters, enjoys the advantage of a dedicated fanbase he has cultivated for decades; the man is integrated into the childhood memories of many, like Robin Williams and Mark Hamill.
Nobody wants to see their heroes fall, and Heard’s accusations against Depp sparked a defensive backlash that has since mutated into a gleefully misogynistic witch hunt. As this trial has proceeded, Depp’s fans have normalized a level of hatred and mockery of her that echoes the repulsive manner in which the media and public bullied Britney Spears.
One particularly egregious example emerged on TikTok, where audio of Heard describing the extent of Depp’s abuse was widely used as a meme format, before being removed by the platform.
Amber Heard is considerably younger, a less prolific, less influential actor than Depp – she hasn’t built a lovable public persona, no goofy pirate alter-ego to soften the blows of abuse accusations. The beginning of the trial featured some pretty damning evidence against her, such as an audio recording of Heard admitting to hitting Depp, downplaying his injury, and gaslighting him.
But the two recorded each other quite a bit, during their lowest moments, painting a more complicated picture. Intimate, intoxicated conversations, revoltingly misogynistic texts, outbursts of rage and violence, blades, broken bottles, intact bottles, and trashed hotel rooms – as Heard’s team brings out more witnesses and evidence, Depp’s history of instability is becoming clearer.
Depp’s fans, sensing the turn of the tide, are retreating into wilder conspiracy theories, growing increasingly detached from reality in their bid to prove Depp’s innocence. The most dedicated segment of his vast, formidable fandom is very much “pro-Johnny,” but would be better described as “anti-Amber.”
Depp’s fandom has been busy pumping out ludicrously one-sided propaganda, crafting an imaginative mythology around Heard which frames her as a wild caricature of the “crazy girl” – there’s a whole alternate universe out there, where Heard recites movie lines as evidence, sniffs cocaine on the stand, uses prosthetics to create fake injuries, and even murdered her own mother in 2020 to stop her from testifying in the trial.
On a cultural level, this has long ceased to be about Heard and Depp – the two actors have transcended into symbols, their toxic relationship weaved into the content mill, emerging as silky, easy-to-digest narratives.
Like the majority of online discourse, #MeToo struggles with nuance – most of the stories out of Hollywood feature villains as one-dimensional as their big-screen counterparts, hideously predatory personalities abusing their power, leaving scores of victims in their wake (and even then, there was a reactionary backlash against the women who dared speak out).
There have been no high-profile cases that spark a healthy discourse concerning abuse against men, who often suffer in silence. Lacking an outlet, abused men and sympathetic women have rallied behind Depp, while misogynists acting in bad faith have also answered the call to arms, seizing the opportunity to permanently damage the #MeToo movement.
Depp’s case could set a precedent for abusers to sue their victims – it’s already started with Marilyn Manson, Depp’s close friend, who has been accused of rape by several women, and is now suing one of his accusers, Evan Rachel Wood, for defamation. Depp’s fans have since rallied behind Manson.
Fun fact – Manson is godfather to Depp’s daughter, Lily-Rose, who recently suffered a pile-on from Depp’s fans, who angrily accused her of not publicly supporting her father.
After weeks of mudslinging, both celebrities are permanently stained; Depp has lost Pirates of the Caribbean, and Fantastic Beasts, while Heard’s future in Aquaman seems bleak. Once this trial concludes, casting either of the two actors will be seen as an inherently political statement, certain to spark controversy.
This trial simply doesn’t provide a good space for discussing the nuances of domestic abuse or gendered violence – it’s a messy, disjointed narrative that offers no life lessons. But that doesn’t change the fact that the events of this trial will ripple through our culture and negatively affect the way the public perceives abuse allegations against powerful, popular men.
The gruesome details of Depp and Heard’s poisonous relationship didn’t need to be publicized to the world – but this is, seemingly, exactly what Depp wanted.
After all, Depp keeps dragging Heard into the courtroom, seeking as public a platform as possible; this trial follows his unsuccessful attempt to sue for libel in the UK, where a judge ruled it was accurate to describe Depp as a “wife-beater,” finding that 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence against Heard had occurred.
In this trial, when Depp took to the stand to testify, he admitted that the reason he brought this case to court was:
“It was the only time I was able to fight back and use my own voice.”
But why should we, the public, give a single shit about Depp’s reputation? The man has been self-sabotaging his own career long before he met Amber Heard – his many excesses and on-set misbehaviour have been well-documented in The Hollywood Reporter.
There have been many sick jokes made during this trial, but the sickest joke of all might be the fact that this whole ordeal was seemingly sparked by Disney firing Depp from the role of Captain Jack Sparrow. According to Depp, he never got to give his character a “proper goodbye.”
Nevermind the fact that Depp has played this character no less than 5 times, each performance more phoned-in than the last, to the point where Depp reportedly hired a sound engineer to feed him his lines through an earpiece, so he didn’t have to bother memorizing them, all while being paid millions of dollars.
I don’t know which of these two narcissistic celebrities was a worse partner – but I do know who wanted to make these sordid details public.