The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial isn’t as complicated as you might think
In recent weeks, as Johnny Depp’s libel lawsuit against his ex-wife Amber Heard has continued to eclipse nearly all other news stories and dominate major social media platforms, I’ve noticed that normal people in my life – Those who haven’t had access to the Law&Crime Network’s live broadcast of the proceedings on their laptops since it began in April often feel that the case is impenetrably complex. They’re not entirely wrong: Depp-Heard 2022, playing at least through the end of this week in Fairfax, Va., is the sinkhole of a strangely toxic relationship. But much of the online chatter about the trial is noise rather than signal; it obscured how simple the root of the matter is and how that simplicity makes the case all the more bizarre and tragic.
Depp’s fifty million dollar libel suit against Heard hinges on the first part of a sentence, which she published in a Washington op-ed. To post in December 2018: “Then, two years ago, I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and felt the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out.” It is indisputable that, two years earlier, Heard did appear on the cover of People magazine with apparent facial injuries and that around the same time she was granted a temporary restraining order alleging domestic abuse against her husband; she was pictured leaving the courthouse with what looked like a bruise on her cheek. She also has a wealth of text messages, witness statements and photos of injuries, which she says support her abuse allegations. The careful legal control of it To post the editorial may be evident in the wording: Heard calls himself a “public figure representing” the abuse, not a victim or survivor of it; it does not name Depp, or specify a type of abuse. (Depp has denied ever hitting or assaulting Heard; she’s suing him for a hundred million dollars.)
As for whether Heard has “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath,” a quick look at Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, and other platforms, where she’s cast as Sunset’s Medusa Boulevard, can settle the matter. The precise demographics of the pro-Depp coalition are diverse, though uncertain in their exact proportions: bots, shitposters, men’s rights activists, women who were in college when “Edward Scissorhands” came out. According to Wired, the hashtag #JusticeforJohnnyDepp has exceeded ten billion views on TikTok. Parody videos of Heard’s emotional testimony are already a TikTok cliche. Conservative site Daily Wire has spent tens of thousands of dollars promoting mostly anti-Heard content on Facebook and Instagram about the lawsuit, according to an article in Vice World News. (The Daily Wire has not commented on the story.) NBC News reported on YouTube creators who turned to anti-Heard videos when they realized how much users and the algorithm loved them.
But this half-sentence in the To post– that’s the whole thing. It’s fifty million dollars. Depp lost a libel lawsuit in 2020 against a British tabloid, the Sun, which was much more brazen in its language – it called Depp a “wife beater” – and, despite the UK’s strict libel laws and a reversal of the burden of proof, the High Court in London concluded that the vast majority of Heard’s claims were “substantially true.” And yet, earlier this month, Virginia presiding judge Penney Azcarate denied Heard’s motion to dismiss. Azcarate cited “evidence that jurors could weigh that the statements were about the plaintiff, that the statements were published and that the statement was false, and that the defendant made the statement knowing it was false or that the defendant had done it so recklessly that it amounts to a willful disregard for the truth.
The evidence jurors must weigh varies widely in its apparent relevance to Depp’s libel claim. Just today, the jury and viewers at home were treated to close-up views of Depp’s bloody finger stump, injured in a domestic fight in Australia. Earlier in the trial, we saw footage of the deranged and shameful messages Depp scribbled in paint or blood using the same freshly injured stump. There are also Depp’s text messages sent before his marriage to Heard – in which he calls her a “worthless prostitute”, jokes about how he will “slam the ugly pussy around” and, at one point, shares a brainstorm with actor Paul Bettany: ‘Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! Then I’ll fuck her burnt corpse to make sure she’s dead. There are footage of Depp trashing a kitchen and audio recordings of him telling Heard, “Shut the fuck up. . . . Don’t pretend to be bossy with me. You does not exist.” Depp, to sum it up, is the plaintiff in the defamation lawsuit, and the one most social media supports.
Admittedly, Heard has occasionally made questionable claims about his relationship with Depp and its consequences. Depp’s legal team and the #JusticeforJohnny and #AmberTurd armies on social media focused on perfectly gorgeous photographs taken of Heard after alleged serious beatings and, in particular, her claim that she appeared on the talk show. -James Corden’s late-night show with “two black eyes” and a nose she suspected was broken. , which was abusive – an audio recording in which she admits hitting him and another in which she mocks any claims he might make of being a victim of domestic violence – both sound eerily like fragments of a DARVO scenario, in which an abuser denies what they are doing at the same time as they deflect and project their behavior onto the person they are abusing.
You don’t have to trust Amber Heard to look at twelve words in a newspaper column and wonder why they serve as an invitation to listen to her sob incoherently in a nasty argument with her deadpan spouse, or to read texts in which Depp calls it a “low-level, dime-a-dozen, mushy, wasteful, overused fish market looking for gold.” You don’t have to like Heard to sympathize with her when one of Depp’s lawyers, Camille Vasquez, who cross-examines all defense witnesses in a tone of incredulous contempt, repeatedly confirms to her that she did not see a doctor after a few alleged incidents of violence; or, as a redirect, when Heard’s pissed off attorney, Elaine Bredehoft, is unable to formulate questions that would allow Heard to defend herself. (Vasquez took formidable advantage of what seems to be Azcarate’s unusually rigid application of hearsay.) You don’t have to believe everything Heard says to be surprised when a Law&Crime guest, the Defense attorney Lara Yeretsian, wonders out loud, after hours of hearing. testimony, why she stayed with her alleged abuser – a question so exhaustively asked and answered over decades of work by domestic violence advocates that it inspired an activist hashtag eight years ago. “That’s a question I’m sure a lot of people are asking today,” Yeretsian said.
The longer the lawsuit lasts and the more various third parties profit from it, the harder it is to understand Depp’s motives for instigating it. He and his supporters say he sued to have his name erased, but it recorded more terrible behavior on his part than any ghost-erased and ghost-written op-ed ever could. In fact, if you spend enough time inhaling the sulfurous fumes of Depp-Heard’s live stream, what it most resembles is a form of big-budget, general admission revenge porn, an act in which the one person who has the upper hand in a relationship compels the other to be complicit in sharing and airing raw, vulnerable, literally sensational moments for the enjoyment of an unseen audience. One of the hallmarks of revenge porn is the way it freezes its victim in time, a spell Heard invoked at the end of his direct examination. “I want to continue my life” she says. “I want to move on, I want to move on, I want Johnny to move on too. I want him to leave me alone. But the consequences of his legal action against her will never leave her alone. That’s who she is now: the victim of an unprecedented internet pileup, a bruised face on an iPhone, a woman who makes people laugh when she cries.