Blood on the walls, feces in the bed. Welcome to the literal shit show, the ballad of Johnny and Amber.
Why is their court case burning up the internet? Conflict, conflict, conflict. Faded-but-beloved movie-heartthrob hero/former-opiate addict sues younger, lesser-known, co-dependent, ex-wife model/actress/former-MDMA-user for $50 million in a defamation suit to disprove her “falsities that ended my life,” as he testified on the stand.
At a regressive time for women, is Amber Anger internalized misogyny?
Actually, as a trial, the stakes are pretty low. It’s not Watergate or Scopes, or even a divorce. But it is the first trial in which we can voraciously and viciously insert ourselves into the workings by creating online memes, songs, and video reactions in real time—to try to get as famous as the plaintiffs. In that way, it’s become the TikTok trial of the century.
And I had intended to avoid every bit of it.
But then on Facebook, I noticed that some of my female friends were posting about the trial, trashing Amber while clearly fixated on their new boyfriend, Johnny. And I was shocked. Had they turned into bots?
And I learned that worshipping Johnny in all of his Sparrowness while burning the liar Amber at the stake had quickly become our national sport du jour. Why? At a regressive time for women, is it internalized misogyny? Or does it have to do with the erotic charge that comes from watching a male movie star’s macho cruelty?
The Tractor-Trailer Crash
In fact, the suit is bringing his life back. But it rests on a 2018 op-ed piece that Heard published in the Washington Post in which she called herself “a public figure representing domestic abuse”—and never says that she’s a victim of abuse, nor mentions Depp by name.
She tried to get this latest case dismissed as frivolous. She could not, and countersued for $100 million, claiming he defamed her. Meanwhile, because Depp brought this suit to clear his own name, we get to see and hear the tapes of the many acts of mutual destruction that they engaged in, which otherwise would never have seen the light of day.
#JusticeforJohnnyDepp is getting billions more views than concern over the overturning of Roe vs. Wade or the war in Ukraine has mustered.
In these fights, Johnny and Amber are George and Martha in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, plus the various delusionary characters in Lost Weekend, Days of Wine and Roses, War of the Roses—all the roses and all the wars. Except these two are richer, more entitled, and more vicious. Amber has her own demons— histrionic personality disorder was mentioned. Depp is 58, and Amber is 36. One thing about long-term alcohol and drug abuse: it gets worse. They’re both violent and narcissistic and were in trouble before the engagement.
Together, they are the tractor-trailer crash from which we can’t stop rubbernecking. But it’s 21st century-style internet rubbernecking, which gives a second life to the case.
According to Wired Magazine, the hashtag #JusticeforJohnnyDepp has surpassed ten billion views on TikTok.
That’s billions more hits than concern over the overturning of Roe vs. Wade or the war in Ukraine mustered.
And here’s why: Depp vs. Heard are waging a more familiar, relatable war than Russia vs. Ukraine. That invasion is hard to look at and/or think about. Whereas this Hollywood war gives us an outlet in an otherwise despairing time to observe privileged, narcissistic, loony people destroy each other. Of course, domestic violence is serious and sickening business (and this trial is no doubt triggering) but this format is as recognizable as reality TV—call it The Apprentice Pirate Bachelor Survivor.
The Johnny Depp Offensive
Some of Johnny’s online fans, particularly the well-organized men’s justice groups, had already shown their online support in great numbers in 2018 when Johnny Depp lost his libel case against the Sun newspaper in Britain over an article that called him a “wife beater.” The judge said the Sun had proved what was in the article to be “substantially true”.
He found 12 of the 14 alleged incidents of domestic violence against Heard had occurred.
But that didn’t stop the litigious Johnny from going after Amber in court.
Once I went down the maw of watching the livestream, I could see why people have become obsessed.
Johnny’s courtly ways reminded me of the actions of Michael Corleone.
Johnny took the stand first and his delivery is riveting. He speaks very slowly, with lots of silences, carefully considering each word. And his cultivated actor’s voice is rich and deep, including a hint of an accent that’s more UK than KY.
His voice is commanding, but he’s also trying to seem like a relatable good guy, giving us a peek behind the curtain. When questioned about the terrible story of his attempted detox at his “island” (he owns a private island in the Bahamas) he first qualifies his answer with acknowledging how “silly” it sounds.
But more often his speech seems almost courtly and overly formal, from another time. Thus, when questioned about his often-violent behavior, his responds with, “I would never strike a woman.” That’s a locution that doesn’t lower itself to using words like “hit” or “punch.” He indulges in some repetitive word ticks too, and also corrects himself, adding to his rogueish charm. For example, describing another night of violence, he said “when I got into the bedroom, our bedroom….” Or “Amber went into her bathroom—our bathroom …”
How tender that he included Amber in that our. It’s the kind of romantic gesture that reminded me of escaped prisoner Casey White, who called 911 from his car wreck, just as his runaway corrections officer girlfriend was shooting herself, and gallantly said, “Please help my wife.”
While on the stand, Depp looks at no one, so you want to lean forward, toward him, to hear every word—as if the Godfather is receiving you. Speaking of which, his courtly ways reminded me of the actions of Michael Corleone. In that famous scene in which he responds to a hit on his own house, Corleone sanctimoniously screams, “In my home! In my bedroom where my wife sleeps! (Even though she was leaving him for the murderous business he was in, and he constantly silenced her and cheated on her.)
Something Smells Trumpy
What scares me is that there’s something Trumpy in giving Amber a public beat down online while swooning over Johnny—it shows a resentment and contempt for women. It’s also similar to the way Trump tries to use the courts to avenge his personal resentments and to break his adversaries. Yes, Depp too was abused. And he claims he lost $40 million in earnings because of abuse allegations that are false. But the tapes shown in court proved otherwise. One of their marital counselors said that they abused each other.
Way back six weeks ago, when Depp entered the court, he’d de-pirated his look a bit. With a severely pulled back pony-tail, dark glasses, and a dark-shirted three-piece 1930’s gangster suit, he looked like a punched-out Russian boxer, dressed up for a job interview.
It’s an ugly irony that in the essay Amber Heard is being sued over, she says that she “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.”
Actually, Amber’s costumes seemed equally off. In the beginning, she sported a fairly makeup-free 1980s dress-for-success vibe mixed with Jean Harris’ attire when appearing in court for the murder of the Scarsdale Diet Doctor. Harris had been a headmistress at the tony Madeira School, and Amber’s fussy clothes and blouses with pussy bows suggested some of that, but also introduced a hint of Amish Kelly McGillis in Witness look. She has a crowning glory of hair that she tended to braid and tie up around her head, sometimes with one errant tendril in her face. It’s as if the girl with the curl was trying to, but couldn’t completely, restrain herself.
Unlike Depp, Heard turns to look at the jury, which she was probably instructed to do, but it comes off on TV as nervous and jerky, as do some of her responses. She has cried waterless tears, and lied and made other mistakes on the stand, for which she’s been mercilessly bullied online. Which is an ugly kind of irony, given that in the essay she’s being sued over, she says that after 2016 she “felt the full force of our culture’s wrath for women who speak out.” That’s no lie. This latest cycle is worse.
The case should wrap up this week, and then go to the jury for deliberations. Will either of them get any money?
England has a much lower bar for proving defamation than the U.S., and the Edward Scissorhands star lost his case there. Defamation cases rarely end well. But even if he loses this case, he has won the war of social media. Is that a great victory? Hard to tell when the earth is scorched, and we’re more divided. But hey, that’s how the game seems to work these days.