#MeToo: Johnny Depp, Amber Heard, and whatever this mess means in modern America

A former Hollywood power couple’s dirty laundry is aired on national television via a highly publicized defamation trial, garnering millions of viewers and billions of clips online, but progressives insist there is some hidden meaning about the fate of the #MeToo movement to be found.  Apparently, we’re supposed to believe the accuser even when she literally shits the bed.

It wasn’t exactly the trial of the century and the outcome had precisely zero impact on the average person, but Americans were riveted nonetheless as Johnny Depp sued Amber Heard for defamation and she responded in kind.  Ultimately, the combination of celebrity testimony and salacious content in a battle of he-said, she-said proved irresistible to millions of viewers over the past six weeks of televised courtroom drama.  The total viewership numbers, online engagement, and overall grip on the public consciousness might not have been seen since the OJ Simpson trial, only this time amped up by the brave new digital world.  People tuned in to watch a total of some 83.9 million hours with up to 3.5 million viewers at once, numbers which aren’t bad for even prime time television.  If this were a series, it would likely be renewed, especially on cable.  Of course, no shortage of clips appeared on cable news, nightly news, and streaming, bringing in millions, in some cases, billions more eyeballs.  Social media was ablaze as well with the hashtag #JusticeForJohnnyDepp racking up some 15 billion views on TikTok.

What possibly accounts for this level of interest, given the case involves two washed up celebrities fighting over their already tarnished reputations., and redemption for either wasn’t going to happen no matter the outcome?  In a sense, it was the Reality TV phenomenon writ large, only with much, much bigger names and more dramatic storylines.  Instead of some nobody plucked from obscurity by The Bachelor franchise and transformed into the house villain for all the world to marvel at their antics, we had a bonafide superstar on the stand defending what passes for honor these days against a former wife turned arch nemesis who had questioned his truth and tarnished his name.  In that regard, the format might as well have been a Bachelor two on one date with the jury acting as the person caught between, hoping to be wooed and convinced by one or the other, unsure who to trust and who to send home after all the incredible stories circulating through the mansion.  Did she really shit in your bed?  Who started what fight and who lied about it to whom?  Is one of them crazy or both?  Do we really care because no one in their right mind would want to go home with either?

This doesn’t mean that there was nothing serious underlying the courtroom drama and overall titillation of learning about bedroom defecations.  There is no doubt that Johnny Depp’s career suffered substantially after Ms. Heard published her 2018 editorial in The Washington Post, accusing him of being an abuser of women and positioning herself as a victim of toxic male violence in general.  This was what we might consider the peak of the #MeToo movement, and Ms. Heard certainly took advantage of the prevailing zeitgeist.  The title alone was enough to stir the hearts of the faithful, when Ms. Heard declared “I spoke up against sexual violence – and faced our culture’s wrath.  That has to change.” Indeed, you might say she tried to take on the entire mantle of the #MeToo movement for herself by claiming to be a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” one with the “rare vantage point of seeing, in real time, how institutions protect men accused of abuse.”  In this new role, the actress cast her ex-husband, the two divorced in 2016, in the part of the infamous Harvey Weinstein, and despite her insistence that the institutions are designed to protect men accused, Mr. Depp became an instant pariah.  Though Ms. Heard didn’t mention him by name and he wasn’t charged with any crime, much less convicted beyond a reasonable doubt, Mr. Depp was almost immediately fired from his signature role in the longstanding Pirates of the Caribbean franchise, losing some $22.5 million to star in the sixth installment.  Likewise, he lost his role Harry Potter franchise as well, all without anything resembling the presumption of innocence.

Thus, a career that began in 1984 with the horror hit, A Nightmare on Elm Street, continued through a star making turn on TV in 21 Jump Street, and grew into a dominant force in both commercial, big budget movies and more indy fare, was destroyed in less than a year without anything resembling an honest attempt to ascertain his guilt.  In the heady days of 2018, the idea that we should believe the accuser above all else was all the rage, and centuries of Western jurisprudence, along with the philosophical concept of redemption, no longer applied.  All it took was the word of one woman and 30 plus years of a hard earned reputation as an actor’s actor, the rare talent who could add a quirky panache to even action star roles, was completely wiped away in the rush to believe all women.  Support for their point of view was provided by British courts after Mr. Depp sued The Sun newspaper for libel when they described him as an abuser.  The Sun claimed that Mr. Depp was a “wifebeater” and a Judge Justice Nicol ruled that to be “substantially” true after investigating 12 of 14 incidents reported by Ms. Heard.  “Taking all the evidence together, I accept that she was the victim of sustained and multiple assaults by Mr. Depp in Australia,” explained Mr. Justice Nicol.  “It is a sign of the depth of his rage that he admitted scrawling graffiti in blood from his injured finger and then, when that was insufficient, dipping his badly injured finger in paint and continuing to write messages and other things,” he said.  “I accept her evidence of the nature of the assaults he committed against her. They must have been terrifying.”

At the same time, Mr. Depp was not actually charged with anything.  The ruling was not the result of a police investigation or the outcome of a criminal case.  It is essentially one man’s opinion on the matter, and Mr. Depp insisted throughout that the incidents in question were predicated by Ms. Heard, claiming they certainly fought far too frequently, but that she was the instigator and effectively abused him.  For example, one bizarre incident alluded to in the previous quote involved punches Mr. Depp is alleged to have thrown after Ms. Heard cut off the tip of his finger.  The only outcome of the ruling was Mr. Depp lost his libel suit against the newspaper.  In my opinion, it is fair enough to serve as a data point in Ms. Heard’s favor, yet not nearly so conclusive that we should condemn someone forever based on the civil nature of the case and the evidentiary standard employed.  This, however, didn’t prevent #MeToo advocates from stretching the outcome into a true criminal conviction.  Vogue Magazine, for example, opined on “Why it’s time to believe Amber Heard,” and cites the London High Court’s ruling as the only real evidence to support the conclusion, even as they admit “witness testimonies can be persuasive, and with two actors in the dock, we can never be sure of the absolute truth.”

Sadly, this didn’t prevent them and other mainstream media outlets from politicizing the case and making it another example of the ever present and oppressive patriarchy.  In their view, Ms. Heard is not merely a possible victim of Mr. Depp, but of a misogynist society in general, literally the equivalent of the victim of a modern day Salem witch trial.  Raven Smith of the aforementioned Vanity Fair shared a typical view last month, “Go on social media, and the anti-Heard sentiment is palpable. The memes have been ferocious, sometimes consisting of a spot-the-difference comparison with domestic-abuse victims; at other times, televised courtroom footage has been appropriated to openly mock her appearance. It is plain misogyny. The company behind the makeup compact Heard used to hide her bruises even made a TikTok disputing her claims. Heard is being systematically jeered at and ridiculed like a medieval criminal in the stocks as she catalogs historic abuse, as she alleges rape. Have we completely lost track of the severity of these allegations?”

The answer, perhaps needless to say, is no, at least in my opinion.  We haven’t lost track of the allegations.  We are simply aware that they are merely allegations and Mr. Depp has not been criminally charged anywhere in the world.  I certainly can’t speak for everyone, but it seems obvious to me that the sympathy for Mr. Depp is driven by the way Ms. Heard made these allegations publicly in an oblique manner, took on the mantle of an entire movement for herself, leaving Mr. Depp to be maligned without the opportunity to defend himself either in a court of law or that of public opinion.  Further, we reject the notion that Ms. Heard’s behavior, erratic, vindictive, and overall repulsive as it was at times, is irrelevant in forming our opinion.  In our view, Ms. Heard doesn’t appear to be some innocent bystander, elevated from private life into the public eye by Mr. Depp and forced through this process.  She is a public figure in her own right, wealthy and beautiful, and she chose to thrust herself into the center of a political movement that takes no prisoners.  She had the opportunity to settle out of court, but chose to bring this spectacle on herself.

This should not be seen as an attempt to excuse Mr. Depp’s behavior, merely that both of them seem like active participants in a toxic relationship given that Mr. Heard admitted to attacking him multiple times, as well as literally shitting on their marriage bed.  In my mind, the public at large is perfectly capable of making an assessment of their own, and Ms. Heard is fair game for scrutiny and even ridicule, the same as any other celebrity.  Celebrity, of course, is impossible to separate from the interest in the overall drama.  These two are what they are and the trial is what it is because of celebrity and celebrity alone.  If this were a local case between two overweight middle aged schleps, no one would have watched a single second.  Therefore, we shouldn’t read too much into the impact this might have on the average woman suffering from an abusive relationship.  Still, Ms. Smith wondered, “I don’t want to think about what this is saying to victims of abuse who are considering coming forward. And regardless of what Heard did or didn’t suffer at the hands of Depp, isn’t the relentless memeing of her a form of violence in itself? Is the pummeling by social media not a type of psychological assault? Are we not witnessing a modern-day witch trial?”

In progressive minds, this element was made far more disturbing by the overwhelming support Mr. Depp enjoyed from the public compared to Ms. Heard.  For example, the #JusticeForJohnnyDepp hashtag mentioned earlier garnered some 15 billion views.  By comparison, the #IStandWithAmberHeard didn’t even crack a billion, suggesting that Mr. Depp was far and away the fan favorite for whatever reason.  “The support expressed for Depp online was orders of magnitude greater than that voiced for Heard…But people on social media didn’t just side with Depp. They also actively threatened Heard,” according to Kara Alaimo, writing for CNN after the verdict, apparently surprised that social media can be a nasty place.  Ultimately, “This trial also reminded us of another factor that victims will have to consider when coming forward: the possibility that people will band together to support the alleged perpetrator and make additional threats against the accusers. This case galvanized people online to support Depp and further abuse Heard.”  Note how whether or not the alleged victim in this case is telling the truth or whether or not her actions amount to the legal standard for defamation is not one of Ms. Alaimo’s concerns.  In her view, Ms. Heard has no agency and is not responsible for anything that resulted directly from her decision to publish the editorial.   The only thing that matters is that she be believed, even though the entire point of a defamation case is to ascertain whether she was, in fact, telling the truth.  This adds a certain irony to the claim that “Heard had to contend with the age-old challenges of not being believed and having her own life and behavior dissected as part of this trial, which demonstrated that she is no saint” and a stark “reminder to women that the #MeToo movement hasn’t taught the world to take women’s claims seriously and to support victims even if they’re imperfect.”

At the same time, why is no thought ever given in these circles to Mr. Depp’s rights and reputation?  Putting this another way, how are we supposed to determine the truth of accusations like this if we do not dissect the life and behavior of those involved?  Was Mr. Depp not entitled to try to get his reputation back, especially now that the lopsided verdict has validated his position that he was defamed?  The #MeToo movement has never been clear on precisely how this is supposed to work for obvious reasons.  The best way to believe someone is to probe whether they are telling the truth, especially when what they are claiming can have a tremendous adverse effect on another party.  The only way to do that is to question their claims and analyze their behavior.  The process isn’t perfect and it can be a messy business to be sure, but it remains the only one we have.  The alternative is to condemn people with no evidence and no scrutiny.  If Ms. Heard says it’s so, Mr. Depp suffers as a result.  Ask yourself which you prefer if you or a loved one was likewise accused.  Would you insist on the chance to clear your name or would you accept your fate based solely on the word of another?  Even in the sometimes upside down world of 2022, is there any doubt how you would answer that question?  The real question then becomes:  Why are progressives expecting you to answer it differently than they would likely choose for themselves? Otherwise, the only thing they are advancing with articles like these is radical political blather.

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