The Depp Circus c. Heard was televised

Johnny Depp’s legal team bet that a combination of subliminal nostalgia shots, meme and sound details, and Depp being Depp on the witness stand could sway public opinion. They were right.
Photo: Consolidated News Images/Getty Images

In the editorial that Amber Heard wrote for the Washington Job in 2018, she said, “Two years ago I became a public figure representing domestic violence, and I felt the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out.

This op-ed, which never mentions Johnny Depp by name, was found to be defamatory by a jury because it implied Depp abused Heard during their year-long marriage. Meanwhile, a 2018 article published in the British tabloid The Sun who outright called Depp a “wife beater” was found not to be defamatory in 2020 by a UK judge who presided over a separate defamation action filed by Depp, who said 12 of the 14 incidents of assault documented by Heard and the Sun be credible. Depp was never criminally charged in any of the incidents, but the UK trial came as close to a civil case as possible to find him guilty.

The disparity between the two results is shocking, but logical considering how each case was decided and covered. While the UK verdict was determined by a judge, the most recent trial in Virginia, where the Jobwhere the printing presses and servers are, was decided by a jury. More importantly, the British trial was not televised; UK law only recently allowed sentencing remarks by High Court and Main Circuit judges to be televised, but the trials are never broadcast or streamed in their entirety. In case it hasn’t become entirely clear over the past six weeks, the US version of Depp v. Understood was broadcast live, both on Court TV and via a live stream on the Law & Crime YouTube channel, both of which reported substantial increases in viewership over this messy and often absurd legal battle. And so it was that a lawsuit sparked, in part, by Heard’s statement that she had “felt the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out” ended up reigniting the whole strength of that culture’s anger, at an even higher volume.

Certainly, the 2020 trial in England received significant media coverage. But if this procedure was a three-track circus, the one that just unfolded here in the United States was a double bill presented by Barnum & Bailey and Jim Rose. Memes as well as mainstream media splashed images of Heard on the stand all over digital media, stopping her expressions to make her look as upset as possible. Video of her touching her nose with a tissue has been characterized by Depp supporters as evidence that she was snorting cocaine while being questioned by lawyers. This is all exactly what Heard’s lawyer, Elaine Bredehoft, predicted during a preliminary hearing: “What they’ll do is take anything unfavorable – a look,” Bredehoft argued at the press conference. era, as noted by Variety. “They will take a statement out of context and play it over and over and over and over again.”

Depp’s attorneys, on the other hand, encouraged the presence of cameras and used them to their advantage. No doubt aware that Depp has a substantial fanbase ready to amp up certain moments from the trial, his team played in front of that audience, guessing, correctly, that the statements would be taken out of context and replayed over and over again online. They repeatedly focused on largely irrelevant issues, like the way Depp cut off his finger and his claim that Heard got revenge once in their bed, which would surely spark online discussions and would distract from more crucial evidence. If there’s one thing people will remember from this trial, maybe it’s all the shit about shit (Heard said it was actually feces from one of their dogs), which sparked its own sub-category of comedy attempts – all of a sudden she was referred to widely as “Amber Turd” – and provided the centerpiece of a Saturday Night Live sketch that reinforced the idea that this trial was frivolous but also entertaining.

After the progress made during the Me Too movement, the tenor of public conversation around the case has once again reduced a woman’s abuse accusations to laughing stock, and worse, something she was probably making it up. Heard’s memification during the trial reinforced the sense that what we were looking at was performative and therefore not credible, even though the UK judge had already said: “the vast majority of the alleged assaults of Ms Heard by Mr Depp have been proven to the civil standard”. The impact of that decision was lost in the chaotic, pro-Depp jumble of words spat out on various platforms as the trial progressed. She was also most likely lost to the jury who, as Bredehoff noted in an interview on the Today show, was not allowed to be told the outcome of the British case.

For his part, Depp spent the trial leaning into his image as an unconventional maverick, the same image that established him as an actor blazing an unconventional path through Hollywood and who made his turns in Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean the movies look like subversive acts. He often seemed puzzled, as if he found the whole trial ridiculous, even though he was the one who instigated it. On the stand, he made jokes about his friend Marilyn Manson (also publicly accused of abusing women) and shed light on texts he exchanged with actor Paul Bettany in 2013 in which he said of his future wife at the time: “Let’s drown her before we burn her!!! Then I’ll fuck her burnt corpse to make sure she’s dead. He explained the comments, apparently a joke about how to figure out if Heard was a witch, as a darkly comedic riff on a scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Ironically, the scene in question is actually about a group of primitive men who are so eager to burn a real witch that they dress a woman to look like one. Context is important, and often during this trial it has been overshadowed or completely absent.

It also worked to Depp’s advantage when his exes, who never publicly accused him of abuse, entered the narrative. Ex-girlfriend Kate Moss testified in his defense, and even a discussion of whether he punched Heard after he laughed at his famous ‘Wino Forever’ tattoo – ink that said to the origin “Winona Forever,” in honor of former fiancée Winona Ryder — sparked memories of the Depp we first came to know and love in the 1990s. It was really the subject of This Trial: Johnny Depp was making everyone love him again so he could be hired instead of fired from movie projects. His legal team bet that a combination of nostalgia subliminal shots, pro-meme and sound details, and Depp being Depp on the witness stand could sway public opinion. They were right.

Even those who say they support the victims will sometimes look for the most tenuous excuse to let the abusers off the hook when those abusers are famous people they look up to. It’s why there are still loyal Woody Allen fans who claim he was framed by Mia Farrow, and why it took more than 30 women to accuse Bill Cosby of rape and assault before those charges surfaced. be taken seriously. Even people who aren’t hardcore enough to show up at a Virginia courthouse dressed as Jack Sparrow might be hoping that Depp, whose work they love, whose posters once adorned the walls of their teenage bedrooms, didn’t do what Heard said he did. All hints on social media that he was not an abuser were accepted and amplified, making them socially acceptable. Once these pro-Depp sentiments were deemed acceptable, they became the norm, and it’s very easy to confuse the norm with the truth.

In an essay for Embedded, the Substack by Kate Lindsay and Nick Catucci, an unnamed former Depp supporter says she changed her mind about the case after noticing how far some members of Team Johnny were willing to go. go to maintain their position. “I even saw a Reddit commenter confidently say he could say Amber was a narcissist, because – I’m not kidding – her handwriting is too good,” she wrote. “It’s QAnon 2022, with Q drops being daily TikToks analyzing the secrets hidden in Amber’s body language.”

But most supporters didn’t take the time to dig deeper or question the story Depp’s team offered as fact, and in doing so played into a legal strategy known as the of DARVO – denying, attacking and reversing victim and offender – which can be incredibly effective. in a TL online world; DR, scroll down and search. Republicans have built a playbook around DARVO, which perhaps explains why some of them celebrated Depp’s victory so much. It may also explain why the US case tipped in Depp’s favor and the UK’s did not. As an international media lawyer put it in Washington Job“We find that DARVO works very well with juries but almost never works with judges, who are trained to review evidence.”

The jury in the Depp/Heard case was never sequestered. They were told not to absorb the media coverage of the proceedings, but if you live in that world, how could you not? It’s been impossible for the past month and more to log on to Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, or any other news website without being punched in the face with a headline or image related to the very public feud. Even the occasional glimpse of a GIF or YouTube video could have given a sense of public opinion and consciously or unconsciously influenced a juror’s view.

Much has already been said about the effect rulings in favor of Depp could have on other abuse survivors, who may feel even more reluctant to say anything, especially when powerful men are involved. But it’s equally frightening to think that this case may be evidence that sets a precedent that so long as a person in a contentious lawsuit can win the battle for public sympathy, whether based on fact or not, a jury may very well follow. At the end of this six-week ordeal in Virginia, what’s indelibly seared in the hippocampus is the idea that through how we absorb information in 2022 – either brushing aside the details because everything regarding celebrities is deemed trivial, either by rating them based on the bias ratings that go into our carefully curated information bubble – we’ve only begun to feel the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out .

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