Thoughts on the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard trial

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Several weeks after Johnny Depp and Amber Heard’s six-week mutual libel trial, Heard described the first time her ex-husband allegedly hit her – a charge he denied, as he denied all the other allegations of abuse.

Heard told the jury that she noticed a tattoo on her husband’s arm. It was old and faded and she couldn’t make it out, she said. He told her he was saying “Wino Forever.” She laughed, thinking he was joking – then, according to Heard, he slapped her in the face.

Looking at this testimonial, I had the most irrelevant and confusing thought, which was: How did Amber Heard not know about the ‘Wino Forever’ tattoo? Granted, I knew it, as would any self-respecting millennial elder, weaned on “Edward Scissorhands” and the tabloids of the 1990s. The tattoo once said “Winona forever,” in the honor of Winona Ryder, Depp’s fiancée at the time. But the ink survived their relationship, so Depp had two letters removed.

How was it possible that I knew about Johnny Depp and his own partner didn’t?

It was a ridiculous thing to ask in a lawsuit that taught me how no one really knows anything about a celebrity’s private life. And no one really knows about anyone else’s marriage.

Watching this trial felt alternately lustful and surreal, the kind of trial in which Marilyn Manson is casually listed as a guest at Thanksgiving dinner at one of Johnny Depp’s penthouses. Day after day, the courtroom was taken up with reviewing the photos, text messages and recordings Depp and Heard made of each other throughout a relationship that was, at all times, less, a fiery Porta-Potty.

Johnny says he never hit Amber. That he occasionally “held” her when she hit him. He says she threw liquor bottle at him and cut off his fingertip. That she laughed at him, scolded him, withheld his medication. That she or one of her friends once pooped on her bed.

Amber says Johnny hit her several times, usually when he was drunk or stoned and believed she was cheating on him. That she had nothing to do with chopping off his finger, but when she woke up the next morning, he’d used that damn finger to write weird messages on the wall. That one of their dogs had to poop on the bed, because seriously, she said, what 30-year-old woman would do that?

This kind of summary makes it bonkers and funny – the divorces of the rich and famous – when watching it actually felt banal and hopelessly sad. Watching and having fun in front of the dirty laundry of celebrities is a well-honed spectator sport, but throughout the trial I kept reading coverage that was tonally a mess: The Daily Beast turned the most inflammatory allegations in cheeky stitches – “The Poop-On-The-Bed Fiasco”, “The Headbutt” – as if detailing a reality TV show rather than the dissolving of someone’s life and marriage .

It’s all been made more complicated by the fact that Johnny and Amber are actors, presumably able to manufacture emotions to play on viewers’ sympathies – and trapped, perhaps, by the possibility that the acting skills that have them made famous may cause some people to doubt the sincerity of normal human angst on either side. Johnny is a movie star with a 40-year career under his belt; Amber is much younger and much less famous. Online, #JusticeforJohnny hashtags exponentially outnumbered #IStandWithAmber hashtags. TikToks were made to poke fun at Amber’s tears and present her every move as proof she was lying. The loudest theory in the court of public opinion, it seems, is that she was a manipulative liar and that Johnny was a railroad victim.

Nobody knew what to make of this lawsuit, that’s what seemed to be the problem. If you logged on to see inside a relationship with a celebrity, you got what you wanted to the point that you realized you didn’t want it after all:

On the stand, Johnny Depp spoke softly and so slowly that by the time he reached mid-sentence he seemed to have forgotten he had already started one. He appeared baffled by his entire relationship with Heard. “It was rapid fire, an endless parade of insults, and you know, looking at me like I was a jerk,” he said, sounding crestfallen.

On the stand, Amber often held back tears and sometimes couldn’t hold them back.

While Depp says Heard threw a bottle of liquor at him, Heard recalled a different story with a bottle of liquor. She alleged that Johnny went on a rampage, that the rampage resulted in many broken bottles. She says that at one point he pinned her down and she felt a strong pressure against her pubic bone – a kind of square pressure; at first she thought it was Johnny hitting her with his fist. Then she realized the pressure was coming from a bottle of alcohol, she testified.

At this point, her attorney asked her to clarify: Was Amber saying she was being penetrated by a bottle of liquor?

Yes, Amber clarified. Johnny was pushing the booze bottle into her, she testified (and again, he says none of that ever happened). At that moment, the only thing that came to mind was whether the bottle inside her was one of those that had earlier been shattered into jagged edges of glass.

“Please, my God,” she said at the time. “Please, I hope it’s not broken.”

If you watched the trial, day in and day out — if you watched the cross-examinations and the endless sidebars — then you realized what you were watching was a poor introduction to what it meant to be a celebrity, but a deeply illuminating introduction. about what it might mean to be in an abusive relationship.

The lawyers demanded answers, under oath, to the impossible questions we always end up asking victims of domestic violence: Why didn’t everyone see him hit you? Why don’t you have more bruises? Show us the bruises you have; we will judge them.

I watched part of the trial with my mother, who spent many years as a marriage and family therapist and whose clients included both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. I played her segments in which Amber admitted what she considered her role in the toxic relationship.

“I would yell at him, yell at him and call him ugly names,” Amber said. “I’m so ashamed of the names we call each other. It was horrible.”

She said she would “always try to accept the blame for the fights as much as possible… it’s almost better to accept the blame for something than to accept the senseless nature of the violence that you can’t change what.” what you are doing.”

I wondered if my mom would see this as evidence of “mutual abuse,” a term I saw floating around online a lot — a way to make sense of Amber and Johnny’s relationship while distributing blame equally.

But my mom said no, that wasn’t how it usually worked in her experience. What was more common was for a victim of domestic violence to try anything she could to try to stop the abuse. They were trying to yell back, not yell back, get up, stay down. Eventually, they might also resort to beatings. They tried everything they could think of because they believed that if they tried the right thing, then their partner would stop abusing them.

This did not mean, however, that the abuse was reciprocal. It meant that the abuse had cascading effects, that it poisoned an entire relationship, that violence from both sides became normal, even if only one was really to blame.

This meant domestic violence was messy and nuanced and often contradictory and confusing. Not only is marriage a mystery to everyone but also to the two people inside, sometimes it’s a mystery even to the two people inside.

I’m worried about this lawsuit. After watching almost everything, I came away feeling deeply dirty from watching almost everything – wondering where the line lies between gawking and witnessing. I fear the horrific spectacle of this trial will drive the alleged abusers to sue their accusers, perhaps forcing them to relive the alleged abuses.

I’m afraid that watching this waste of judgment and humiliation will be seen by non-famous abuse victims as just one more reason not to come forward, when coming forward is already so hard to do. I worry about how the lawsuit has, as cultural critic Ella Dawson wrote on Twitter, “taken over the internet and distorted our understanding of abuse in ways that hurt victims right now.” .

The intimacy of a couple’s relationship is nobody’s business. But the issue of domestic violence is everyone’s business, and once the public had unfettered access to Johnny and Amber’s relationship, viewers assumed they could solve the mystery of the relationship. they could know exactly what had happened.

So here’s what we know after six weeks in court:

We know there were bruises on Amber Heard’s face. We have seen pictures. Her makeup artist testified that she covered them up; she described the proper color palette used to cover bruises. We know there was broken glass and ransacked property. We’ve also seen photos of this, along with Johnny Depp’s severed finger and bloody writing scrawled on the wall. We’ve seen text messages that Johnny Depp sent to friends joking about Heard’s death, referring to his “rotting corpse…decomposing in the [expletive] trunk of a Honda Civic.”

We know there were fights, some awful ones, which the couple recorded sometimes with each other’s knowledge and sometimes without, in which Johnny moaned incoherently and Amber told Johnny he was “washed up.” and “sold”.

It is known that the relationship lasted five years. Five years of what was, on both sides, an unbearable relationship. Longer, even, than Depp’s relationship with Winona Ryder that culminated in the “Wino Forever” tattoo.

In the segment of the trial that will stick with me the most, Amber Heard described not why their relationship fell apart, but rather why it didn’t fall apart for so long – why, if it was so terrible, she didn’t. he didn’t leave.

She said each act of violence was like a coin she put in a piggy bank, an investment in their future relationship. She said she believed that if she put down enough coins, Johnny would stop hitting her. That it had to get better because she couldn’t see how it could get worse. She said there were so many coins in the piggy bank that she was too heavy to move and had to stay.

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