I was in London over the weekend. It was the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee—the celebration of Her Majesty’s 70 years on the throne, the longest of any British monarch ever. And yet it seemed that all anyone wanted to talk about was Johnny Depp and Amber Heard.
Surely a part of the fixation is the same impulse that led people to the stands at the Coliseum. But it also seems to me that the case cuts to the heart of so many of the questions that have been raging since the beginning of the #MeToo movement. Should a woman, because she’s a woman, be automatically believed in cases of domestic violence? Does the fact that Heard appeared to lie about some details discredit the more general claim that Depp was an abuser and, by his own admission and reams of evidence, an addict? Is it possible to have an impartial jury trial in the age of TikTok? Most important, will the verdict here, as many argue, silence other, less powerful women who might want to speak out?
I wrote to Floyd Abrams, arguably the most celebrated First Amendment lawyer in the country, to ask him his views. He said that “the jury seemed engaged and serious, its factual findings seem defensible and I am unwilling to second-guess its judgement or its willingness to follow the rather pro-speech strictures of the New York Times v. Sullivan case and still unanimously find in Depp’s favor.”
Abrams went on:
“That said, it is difficult for me not to have some level of sympathy for Heard. She has not only been found by the jury to have testified falsely as to critical issues of fact—to have lied—but been so pilloried throughout the nation that she has become a public face of falsehood. We have had public figures at the highest level of national authority who have routinely lied about far more important matters and have never been subjected to anything like the level of opprobrium she is now enduring.”
The rage against her—and the worship of him—has been primal. And there was no escaping it. Over the course of the trial, it felt like the algorithms that drive social media were programmed to stoke hatred of Heard.
The feminists I tend to trust hold wildly different opinions on this case. Many I know are defending Depp on the grounds that true equality of the sexes means winning and losing. But Julie Bindel, the author of today’s essay, believes the verdict to be a win for abusers and misogynists everywhere. She has plenty of experience fighting both. — BW
A headline in The Independent from a few days ago insisted that the internet hated Amber Heard more than Vladimir Putin. If you think that’s an exaggeration you apparently don’t have TikTok or Twitter.
Over the course of the past few weeks, the mob online and the one outside of that Virginia courtroom successfully turned a woman into a meme, a human being into a caricature, a mother into a monster.
Watching this sorry spectacle put me in mind of Emma-Jayne Magson.