In case you somehow missed the screaming—exultant, despairing, confused, good old-fashioned “This is my voice at the height of its capacity for volume because I need to remind myself I exist,” etc., take your pick—the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial delivered its verdict today. The results were largely a win for Depp, who was granted $10 million in compensatory damages and another $5 million in punitive damages by the jury, which found that Heard had, in fact, defamed her ex-husband with a Washington Post editorial she wrote a few years back in which she described domestic abuse at the hands of an unnamed partner (who was fairly clearly Depp himself, in apparent contravention of a non-disclosure agreement that was part of a $7 million divorce settlement between the two). Although Heard was awarded $2 million in compensatory damages as part of a counter-suit against Depp, it’s clear that the jury ultimately sided with Depp’s version of events, finding that Heard talking about herself as an abuse survivor was somehow out of legal bounds.
So, what have we learned from this whole ordeal? We have to have learned something from it, right? We didn’t just open our mouths and guzzle down an industrial sewage pipe’s worth of figurative shit for months without gleaning something edifying from it? Because that would be horrifyingly depressing and deeply dispiriting? Right?
The core of Depp’s case, money-wise, was that Heard’s allegations in her Washington Post op-ed cost him a lot of cash—which does, in loose terms, appear to be at least somewhat true. The period from 2016, when Heard first filed a restraining order against Depp, until 2018, when she wrote the op-ed, saw Hollywood studios manage to hold their noses regarding the abuse allegations against him; notably, Warner Bros. and Disney both kept the actor in for film franchises (Fantastic Beasts and Pirates Of The Caribbean, respectively) in 2017 and 2018 that they’d ultimately boot him from after the Post piece. Of course, that period also saw Depp get into a high-profile court case in the U.K. that ultimately saw a High Court rule that Heard’s abuse accusations against Depp were “substantially true,” so it’s very difficult, even now, to assess which bits of shitty Johnny Depp news made Disney decide it was no longer in the Johnny Depp business.
Meanwhile, we also got testimony that, in addition to WaPo pieces, Hollywood studios also get very nervous when actors become the focal point for hurricanes of bizarre internet rage. Although Warner Media’s Walter Hamada—who you may or may not remember from his studio’s ongoing war with Justice League actor Ray Fisher—testified that Heard’s part in the Aquaman franchise was cut back due to a “lack of chemistry” between her and star Jason Momoa, a consultant called by Heard’s attorneys testified that the actor had lost out on work and been cut from promotional events because the studio was getting nervous about the way the internet promptly self-immolated any time her name came up. That included an apparent dis-invitation from DC’s big online FanDome event, presumably out of fear that the online hordes would find a way to storm a pre-recorded internet press conference.
At the risk of editorializing more than we’re going to editorialize super hardcore here in a minute, we’ll just go ahead and say it: It’s a good thing that Johnny Depp and Amber Heard are not married anymore. Whether you believe the testimony of Depp’s side (mostly made up of people directly financially dependent on him asserting that he’s a good dude who barely even drinks $100,000 in wine a year anymore) or Heard’s side (backed-up with lots of text messages and receipts, etc.), it’s clear that the Depp-Heard marriage was a deeply toxic one. Both sides contend that physical violence was a recurring feature of the relationship, and basically every witness from either camp asserts that the pair constantly argued while wrestling with substance abuse issues.
Even as the whole concept of consensus reality seems to be collapsing into the abyss, these two people being out of each other’s lives has got to be a private, and, for some damn reason, a public, good. We don’t know what either person’s career will look like in the aftermath of all this—god knows the attempted Depp renaissance is going to be a hideous horrorshow—but no longer being half of the Amber Heard/Johnny Depp dyad has got to be for the best for either of them.
It’s not novel to note that the general reaction to the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial has been the grotesque and festering head of a pimple that has its pus-y roots buried deep in the Online American psyche. It’s the functional apotheosis of the principle that you’re not really alive in 2022 unless you’ve expressed an opinion on something—and the louder, less-informed, and more misogynistic, the better.
Maybe it was the pandemic, a wellspring of deadened emotion and sublimated horror finding a safely unsafe way to express itself. Maybe it was the forces of Shitty Dudes International, who’ve been on the ropes since #MeToo, but who are best-in-the-game at finding a comeback opportunity to exploit. Maybe it was just the general online vibe, which demands that we all become experts on everything while simultaneously trapping us in an ever-more-complex labyrinth of contradictory and self-selected information. Maybe it was all the fucking bots.
Either way, it’s not hard to imagine that it’s just going To Be Like This for the foreseeable future. The fevered reaction to the trial—an unholy marriage of Tumblr-style fan devotion, image board provocation-for-the-sake-of-provocation, and Twitter’s horrifying, inescapable reach (with just a smidge of TikTok’s “all of reality is content” ethos slapped on top of the whole thing)—feels like a brink we’re unlikely to walk back from. The details of the trial have become slippery and meaningless, even as its existence as The Content has become paramount.
The parts of us that hunger for this—as expressed through a million trial commentary videos, DuoLingo promotional messages, angry tweets, and the exact text you’re reading at this very moment—will not allow themselves to go unfed for long. Minutes after the trial ended, our inboxes began filling with PR offers for legal consultants to talk to, takes to mine, and even a list of bookmaker’s odds for questions like “Who will Amber Heard get engaged to next?” (Johnny Depp is, blessedly, at the bottom of the list.) It’s part of what made Saturday Night Live’s typically tone-deaf assertion that the trial is “for fun” so asinine, because none of this feels fun. It feels hungry, and hungry doesn’t go away.
That’s why they had the trial there, since it’s technically where Heard’s actions “against” Depp “happened.” Fun fact: Our current legal apparatus is almost completely incapable of handling the realities of crime and conflict on the internet!
So, hey: That’s four things we’ve learned!