Johnny Depp and the Guilty Scroll

If you want a glimpse into a world of confusion, nihilism, and debasement, I invite you to visit the Fairfax County Courthouse in Virginia for a while. There you can watch the proceedings as Amber Heard is sued for defamation in a case brought by actor Johnny Depp. Depp is suing his ex-wife for $50 million over an editorial in which she claimed to be a victim of domestic violence. The article was published in The Washington Post in 2018, in which Heard described her experience of sexual violence and harassment as well as “feeling the full force of our culture’s anger for women speaking out.” Depp was not actually named.

Depp has already fought a libel case in London’s High Court: he sued the Sun newspaper for calling him a ‘wife beater’ in 2020, and lost. In this second trial, he has thrown his weight behind a legal argument that leaves no inch of their sordid domestic life undiscovered. Heard, in turn, filed a countersuit for $100 million and provided tapes and videos that seek to prove the abuse she says she endured.

No one is a winner in the sordid and unedifying spectacle now playing out on TV and social media platforms everywhere. But for those not used to seeing live reporting, as we are in Britain and much of Europe, the spectacle of seeing one of the most famous actors of his generation portray a life of drug, alcohol and Rabelaisian dissolution makes it nearly impossible to ignore. It became my guilty scroll.

Evidence of Depp’s addictions, irrelevance and rough text exchanges show he was rarely partner of the year. Even so, his extraordinary charisma, charm, courtroom doodles, and mannerisms — a kind of Keith Richards meets Renaissance Prince persona — have already won much of the social media jury to his side.

Regardless of the outcome of the case overseen by Judge Penney Azcarate, whose behavior reflects total mystification in the face of the shitshow she now presides over, the TikTok court had no qualms about delivering a verdict. One of the first major celebrity cases to unfold on social media, it generated a tsunami of hot takes on the trial. And no one is impartial: #JusticeForJohnnyDepp had almost 10 billion views on TikTok, while a similar hashtag for Heard only reached 37 million. During this time, the platform has produced a slew of defamatory content about the actress and every sentence of her testimony has been reviewed, recreated and pieced together for viewers’ sport.

TikTok’s community guidelines prohibit “content that disparages victims of violent tragedies.” In case of abusive behavior, its policy states: “We remove expressions of abuse, including threats or degrading statements intended to mock, humiliate, embarrass, intimidate or hurt. TikTok says it has removed several videos about Heard that violated its anti-bullying policies, and says it will continue to enforce them. But anyone watching the current footage should know that any attempt to moderate content is just whistling in the wind.

Judge Penney Azcarate speaks with lawyers during the trial © Jim Lo Scalzo/-/Getty

Actor Johnny Depp draws in a sketchbook during his libel trial against his ex-wife Amber Heard

Depp sketches during the trial © Jonathan Ernst/-/Getty

The courtroom has become a social media circus, ready to activate the viral meme. And despite the seriousness of the allegations, nor how this lawsuit can be triggered for the estimate of one in four women who, according to women’s aid charity Refuge, will experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. life, there is no doubt that the incidental details that make up the court case have been compelling. Depp’s longtime Scottish bodyguard Malcolm Connolly has been the subject of a series of media profiles since taking the witness stand. A natural stand-up, when asked if he could remember if he’d seen the actor urinate in a hallway, his response brought the room to tears. Nor will I ever drink a substantial glass of alcohol in the future without remembering Heard’s attorney’s description of Depp’s “mega pint of red wine.” The comment is now available on T-shirts, has become an internet “challenge” and is the subject of a hashtag that has been used 122 minutes.

American actor Johnny Depp waves to fans from the back of his vehicle as he leaves Fairfax County Circuit Court

Depp waves to fans as he leaves the courthouse © Samuel Corum/-/Getty

Actress Amber Heard attends the libel trial against her at the Fairfax County Courthouse

Heard in court. The actress was the target of a slew of defamatory content online during her trial © Jim Lo Scalzo/-/Getty

Meanwhile, Depp’s seduction on social media has only further complicated the thorny issue of our attitudes toward abuse. His eccentric elocution, excesses and outbursts are certainly symptomatic of an abuser — he didn’t hide his addictions in the court case. But his personality flaws and wilder nature are precisely the characteristics on which he built a billion-dollar career. No wonder TikTok is happy to acquit him of any wrongdoing; to admit that Depp was abusive would be a damning incrimination of ourselves. We savor the entertainment value of deviants like Jack Sparrow, the Big Bad Wolf, or cocaine smuggler George Jung (all heroes of Depp’s work), no matter how much pain they cause.

As an exercise in finding out who’s guilty here, we should probably look at ourselves more wickedly. We built the culture that made Depp a “legend,” and now we are responsible for buttressing the scaffolding of blame. It’s dark, depressing and degrading. And I look at him with a nag of shame. But I’ll keep scrolling and pour another mega pint of wine.

Email Jo at [email protected]

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