Is this where I, in an ultra-embarrassed fashion, admit that I couldn’t stop watching clips of the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial?
Have you ever fallen into one of those YouTube spirals where you look around and are like, Why am I watching the trailer for a movie that came out in 1994 instead of folding one of my eighteen piles of laundry or making dinner or sleeping or doing literally anything else? Somehow I landed on clip after clip of Amber Heard’s lawyer arguing with witnesses and Johnny Depp furiously scribbling notes on a pad of paper, weird man-ponytail intact. I couldn’t stop watching.
The internet has quite decisively come down on the side of Johnny Depp, while the more mainstream media has plunked its cards down on Team Amber. I read articles about Depp’s drug addiction followed by podcast episodes about the downfall of the ACLU with a grand finale of expert lawyers arguing whether or not Heard should be speaking directly to the jury. All of the takes. All of the opinions. All of the memes. (I don’t even like Pirates of the Caribbean.)
Was Amber Heard abused by Johnny Depp?
I was prickly about the phrase Believe all women from the beginning, because I find women to be just as morally complex as any other being. Our court system simply can’t operate that way. Belief on a human level is far different than the mountain of evidence required, rightly so, to take someone’s liberty from them. I can “believe” someone and also “believe” that innocent until proven guilty is the bedrock upon which our justice system is built and also “believe” that abuse is incredibly difficult, if not borderline impossible, to prove. I got a criminology certificate in college and if I learned one thing from my criminal justice classes it was the fact that a trial is simply two people telling a story about what happened, and a third group of people deciding which story is more convincing. It has little to do with the truth—after all, the truth, while very real, is so difficult to prove in most cases. You’re never going to find me claiming I “know” what happened in a particular legal case.
And abuse: what a tricky word; one without borders or agreed-upon definitions. Punching someone in the face is abuse. What about threatening to? What about not giving them access to their money? What about calling them names on a day-to-day basis? What about emotionally manipulating them? I watched Netflix’s Maid last year (highly recommend) and found its emphasis on the realities of emotional abuse fascinating. Emotional abuse isn’t recognized by the legal system, as they delve into in the show: it’s too hard to define. Relationships are hurricanes of moments and emotions; a courtroom is an incredibly strange, difficult place to try and decipher what interactions were happening between two people.
So was Amber Heard abused by Johnny Depp? Who knows? Here’s what I *do* know: every single day, women are abused and raped and assaulted and people around them don’t believe them. I also think there is immense power in claiming the title of victim in modern day society, and that one unintended consequence of the #MeToo movement is going to be people who realize they can get on the cover of magazines by owning that victimhood, whether or not it’s a realistic depiction of their situation.
Where power is given, it will also be sought. That’s the clash between the broken nature of human beings and our good intentions. I’m glad I’m not the person who has to decipher the truth in all of this. I’m the YouTube binge watcher, who can merrily click away when she pleases.
But I don’t want to talk about Amber Heard and Johnny Depp, about cellphones being thrown off of balconies and Kate Moss. I want to talk about who this trial between two bajillionaires arguing over money and reputation and accusations is going to hurt: women who are abused.