As I write the juggernaut that is the Johnny Depp/Amber Heard trial is hurtling towards the end of the road with closing statements expected to take place Friday.
A quick recap in case anyone has lost track of the actual cases being brought.
Johnny is suing Amber for defamation after Amber wrote an Op Ed for the Washington Post about being the victim of domestic violence which didn’t actually name him but in which, he argues, his identity was so clearly implied she might as well have. He’s claiming $50million in damages and says he was never violent and that if anything Amber was the aggressor.
Not to be outdone, Amber is countersuing him for $100million stating she was only ever physically violent towards him in self-defense or defense of her sister, Whitney.
Well, if any of us ever doubted that this was a couple unable to resolve their issues and prone to escalation, bring down the gavel, I think we have a verdict.
The way Johnny and Amber see it they’re both victims. And maybe they are – victims of themselves, victims of each other. Who knows?
Let’s not forget that Johnny has already brought and lost a defamation case against Amber in London when the high court found that there was reasonable evidence to support the Sun’s assertions that he was a ‘wife-beater.’ Personally, I can’t help feeling that his decision to bring yet another case smacks more of vindictiveness and bruised ego than righteousness.
But it seems to me that the only thing more dismal than the fact this trial is happening at all is what it’s shown us about how we judge and measure women in public life.
There is a sad irony in that it’s all rather proving the point that Johnny claims Amber had no right to make in that Op Ed piece, in which she wrote about the price women pay for standing up to power. He’s the one that dragged her to court in the first place after all. Was she just meant to take that? Would it make her a more compelling victim if she had?
Because that’s the problem isn’t it? That’s the thing we’re all judging. Is she a good enough victim?
The truth is that while Johnny has been painted an almost lovable rogue, relatively untarnished by the obvious squalor of their relationship for all his cry of damages, Amber has been judged and found wanting.
She has been deemed an imperfect victim and swiftly recast by many as a villain, because women can only be understood by dichotomies, right? Victim/Villain, Virgin/Whore, Saint/Sinner. And we can tell just by looking at them.
Johnny shows up looking like an aging lothario – hair slicked back, fingers heavy with rings, Al Capone suit and nobody bats an eyelid.
Amber’s wardrobe is scrutinized, and some arch manipulation read into her high-collared, tailored choices. Every. Single. Day. I must admit I’m not above a certain fascination with her elaborately braided hair. (What time must she get up in the morning? Did she lend her hair stylist to her sister when she took the stand? Or are the Heard sisters just preternaturally gifted braiders?)
And let’s not forget that two attractive women can’t be in the same room without the tantalizing prospect of a catfight. Step forward Camille Vasquez, Johnny’s ‘glamorous attorney.’
Johnny fans stand to cheer Camille on her way in and out of the Virginia court just as much as they jeer Amber.
They may think they’re lauding Camille, but they have reduced and traduced her every bit as much as they have her ‘nemesis’ Amber.
Where Amber has been cast a modern-day Medusa – to whom Johnny famously told he would ‘not give his eyes,’ as if she might turn him to stone (or perhaps worse for a man of his ego just blink back at him blankly), Camille has been cast as coquette and She-Ra, part Sugar-Plum Fairy, part Mata-Hari.
All it took was for her to hand Johnny his water bottle, touch his shoulder and smile a few times and suddenly the Twittersphere exploded with talk of a new romance. Was she dating Johnny???
Never mind that she’s there because she’s a highly qualified lawyer who graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of South California and went onto a topflight law school. Never mind that she’s one of a team of lawyers (I challenge anyone to name one of the men). It’s her versus Amber now and it’s a love thing obvs.
Come on people, aren’t we better than this? In 2022 isn’t it dismaying that professional women in the public eye are still dismantled into a series of wardrobe choices and hairstyles then reassembled as some outdated trope or meme?
And isn’t the simple fact that all of this is happening at all likely to have a chilling effect on other women, watching the livestreams and having it confirmed that when it comes to matters of domestic or sexual violence it is still, always, the woman who is on trial.
I re-read Amber’s Op Ed before writing this piece. It was run through the sieves a host of lawyers before ever making it into print and to be honest might have sunk without trace had Johnny not grabbed it and waved it around in outrage.
In it Amber chronicles her experiences as a survivor of domestic violence – something she says she had experienced by the time she reached college age, so well before Johnny. And she writes that women who speak up suffer, while powerful male perpetrators are shielded and buoyed up by economic and cultural forces.
She asks the reader to imagine that the powerful man in question is the Titanic. Struck by an iceberg – presumably allegations of abuse – there are teams on board working to patch up the hole not, she wrote, because they care for the ship so much as because their own fate depends on it remaining afloat.
It’s an odd choice of metaphor. After all, the Titanic sank but the shattered iceberg could hardly be considered victorious, nor accused of acting with intent. It didn’t bravely stand up to the ship and the ship didn’t deliberately strike it.
But perhaps as this unedifying trial winds to a close an image void of moral high-ground or any discernible winner is as good a pick as any.
You can watch live streaming of the Depp/Heard trial on Court TV.