I was at a baby shower in an unassuming small town when I overheard two moms deep in discussion about the Johnny Depp lawsuit. They asked each other what it might possibly mean for their own children, who could one day be victims of supposedly false abuse allegations the likes of which Amber Heard had brought against the once-superstar actor. A pit formed in my stomach, and then I laughed, at a loss for what else I could possibly do with my body.
Not long after, I read an op-ed at The New Republic that proclaimed “Depp v. Heard isn’t some referendum on #MeToo, nor will it set back anyone’s causes by re-unleashing some chilling threat to silence women for speaking out.” A bold stance to take in light of Wednesday’s verdict in the case: The Virginia jury found in favor of Depp, and determined that Heard’s 2018 Washington Post essay was a malicious and defamatory act worthy of $10 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. In a statement made shortly after the verdict, Depp claimed the jury had given “me my life back,” adding: “I also hope that the position will now return to innocent until proven guilty, both within the courts and in the media.” In her own statement, Heard wrote that “The disappointment I feel today is beyond words,” and claimed that she was “heartbroken that the mountain of evidence still was not enough to stand up to the disproportionate power, influence and sway of my ex husband."
In celebration, the GOP’s House Judiciary Committee tweeted a GIF of Depp as Captain Jack Sparrow, while Republicans like Ann Coulter triumphantly declared: “Thus ends the ‘#MeToo’ movement.”
The shadow of the Me Too movement has loomed large over this trial and its surrounding media circus. “#MenToo” became a calling card amongst his supporters and news commenters, leaking down into the various social media apps ablaze with coverage, video clips, reactions, and memes. Far-right media outlets like The Daily Wire spent wild sums on pro-Depp Facebook ads, while Fox News and its affiliate goblins cheered on the demise of Me Too and protections for sexual assault and abuse survivors. On TikTok, true crime fanatics joined MRA content creators as they livestreamed the proceedings, and their resulting reactions, to audiences in the tens of thousands. On Youtube, those same creators garnered millions of views, and were joined by just about everyone on the platform, even popular gaming Twitch streamers and, no surprise, alt-right media darlings like Steven Crowder.
A May 26 video from Fox’s LIVE NOW channel, titled “Johnny Depp attorney snaps at Amber Heard: ‘Your lies have been exposed,’” features Amber Heard’s face as the thumbnail, contorted in obvious pain. It has 16.5 million views and counting.
But it wasn’t just the obvious suspects like Fox News calling Heard a liar. Again, The New Republic’s aforementioned op-ed best summarizes the hand wringing about her claims: “Heard has told numerous significant lies and largely misrepresented her status as a victim of abuse,” adding that “you don’t have to hate women or love the Pirates of the Caribbean franchise to harbor deep misgivings about Heard’s credibility.” While TNR’s piece ends with the bold proclamation that this silly squabble between Tinseltown’s elite is ultimately meaningless, that word, credibility, is what’s been bandied about amongst women more broadly in recent weeks. Can Heard be trusted, and has she told “us” the truth? Since the moment Me Too went anywhere, there were concerns it had gone too far and would ultimately prove damaging to women. Was Heard the fabled seductress, come to cast our cohort back into the shadows with her scheming and lies?
Depp’s supporters dug up so-called evidence to prove she misrepresented the abuse for some manner of gain: personal, political, financial. Or, if she hadn’t made up the abuse entirely, that Heard somehow invited this treatment, participated in it herself, was even the cause of his violent behavior. “Deppheads” hold such beliefs as their central tenets, arguing in countless TikTok videos that they know women just like Heard in real life. Women who have accused the men in their lives falsely of abuse, or manipulation, or specifically in Depp’s case, torture. If only everyone knew both sides of the story.
These same women, and the malevolent forces encircling them, prop up Depp’s firebrand lawyer Camille Vasquez as the new post-feminist hero they aspire to emulate. A woman who ridicules an abuse victim on the stand, openly laughs at her testimony, flaunts courtroom proceedings, plays to the cameras with a winking nod, and helps engineer a social panic. Right wing outlet The Daily Mail published “The breakout stars of the Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard trial: From 'hero' witnesses to the actor's 'powerhouse' attorney Camille Vasquez” on the day of the verdict, while compilation fan videos have rapidly spread on TikTok and Youtube. Like a video from June 30 titled “Camille Vasquez shutting down Amber’s lies for 13 minutes straight.” It is rapidly approaching 2 million views. Likewise, “Top Moments of Johnny Depp’s Lawyer Camille Vasquez Cross-Examining Amber Heard” has 3.4 million views
I wish I could say I found any of this surprising. I have reported from every angle of the Me Too social movement since its inception. I have attended trials, read countless depositions, taken victims’ testimonies, and spoken to lawyers, including Depp and Heard’s legal teams. I have watched the wave rise, then crash, and ultimately lose its kinetic momentum, leaving only a faint residue of change in its wake. The men both “canceled” and accused of various sexual crimes and abusive acts in the last five years acted as figureheads for the brewing cultural backlash to Me Too, but they did not act alone. Women are not responsible for the abuse they endure, but some women, like Camille Vasquez or the legions of female Depp supporters online, sure are guilty of perpetuating that violence.
And the backlash isn’t limited to civil trials. As the most highly publicized trial of the decade paints Amber Heard as an opportunist and liar, the Supreme Court is poised to strip people of abortion access, dismantaling decades of work to give them back their bodily autonomy. When Roe v. Wade is presumably overturned, at least 22 states will have bans that would take effect immediately, including bans for even rape and incest victims. Meanwhile, legislators fixate on claims of “abuse” as cover for punishing parents, teachers, and doctors who provide gender-affirming treatments for children. The same legislators eagerly pushing this violent, anti-feminist, anti-trans panic are one and the same with the GOP’s House Judiciary Committee, which includes Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, a man accused of overlooking sexual assault during his time as Ohio State University’s wrestling coach. He’s joined on the subcommittee by Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz, who is currently under investigation for allegedly sex trafficking a minor. The same sub-committee that tweeted in support of Johnny Depp shortly after the trial’s conclusion.
But sure, none of this must matter very much, it’s merely a squabble between two exorbitantly rich opportunists, with little bearing for the lives of regular, everyday people. Right?
Perhaps I’m misreading the vibe. For all the snarky comments about the legitimacy of this trial’s outcome on both sides of the spectrum, the simple truth might just be that for most, it is easier to live in that alternate dimension, jostling all together on an imaginary beach of the mind. Enjoy the vacation. You will all need the rest before what comes next.
Joan Summers is a local gossip about town.