After all, we have witnessed the unbearable memification of events occurring in Virginia, including clips from TikTok with music, memes and bad jokes that circulate in Twitter and Instagram about family violence. Yesterday, I saw some (clearly fake) images circulating online of Amber Heard wiping her nose with a tissue, along with claims that she was doing something wrong in the courtroom.
I also saw a video of Depp being driven to the Fairfax County courthouse and him leaning out the back window waving at hordes of fans who were yelling at him like he was on his way to the Oscars.
What’s going on? Have people gone completely crazy? It’s a libel trial centered on allegations of family abuse, not the red carpet premiere of Pirates of the Caribbean 7.
And the mass madness that the general public seems to be suffering from is not even reserved just for the US, where the trial is taking place, but also here in Britain. Just when I thought we (and I use the term loosely) couldn’t sink any further, Saturday night at a bar I saw that the names of Depp and Heard were used to label some tip jars for staff in the cloakroom. Presumably, before putting on the coat, you have to take a side on whether Heard is a victim or not. This was one of the most disgusting (and misogynistic) examples of the whole situation.
What is really troubling, apart from the evidence presented in court (we have heard harrowing accounts of alleged sexual assaults and physical violence; of jealousy and drunken tantrums), is the way in which that private horror has somehow translated into the “acceptable” ground of bad memes and cheap laughs.
My colleague Sunny Hundal wrote about how difficult it is to avoid the lawsuit, even if you don’t want to know about it, due to its popularity and proliferation online. Much of this information is apparently designed to portray Depp as a “nice guy” and Heard as a “hysterical woman.” a video in Youtube it was titled “False Tears,” he noted. Another was equally dismissive: “The. Worse. Performance. Of. The. History”. A third warned about “brand new lies about johnny”.
But much of it is (apparently) just for the laughs. On YouTube, the most popular videos about the trial are about Depp making the courtroom laugh. There’s a popular tiktok video of a woman mimicking Heard by slowly contorting her expression into a big sad face. Depp is playing the funny man, the joker, the one who smiles in the courtroom. Heard, on the other hand, is portrayed as serious and uptight. Which is weird, considering she’s speaking candidly about her experiences of wild sexual and physical violence. It’s harder than you think to smile when you relive your own trauma.
Still, it’s no surprise that Depp’s supporters seem to outnumber Heard’s; I could even see that reflected in the number of coins in the tip jars in central London on Saturday as the night wore on.
I think it makes us question what we consider to be “fun” or “allowable”: it’s all too easy to forget that while these are celebrities, their lives seemingly made for public consumption and savage dissection, they’re also people. Their lives have become a circus, and it’s alarmingly grotesque.
It has become so easy for us to feel so remote and distant, shielded by the glare of our computer screens, that many of us seem to have forgotten something crucial about being human: our empathy. If you’ve ever heard a nasty “joke” about Madeleine McCann’s disappearance, and this thoughtless advertisement on a hamburger van in Yorkshire is a good examplethen you will know exactly what I am talking about.
It’s exactly the same when it comes to online trolling: rape and death threats are the everyday experience for many women on social media, and what’s the defence? “It was just a joke. Can’t take a joke? As I recently wrote about misogyny directed at Angela Raynerwomen can laugh, but that doesn’t mean it’s funny.
Depp’s trial against Heard is now in recess for a week or so and will resume on May 16; but this intense interest, this atmosphere, reminiscent of a gladiatorial arena, shows no signs of abating any time soon. The crowds are howling for blood, and they had better be entertained.
I think we all need to take a close look at ourselves and decide if what we’re laughing at is really that funny. I guess it says a hell of a lot more about us than it does about those we made fun of in the first place.
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Opinion: Why are some people laughing at the Depp vs. Heard trial?