What the case between Johnny Depp and Amber Heard says about our culture

For those who entered the internet last month, there seemed to be no escape: the Depp versus Heard case.

Millions of social media users worldwide witnessed a civil lawsuit in which actor Johnny Depp sought damages from his ex, actress Amber Heard, who – without naming him, incidentally – in a 2018 opinion article in The Washington Post allegedly accused of abuse and intimate partner violence. Depp demanded fifty million dollars from Heard for missing roles, Heard in turn demanded double when the jury finds in her favor.

The seven-member jury met on Friday after the closing arguments of both parties in the case. The jury may take as much time for deliberations as it deems necessary. The jury will resume its deliberations next Tuesday.

global mania

The global mania of recent weeks was reminiscent of the hype surrounding a new hit series on Netflix. Everywhere you could see live streams of the business, podcasts with debriefings and so-called recaps (summaries), in case you missed a courtroom revelation. And also offline, around the proverbial coffee machine, in many places the question was: are you team-Depp or team-Heard? You would almost forget that the two actors played themselves in this case.

The phenomenon reminded some observers of the arrest and subsequent public trial of OJ Simpson in the 1990s. A collective obsession with the alleged transgressions of a superstar. The similarities between the two cases are obvious.

With the understanding that in 2022 the world not only looks, but also talks back. In heated chat panels, for example, in addition to the live streams on YouTube. Anyone who wanted to stand out in the sea of ​​messages had to pay up to hundreds of dollars at times to be featured with a message.

Algorithms, bots and tilting image

The algorithms of the major news sites and social media platforms, which are eager to direct internet traffic to the lowest common denominator, were still missing in the 1990s. Never mind that at the time there were so-called bots (manipulated online traffic) that would have been used by the Depp camp in particular to push videos and articles that argue in his favor at the speed of the peoples. “I have not followed the case,” wrote The New York Timescritic Amanda Hess in an analysis, “the case followed me.”

Also read this profile about Johnny Depp from 2019: The problem with Johnny Depp

An unambiguous narrative of a woman standing in her right against a powerful man began to tilt during the case. The nuance that a British judge had already stated that the British newspaper The Sun Calling him a man who beat his wife because there seemed to be sufficient grounds for Heard’s accusations, was thus lost to the general public in the United States. At the time, in 2020, that case caused considerably less controversy.

These online offensives have normally not affected the judges themselves. As usual in American court cases, they were closed off from the outside world during the trial. Admittedly, the online discussions about the case occasionally seeped into the courtroom. Camp Depp, for example, called on a Twitter user as a witness because he would have incriminating information about Heard. And in the closing argument, Camp Heard referred to the online “defamation campaign” by Depp and his followers.

It is therefore questionable how harmful this battle for image formation has actually been for the judicial process. It seems more interesting to weigh the significance of the issue outside the courtroom. What does Depp vs Heard say about this moment in our culture?

eagerly followed

The eagerness with which internet users – seeking distraction perhaps, from pandemic and war news – took to this story was reminiscent of the popularity of so-called juice channels, which pump one juicy piece of tidbit after another about fallen stars into the online ether.

After spreading disinformation and influencing democratic processes, entertainment appears to be the new cash cow of click-driven tech companies and of news media that have successfully intertwined their revenue model on these platforms. A precarious private #MeToo issue then quickly turns into a soap opera saga to keep people glued to their screens. With the promise of real influence on the outcome, moreover, as spies in Yvonne Coldeweijer’s ‘spy army’, for example. Or as online jurors, chatting with thousands of others while deliberating in court.

TikTok makes it a sport

Nearly a quarter of a century after the appearance of The Truman Show, the iconic film about a city in which almost all residents have ended up as actors in a reality soap, we no longer look at ourselves and each other, but – as usual, almost – at the stars and their misadventures. Although nowadays it is more than just looking: many imagine themselves – just like in The Truman Show – also actors in this soap. 24-hour television turned these kinds of celebrity lawsuits into a spectacle, TikTok makes it a sport, Amanda Hess writes in this article The New York Times† A game in which the boundaries between offline and online reality have de facto disappeared.

“A Key to Understanding Our Times,” as American critics called it The Truman Show at the time, according to the NRCcorrespondent from Washington. He was quite skeptical about this, with all the praise for the ‘subtle comedy’ itself. “Television shows a lot of junk, presenting all kinds of counterfeits as authentic reality every day. But whether it really controls the lives of many people and enslaves us all is questionable.”

A quarter of a century later, little remains of that reasonable doubt. In the end, however, it was not the screen of our television, but that of our computer and later our telephone that turned out to be the place where the prophetic aspects emerge. The Truman Show came to full maturity. Billions of citizens worldwide were willing to voluntarily give up privacy in order to constantly share intimacies from their lives with others.

If you are looking for a key to get to a good understanding of this time, it is better to contact Don’t look up rightly so, the Netflix film in which the world loses itself in trivialities in the face of a coming disaster. Although it ends a lot more grim than The Truman Show

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