What the affair 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 by the way – in an op-ed in 2018 Washington Post allegedly accused of abuse and intimate partner violence. Depp demanded fifty million dollars from Heard for missing roles, Heard in return demanded twice as much as the jury finds in her favor.

The seven-member jury convened Friday after closing arguments from both sides in the case. The jury may take as much time for deliberation 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 on summaries (summaries) if you missed a courtroom deposition. And also offline, around the well-known coffee machine, in many places the question was: are you team-Depp or team-Heard? One would almost forget that the two actors were playing themselves in this case.

The phenomenon reminded some observers of the OJ Simpson arrest and subsequent public trial in the 1990s. A collective obsession with a superstar’s alleged transgressions. 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 live streams on YouTube. Anyone who wanted to stand out in the sea of ​​messages sometimes had to pay up to hundreds of dollars to be presented with a message.

Algorithms, bots and tilt 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 also missing in the 1990s. Do not forget that at that time there were so-called bots (manipulated online traffic), which especially the Depp camp would have used to push videos and articles arguing in his favor at the speed of the people. “I have not followed the case,” wrote New York Timescritic Amanda Hess in an analysis, “the case followed me.”

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

An unequivocal tale of a woman standing her ground against a powerful man began to tilt under the case. The nuance that a British judge had already stated that the British newspaper The sun Calling him a wife beater because there seemed to be sufficient basis for Heard’s accusations was thus lost on the general public in the United States. At the time, in 2020, that case attracted considerably less controversy.

These online offensives have usually not affected the referees themselves. As usual in American trials, they were shut off from the outside world during the trial. It is true that the discussions about the case seeped into the courtroom from time to time. Camp-Depp, for example, called a Twitter user as a witness because he wanted incriminating information about Heard. And in closing argument, Camp Heard referred to the online “defamation campaign” by Depp and his followers.

How damaging this battle for imaging has actually been to the legal process is therefore open. 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?

followed eagerly

The eagerness with which Internet users — perhaps seeking distraction from pandemic and war news — took to this story recalled the popularity of so-called juice channels, which pump one juicy 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 for click-driven tech companies and news media that have successfully intertwined their revenue model on these platforms. A precarious private #MeToo issue then quickly becomes a soap opera saga to keep people glued to their screens. Moreover, with the promise of real influence on the outcome, as spies in Yvonne Coldeweijer’s ‘army of spies’, e.g. Or as online jurors, chatting with thousands of others as they deliberate in court.

TikTok turns it into a sport

Almost a quarter of a century after the appearance of The Truman Show, the iconic film about a town where almost all the inhabitants have ended up as actors in a reality soap, we no longer look at ourselves and each other, but – almost as usual – at the stars and their misfortunes. Although these days it’s more than just looking: many imagine themselves – just like you The Truman Show – also actors in this soap. 24-hour TV turned this kind of celebrity affair into a spectacle, TikTok turns it into a sport, writes Amanda Hess in this article New York Times. A game where 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 then according to NRCcorrespondent from Washington. He was rather skeptical of this, with all praise for the ‘subtle comedy’ itself. “TV shows a lot of junk and presents all kinds of fakes as authentic reality every day. But whether it really controls many people’s lives and enslaves us all is doubtful.”

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

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

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