Why The Depp v. Heard Verdict Is So Brutal

The Johnny Depp defamation verdict against Amber Heard was a gutting experience.

I’m so tired of being angry. My bones hurt from being angry. All my muscles are exhausted from constant flexing, just in case I have to fend something — or someone — off. I have a constant, vision-blurring headache from keeping track of who’s trying to cause me and my friends harm. Fighting once felt fruitful, but the older I get, the less effective it seems as a coping strategy for a world seemingly intent on killing me, you, all of us. Just the last few weeks have been uniquely unbearable if you’re not a straight white man with a fat pocketbook filled out by making shitty movies that eventually became rides at Magic Kingdom.

Earlier today, the jury returned with a verdict in the demoralizing six-week Johnny Depp v. Amber Heard defamation trial, and it was bad news for anyone hoping to protect freedom of speech, or hoping that alleged survivors of domestic abuse would be able to tell their stories — even without using anyone’s name. Depp won his defamation suit against his ex-wife, and the jury ordered Heard to pay him a total of $15 million: $10 million in compensatory damages, and another $5 million in punitive damages, meaning the jury not only thinks she wasn’t telling the truth, but that she was libeling him with actual malice. (Depp was also ordered to pay Heard $2 million because his former lawyer, Adam Waldman, called Heard’s allegations a hoax. It’s hardly a victory for her.)

The verdict today came despite the fact that Depp has actually already lost a similar libel case in the UK against the Sun for calling him a “wife beater.” Like every woman I know, I watched the verdict read with my jaw hard-set. It just didn’t make any sense, but nothing really does anymore, does it?

I don’t have any salient conclusions to make about Depp v. Heard other than a deceptively simple and really depressing one: I’m tired, and I don’t know how long I can keep fighting like this.

The exhaustion is never just about the one thing. It’s never about the singular event that makes you feel like your humanity has no value. It’s the accumulation of these events that feed into a knowing disquietude many of us have about how our lives are being strangled and morphed into terrifying dystopias. I live in a country where abortion access is steadily being scaled back if not outright banned, where an 18-year-old can legally buy an assault rifle and kill a bunch of schoolchildren and their teachers, and where you can’t even talk about alleged domestic abuse in an oblique way for fear of reprisal. I know, I know, I know — women older than me tell me all the time how it was always this bad, and I know that’s true on so many levels. I know it’s important to have hope, because the alternative isn’t tenable for humanity. But how am I supposed to be hopeful when a GOP Twitter account posts a GIF of Captain Jack Sparrow looking triumphant?

Being a woman in the world doesn’t mean you’re ever just being punished by one man or one event; it means having to tangle with a tapestry of subjugation.  

Amber Heard has already discovered what it’s like to face a powerful person in court. It’ll be so much tougher for her to fight his legions of stans — or more accurately, the people who seem to just hate her guts. The cultural precedent this outcome could set is terrifying — people could be less willing to speak out about alleged abuses made against them, even if they aren’t naming that person directly. See no evil, hear no evil, speak no truth.

It’s never just about the one case. It isn’t just about Roe v. Wade teetering on the cusp of being overturned, sending generations of cis women and AFAB trans people back to fearing for their reproductive rights — it’s about all the other people cheering the decision on, or those who want to force a woman to have a baby she doesn’t want. It’s not just about the several mass shootings that have happened in the last three weeks — it’s about the swaths of people convinced that guns aren’t the problem, we just need to have fewer doors.

It’s not just about the money Amber Heard now apparently owes Johnny Depp — it’s about the cacophonous rally happening around him, people who don’t just support Depp but despise Heard. The cruelty is the point, sure, and these masses are part of the cruelty. Being a woman in the world doesn’t mean you’re ever just being punished by one man or one event; it means having to tangle with a tapestry of subjugation.

How are we supposed to keep up the good fight if we never get a chance to take a break from the fighting? How long can you be hypervigilant, in such a sustained way, with so little proof that the vigilance works? All progress comes with pushback, and that’s what we’re seeing here; it’s too premature to call the verdict the death of #MeToo, but it certainly feels like a pendulum swinging hard in the opposite direction. It also has implications for every woman who wants to come forward with her own allegations of abuse — from Evan Rachel Wood to any woman you know. Perhaps the hope is that we get too tired to keep fighting. I hate admitting when I’m close to quitting. I’m too young to be this disappointed.

When the jury read the verdict, they also read the headline in the Washington Post op-ed that precipitated the libel claims from Depp: “I spoke up against sexual violence — and faced our culture’s wrath.” The jury didn’t intend this, but they proved her point. Now, as Amber Heard drowns in that wrath, those of us who believed her do too.

But, of course, our immediate trauma will soon mellow into a more manageable kind of collective PTSD, as it has for every kind of disturbing and damaging current event in history. Some of us will learn from it; most of us won’t. Tomorrow, I’ll get back up. Tomorrow, I’ll have more salient thoughts. Tomorrow, I’ll try again. But maybe for now, it’s OK to be tired.

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