Hint: Ultimately nothing to the rest of us.
I’m going to start this off with two caveats: One, I didn’t watch the entire Depp-Heard trial, only snippets. And two, I’ve never been the perpetrator or the victim of conjugal abuse.
I have no skin in this game, so anything I say here carries about as much weight as the next person who also doesn’t know either Johnny Depp or Amber Heard personally or has ever witnessed them in action together.
I’m not here to make judgement on either of them. The dynamics of any relationship are always complex and not easy to define. It’s clear they’ve done things to hurt each other. It’s clear they’re still wanting to hurt each other. But where do we, the observers, fit it?
“Abuse” is a loaded word. It can mean anything from hurling ugly, hurtful words, from making impossible demands, from isolating the victim from friends and family, to causing physical pain and injury. Some of it is obvious because the abuser doesn’t care who sees it, but most often it isn’t. The bruises don’t always show. There isn’t always a split lip or a black eye. Sometimes the abuse is to the spirit.
I followed an interesting thread on Twitter yesterday, started by someone who had been in a long-term abusive relationship. They said because they’d had enough and finally hit back, if there had been a trial like this one they might have been accused of abuse, too. It opened up the floodgates to other victims who told their stories in much the same way. At some point they had to fight back and because their abusers were masters at manipulation and gaslighting, they’d be hard pressed to convince a jury they were the victims.
Often, they said, revenge was its own sweet victory. They had no regrets. But did that mean they hadn’t been victims? No, it didn’t.
It could be that that’s what made the Depp-Heard trial so interesting to so many people — those grey areas over which of them was the victim — but once it turned into a circus, thanks to the media vultures, it became frivolous and sickening. The jokes were endless and never really funny.
And neither Johnny Depp nor Amber Heard came away unscathed. They both looked less like victims and more like out-of-control monsters. They each had their haters and their supporters. It seems the entire country has an opinion now, and nothing is going to change that.
They’ll never go back to simply being actors. They’ll carry the scars of that trial with them forever. It’s how they’ll be known from now on, and not a single observer will ever know the entire truth. It will always be one’s word against the other, because it’s human nature to defend ourselves against scandal.
We can’t be as bad as it looks. And maybe we aren’t.
What do you think? Your opinion matters. Just try not to spit nails.
(Cross-posted at Constant Commoner, my Substack newsletter.)