In Too Depp: Why Americans Are Addicted to Celebrity Circuses
The Johnny Depp – Amber Heard trial is taking a week-long break after a month of ardent, colorful and at times cringeworthy testimony from more than 30 individuals, and it will reconvene on Monday, May 16. The trial paused after Heard took the stand for the first time last week, and she will continue to present evidence when it resumes. In the meantime, many of us are experiencing a celebrity drama-shaped hole in our lives.
In an interview for Knowledge at Wharton, author and Columbia University professor Sharon Marcus points out that, “celebrity culture is the constant negotiation between media and the public.” In a country as obsessed with pop culture as America, it’s very easy to fall into the addictive tabloid trap of viewing celebrities’ personal lives as entertainment for our consumption, and the public’s reaction to the Depp/Heard trial is a prime example of this.
If you are an American with access to the Internet, by now you probably know the very intimate details and secrets of a marriage between two people who are complete strangers to you. However, for those who have remained outside of the mainstream, I’ll summarize. Following her divorce from Johnny Depp, Amber Heard published an op-ed in the Washington Post in late 2018 about her experience as a survivor of domestic violence. Johnny Depp, as a result, lost his Pirates of the Caribbean and Fantastic Beasts roles, as well as nearly all his brand partnerships.
In response to the op-ed, Depp filed a defamation lawsuit for $50 million against Heard in 2019. Two years later, in January of 2021, Heard counter-sued for $100 million. The trial for Depp’s original lawsuit is currently happening and being broadcasted regularly. We the people have reacted in the most respectful and appropriate way we know: by making memes out of trial footage and evidence to share with billions of people on social media.
I mean, does that not strike anyone else as odd? If your close friend were involved in a trial centered around domestic abuse and droves of strangers flocked to Twitter to make jokes about them, you’d be furious, right? So, what’s the difference?
Out of Touch
In many instances, fans have lost the ability to differentiate between actors and the characters they portray. Though Johnny Depp and Amber Heard have both taken the stand to tell personal and vulnerable stories of their experiences with domestic violence, one TikTok user has made a video suggesting that if Heard is found guilty, Depp should stand up in the courtroom and proclaim, “This is the day you will always remember as the day you almost caught Jack Sparrow.” The quote is one of the more well-known lines spoken by Depp as the character Jack Sparrow in the first film of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise.
Don’t get me wrong, I love celebrity drama. I stalk the Instagram accounts of each and every member of the Kardashian family on a daily basis. The Met Gala red carpet is my Superbowl. But, there is a difference between consuming media that celebrities willingly give to the public as entertainment, and feeling entitled to unrestricted access to their private life. The former is simply part of modern American culture, but the latter is invasive and leads to shaved heads and smashed windows. The public’s insensitivity towards the Depp/Heard case is not the first instance of this phenomenon, and it certainly won’t be the last, but I hope that we as a society can take more steps towards mindfulness in the way we interact with the entertainment business.
Chloe Pearce is a Public Relations & Content Development Associate at Flackable, an award-winning public relations agency representing financial and professional service brands nationwide. To learn more about Flackable, please visit flackable.com.