Unlike the O.J. Simpson trial (1995) or Oscar Pistorius trial (2014), the Depp vs. Heard defamation trial is not about proving whether the accused is guilty of a crime. However, very much like these famous trials which preceded it, this televised civil hearing is captivating audiences and sparking debate worldwide.
From the comments on social media, it is clear that even before the testimonies are concluded and the jury goes away to deliberate, audiences are already taking sides. Yet, in matters of the heart, we are all either innocent or guilty. The degree of guilt or innocence is practically impossible to determine. Can evidence entered into discovery ever cover the stretch of seconds, minutes and hours that a couple spend together alone, with only themselves bearing witness to what occurred?
Heard wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post in 2018 in which she alleged abuse during her marriage. Though Depp was not specifically named, it was inferred. He claimed the defaming of his reputation has led to loss of earnings, the biggest loss being his role as the iconic Captain Jack Sparrow in the 6th film in the Prates of the Caribbean franchise.
The unravelling of the Depp-Heard relationship is reminiscent of the love story of the celebrity couple, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, whose alcohol-fuelled fights and fallouts were legendary [https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2020/08/elizabeth-taylor-richard-burton-marriage-furious-love]. Taylor was addicted to prescription medicine; this, plus the fact that they were both alcoholics with a dysfunctional co-dependency, led to their twice divorcing and marrying each other over a 13 year period. Today their dysfunctional relationship would probably fall under the term ‘intimate partner violence’ which the World Health Organisation defines as “behaviour within an intimate relationship which causes physical, sexual or psychological harm including acts of physical aggression, sexual coercion, psychological abuse and controlling behaviours.” [https://apps.who.int/violence-info/intimate-partner-violence/]
We also had a front row seat on the dysfunction in another celebrity couple’s relationship through the reality tv show – ‘Being Bobby Brown’ which shone a spotlight on Bobby Brown and the late Whitney Houston. In the aftermath of Whitney’s untimely death, her ex, Bobby Brown commented that their reality show was a wake- up call on the toll which drug abuse was taking on their marriage [Ref: ‘Exclusive Bobby Brown interview speaks about Whitney Houston’, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1PG0bjAO8aY ]
All those who have suffered through a relationship demise, are well aware of the fact that it’s never a clear case of winners and losers. Also, blame cannot be assigned to any one party. Both must take responsibility to some degree.
The fact that Depp and Heard had a marriage counsellor suggests they had problems prior to the decision to seek counselling. The court testimony also normalises drug use. Depp gave evidence that Heard took drugs on her wedding day as if it was the most natural thing in the world, forgetting that most brides are on cloud nine and therefore do not need to seek an artificial high on what is the happiest day of their lives. In a strange way, this was a harbinger of how their relationship would deteriorate after the wedding.
So often celebrities are put on a pedestal as role models. Yet, the swearing, name calling and meltdowns were the polar opposite of exemplary behaviour. Perhaps we should be less concerned about what people do for a living and more concerned with how they behave even behind closed doors. It’s easy to put on a show of good behaviour on a red carpet or in a press interview.
What does it say about us if we find it entertaining to be privy to a relationship train wreck? If we find human suffering enjoyable then we are no better than the spectators in the Roman amphitheatre baying for the blood of the doomed gladiator. Celebrities are not insulated from pain and dysfunction, and we should not see their pain as fair game for scrutiny and entertainment.
All marriages are embarked upon with high expectations of lasting love and fulfilment. However they end, there must be a period of mourning for what could have been. We must not avoid seeing ourselves in them; in detaching ourselves from them, we rob them of their humanity – a humanity we all share.
The problem with watching a court case is that we are distracted by too many things which are largely irrelevant – what the two parties are wearing. I, for one, have become intrigued by Heard’s hairstyles which are of no relevance whatsoever. What is unsettling is that there was so much recording taking place during supposedly private moments.
Have you ever wondered why we are drawn to the worst and not the best in human behaviour? Could it be that this gives us a sense of moral superiority? We struggle mentally to mentally separate actors or performers from the roles they play on stage or behind the screens. We forget that this is real life, and that there will be real time consequences to flawed decision-making and actions. In the movies, it often turns out well for the good guy and badly for the bad guys. In real life, the lines between good and bad are often blurred, and both the good and bad guys suffer loss.