An acquaintance informed me that the verdict in favor of Johnny Depp would mark the end of the “always believe the woman” jurisprudence known as the “me too” movement. I had ignored the entire process while it was happening, but this assessment piqued my interest enough to watch dozens of hours of the court hearing five months after the fact, along with commentary by others. My conclusion is that we must be slow to reach the conclusion my associate made. But some unpacking is required.
In making this reflection, it is necessary to talk about the parties in a way that would be inappropriate in a private matter. It is awkward to speak publicly about people in the third person. But in this case, the boundaries (or lack thereof) have been made public by the parties themselves.
For jury selection, Depp’s fiery Colombian advocate Camille Vasquez favored a female-dominated jury (until 38:10) but their team’s jury consultant favored the opposite, and prevailed. To analyze this choice, we need to speculate to some extent. Camille admits that a male jury will tend to be more logical, yet her instincts favored a female jury in this case, even though the strategy was to be fact-based. Evidently, Camille modeled the situation as coming down to a shootout between herself and Miss Heard, as indeed was the case in the event. If you think of this as a “catfight,” then Camille was confident that the females would side with her — as indeed proved to be the case in the wider society.
However, getting a male-dominated jury worked fine in this case as well. The main danger to Depp’s case of having a male jury was if Amber had succeeded in presenting herself as a naive and fetching damsel in distress. Men are suckers for that. This spin was crucial, but Amber’s team fumbled badly. Instead, they presented her as an unsympathizing middle-aged spinster librarian, with tight hair and severe clothing: almost a stock character for a Seinfeld spoof. She only looked 5 years younger than Depp, not the actual 23 years. In just six years, Miss Heard came to look like Miss Heard’s mother. They must have coached her to keep turning her head to the jury, probably to fish for sympathy: but in the event, it just looked creepy and manipulative. It seemed like they made her face up to look puffy and with a permanent shadow of a mark on one cheekbone, and even rings around the eyes, probably thinking this would create a meme of the long-suffering, battered wife. Instead, it only reinforced the unbearable fakeyness of her histrionic presentations: the broad gesture and the vibrating yet ever-dry eyes turned heavenward, like Italian opera back in the era of the fat lady. Listening to and watching those skits, and above all the audiotapes of her aggressive, querulous, taunting speeches when she and Depp were still together, could only evoke revulsion in a man — and apparently, most women as well. Indeed, any self-respecting male would wonder why Johnny didn’t beat the insufferable hellcat black and blue. They should have fined him for not giving her a richly-deserved beating.
Two other pivots from the deposition six years earlier were, on Amber’s team, the wardrobe confusion — she toggled between a yellow housewife dress, a tuxedo, and blouses that buttoned up on the man’s side, as if creating cognitive confusion were part of the plan. This kind of projection might not sell as well in Virginia as West Hollywood. One of the outfits when she took the stand was an obvious meme plant — a sweater that looked like the collar was torn off, and a neck ornament that looked like a noose. The hairdos also oscillated rapidly, going from bun to buster brown to french braids without any context preparation. If nothing else, it could only reinforce the image of spoiling wealth, to be able to have, essentially, full-time hair-dressers on call. I really wonder what counsel was thinking.
To add insult to injury, the french braids were not even very skillfully done.
In the 2016 deposition videos, Miss Heard presented herself as the naive young girl, but that showing also failed to evoke sympathy, for other reasons. Her cheeks were always stuffed with bon-bons, and she was constantly evading, looking away, smirking and rolling her eyes. Her lawyer was rude and condescending, constantly scolding and schooling Depp’s attorney.
So her legal staff chose two quite different ways to present Miss Heard, but neither one worked with the public. It’s hard to imagine what a third way to present her would be.
If there is no way to model a person as honest, then that person is not honest. It is fairly elementary logic.
On Depp’s team, they astutely perceived that striking a conciliatory, self-deprecating tone, as Blair Berk had done in 2016, would not work with such an obstinate girl, so they switched to a firm, almost scolding tone, which Camille pulled off relentlessly, and with great effect. “Miss Heard. Miss Heard! I have not asked a question yet.”
On the other hand, it is a serious mark against Depp that he fell for the strumpet, dumping his long-term paramour and mother of his children for her.
With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life. (Prov. 7:21-23)
Miss Heard is not even particularly pretty. That is a criticism of Depp, not Amber. She has sound, fair skin, which allows her to apply the paint in any way she pleases, as if onto well-primed wallboard. As a result, pretty much every picture of her looks different. (Young men: let this be a warning. If she looks different every day, turn and run as fast as you can in the opposite direction.) She has strong hair and high cheekbones, which with the good skin allows her to treat her body as an easel and present this or that image as it suits her of the day, like a mannequin at the front door of a department store. Plus, it helps to have a wardrobe budget of infinity. But without the makeup and coif, every small town in America has a dozen girls that are prettier.
Far worse, her facial expressions are not natural, even in settings preceding all this contention. Put on your Hoffman lenses, and watch her smile. It looks exactly as if demons were trying to animate a corpse to display a smile — pulling this muscle up here, tugging that one there. Her smile looks like a zombie about to bite your head off. The subtle, orchestral interplay of muscles reflecting an emotion cannot be faked — or at least, it takes a good actor to pull it off.
No doubt, there are some men that are attracted to this kind of girl — the same men that are attracted to lipstick and fake eyelashes. But though she milks her only marketable asset of alleged female beauty for all it is worth, she never appears to feel happy to be a girl; it doesn’t seem like it is fun for her. Her very essence is just a shtik to gain attention, prestige, or money. The inner core is… literally nothing.
Ask any man who has not been ruined: would you rather spend an evening with Amber or Camille? (Baby boomers: think Ginger vs Mary Ann. Except that Ginger was deprecated merely for superficiality, not malice.)
A decade ago, in an interview after the engagement was announced, Depp identified Miss Heard as his Southern Belle. That is interesting. Miss Heard grew up in Austin, which unfortunately is only half-Southern if that. Many Yankees think that “Southern Belle” connotes a demure, chaste, conservative maiden. This image misses the mark widely, as the excellent study by Gail Jarvis explains nicely. (Teaser: what do Mencken and F. Scott Fitzgerald have in common?) However, if you think of the scheming, violent, lustful Scarlett O’Hara as the archetypal Southern Belle, then Depp may have intuited something about Miss Heard. Think of the scene where Scarlett heaves the vase against the wall. She didn’t know that Rhett was present when she heaved it; in contrast, Miss Heard knew that her Rhett was there, and apparently heaved the vase right at him, clipping off the tip of one of his fingers.
Also, I gotta say it: Scarlett never would have squeezed a fumet out into Rhett’s bed. I mean, I suppose she might have considered it for a few seconds if the thought had ever crossed her mind. But the thought never would have crossed her mind.
So… shall we say there has been some cultural decline in the last 150 years? Or is Miss Heard demon-possessed?
Florence King did a nice piece on how the Southern Belle is propagated from generation to generation. The town’s most dashing and ambitious chad wins her hand, and for the first year is ecstatic. He showers her with gifts, tries heroically to make her happy. Gradually, it dawns on him that he is stuck with a spoiled prima donna. Meanwhile, a daughter is born. So Southern Gentleman that he is, he lavishes gifts on the new daughter, and she sublimates the attentions he once wanted to endow his wife with. And thus, 16 years later… another Southern Belle emerges.
This is what Rhett and Scarlett illustrated, though the tragic wrinkle was the early death of Bonnie.
The key to this system “working” were several things obviously lacking in the story of John Depp and Amber. First, there was no child. And why not? If the absence was intentional, that is a serious mark against both: indeed that might be the most soul-damning element of the whole story. Second, they were not surrounded by people like Miss Ellen, Melanie and Mammie that formed an ethical societal web that could survive rends wrought by their waywardness. John had many decent people around him, but they were employees, not a true society. Third, the Southern society also served as a lodestone to bend the compass needle back. Despite her selfishness, Scarlett constantly found her actions bent toward the good of her folk, willy nilly. In Amber’s case, there was no lodestone to draw her back, to keep her selfishness from destroying her soul.
But that too was a choice.
Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands, Prov 14:1.
I often have some sympathy for murderers, especially if a crime of passion. But try as I may, I cannot find a hook to sympathize with Miss Heard, even a little. She seems like the egotist in pure, rarified form. Indeed, according to Wiki, she even punished God for taking her “best friend,” refusing to believe in Him any more. A universe in which Amber’s needs are not at the center cannot exist. (Amber should ponder whether the “best friend” wasn’t taken to rescue her from her.)
It is obvious that Miss Heard is going to take her stories to the grave; and this very lack of a flinch makes one initially think there must be at least something to these stories. How could even a liar weave such a complicated narrative with a straight face? This is the aspect that requires the most pondering.
Besides the very bigness of the lie, there are three factors that make one, for a few moments, wonder if there was a grain of truth behind her bizarre narrative. One factor is some of the language she used in the audio-tapes of the private sessions with John. Another is some of the language John used. Finally, there is the opaqueness of a motive.
1. In one of the audio-tapes, Amber makes a speech something like this: “Stop pushing me; stop pushing me in the corner and then poking me with a stick and then saying ‘why aren’t you using the words you want me to say?’ Stop poking me, stop rushing me, stop throwing me against the wall, and then saying ‘what, you don’t like the wall?’ Stop pushing me.”
At first, this sounds confirmatory of physical violence wielded against her. But a careful second listening reveals that all those expressions are poetic inversion. When she says, “stop pushing me into a corner and poking me with a stick,” she actually means, “stop running away from me.” No doubt this expansive, ironic way of talking was one of things she learned from John himself in the early romantic period. Is Amber a budding new Faulkner? Not even. Her frequent solecisms betray someone that learns stock lines without understanding. Grasping this must be part of the hermeneutic.
That’s the charitable way to interpret those lines. The possibility cannot be ruled out, however, that actually, she knew she was being recorded and intentionally was planting memes of violence that could be exploited later.
2. Johnny too made some communications that raise the eyebrows. One class of these were ribald texts to friends that men immediately recognize as locker talk. Amber’s grandma lawyer may have been shocked, shocked, but a male jury would not be. (In reverse, it reminds of when Miss Lewinsky was caught on tape saying to a confidante, “all I’ve ever done my whole life is lie, lie, lie.” Florence King observed that the male journalists were shocked, while the female journalists were “like right, we got you, girl.”)
The other class of communications, actually more serious, were the times in the audio tapes when Amber would be whining about how the “abuse” would need to be dealt with and John would immediately concede the point. “Yes, Amber, the abuse will need to be dealt with, then we can move on.” In context, however, it gives the strong impression that these were not so much concessions so much as attempts to avoid triggering her, to avoid what we used to call “getting a rise out of her.” It is like that line delivered by the courtiers in Rigoletto,
Coi fanciulli e co’ dementi
spesso giova il simular;
(With children and with madmen, pretence is often best.)
It would be exactly like a boy telling some bullies that surrounded him on the playground, “Okay, we’ll tell the principal all about how I intentionally tripped you, now let’s all just go back so we are not late for class.”
3. As with certain crimes, one is flummoxed trying to find a motive. Money was obviously a big part of it, but there are reasons to question whether that is the whole story:
- the vindictive aspect
- at the time of the divorce, she probably could have squeezed even more money from him than she did, since California is a “common property” state
- it is hard to believe that she entered the relationship from the very beginning with this plan, since it would have been such a long shot
If there is even one way to model reaching that point, then it is possible. I think what we observe in Miss Heard’s development is the step-wise teleological unfolding of depravity from dimness into full self-consciousness. At each stage, the full wickedness is tacit, hidden from self-awareness. At the beginning, she really did have a kind of schoolgirl love or crush for Johnny. They modeled the age difference after Bogart and Bacall, even taking the nicknames Slim and Steve from To Have and Have Not (which indeed had Faulkner as a screenwriter). Which is fine, but it shows there was an element of fantasy that was needed to resolve a basic tension. Soon, the boredom of mediocrity combined with wealth took its toll. The cachet of cool off-beat music morphed into disgust at a bunch of old men sitting around playing the guitar, while she was ready for the rodeo. She started to become argumentative, pugilistic, scrappy, demanding — partly, no doubt thinking “Johnny likes a feisty girl, no matter what he says.” He put up with a lot, because she was a young… well, every man knows why. Though the precious 30th birthday was much later, it can be taken as a symbol for what they had become. She, the Disney princess on drugs, that everyone should dote on; he, willing to dote a lot, but also with business that needed to be attended to. Even a brief absence grated on her whole world; a very important world: indeed, the only world; and the irritation continued to fester like a canker. She started to punch, to slap, to throw things more and more in the course of weeks. Maybe he grabbed her by the wrists one day to keep her from hitting, and they smarted for a couple days. Then, she started to realize that she could really get back at him, maybe threaten his very career. Revenge, envy, and greed all started to cloud her vision. Someone told her to start building documentation. Finally, she summoned the paparazzi and appeared with the “bruise.” That was the fatal turn. Now, lie had to build on the previous lie. Just little white lies at first. She remembers how her wrists smarted for a couple days. Gradually, she started to re-interpret events in the hysterical, melodramatic way that we witnessed.
Her wickedness reached biblical proportions. When she was caught in the lie about the donation, she whined that she wasn’t even obligated to have donated it to begin with. Exactly: even as Ananias and Sapphira.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land? Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God. Acts 5:3-4
Does this mean she self-consciously knows her stories are lies? There may not be a simple yes or no answer, as Bahnsen explained. The real Amber knows those stories are false. But perhaps the real Amber also believes that she believes them to be true.
The Christian should fall to his knees in terror, lest such fearsome self-deception overtake him. The is how wickedness bloats into self-realization in a temporal being. Each step seems very small.
I don’t know. It seems implausible that self-deception could go that far. If she still has a voice of conscience, maybe the inner dialogue went something like, “I’m just a girl so I get to embellish, and Johnny did ignore me that time after all.” Just like a thief might be persuading himself with the inner voice that “they really stole this much and more from me with all the abuse I took, and not only that, the insurance will pay them back anyhow.”
Getting back to the original thesis of my correspondent, does this jury’s verdict, combined with its public nature, indicate that a corner has been turned in the direction of restoring justice to the courtroom?
In favor of saying yes was Camille’s repeated “oh you don’t remember? then let me refresh your memory.” This reestablishes the objectivity of truth. This method was actually vantilian.
However, on the other side of the question are these considerations.
- It was the women that ruled against Miss Heard here. Yes, it was the jury legally, but this would not have set well as a precedent if not for the verdict of the women. So we cannot say that the feminist principle has been overthrown. An opaque judgment has been rendered that has formal validity, but we are not confident it coincides with biblical norms.
- Depp was quite likable and Miss Heard was exceedingly unlikeable. But these should not be criteria for justice.
- Much of the outcome seems to have been the result of bad decisions and clumsy execution by Miss Heard’s lawyers, and/or good “luck of the draw” by Depp’s. But this needn’t have been the case. For example, what if the TMZ guy had not come forward?
- Even though the evidence was overwhelming against Miss Heard, it took a six-week trial, with many many witnesses sworn in, and thousands if not millions of dollars spent by the taxpayers to achieve this rarified result. (BTW — All these millions tossed back and forth between Depp and Miss Heard — excuse me, can we taxpayers also get a little back of what we have spent on your behalf? Also, don’t forget the insurance companies were paying for Miss Heard’s defense. And the insurance companies get their money from us insurance premium payers as well. So when the dust settles, this is largely yet another huge transfer payment from the peasants to the lawyers.)
- Even at that, if the preponderance had only been 90 to 10 (rather than 99 to 1) for Depp, it could have gone the other way. Justice is expensive and precarious.
So it seems like, at best, we can say that it is now possible to overcome an arbitrary and unsubstantiated charge from a woman.
When we look at the meta-narrative, things don’t even look that good. Shortly after this Hollywood and social media trial was over, Alex Jones was denied due process and fined an obscene amount, even though no proof could have been brought that his alleged false assertions caused the plaintiffs any actual damage. Our rulers maintain their hegemony over public discourse by financially plundering their opponents: it’s both cleaner and more lucrative than shipping us off to concentration camps.
Then Kanye West poked the wrong lion in the eye, and our rulers are now filled with rage and are obviously going to try and destroy him. Chase bank fell in line and cancelled his accounts. Now, if a multi-billionaire has his accounts cancelled for insulting the wrong people, how do you think it stands with us peasants? Precarious indeed. Kanye asked for Camille’s firm to represent him, and they said they would, but only if he retracted his offending statements.
Humanly speaking, the Depp-Amber trial outcome is a tiny blip in an otherwise dire landscape.
Celebrating this makes about as much sense as the Evangelicals that celebrated N. T. Wright’s labored conclusion for the resurrection of Christ.