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What Does It Mean to be Heard?

Amber Heard Johnny Depp

I’ve been in a maelstrom of personal challenges the past few weeks, so my fragile sense of well-being could not afford any exposure to news.

I’d embraced book twitter, speaking about books I’ve read and liked, and ignored news twitter, but last night, the Johnny Depp and Amber Heard defamation trial seemed to explode on my timeline.

Not having followed the case throughout, I did some googling (as one does) and found that this was an unusually messy and complex trial. The fact that Depp was an abuser has been proven, but Heard apparently was not always the stereotypical victim. We don’t know (and might never know) whether Depp was the aggressor, and Heard merely fighting back, or if it was the other way around. Or if the truth lay, as it often does, somewhere in between.

While the identity of the primary aggressor in a litany of toxic aggression may be debated, you can’t debate the fact that Depp is by far the bigger star, much older, and at least at some point, definitely richer. No doubt as to who has the larger fan following, and more clout or Oscar nominations. I myself was for very long an admirer of his work until the domestic abuse accusations surfaced. Having decided (rightly or wrongly) to not separate an individual’s character from their art, I withdrew my admiration.

News outlets seem to have cashed in on the case (even though I missed it all from under my rock), and social media seems to have been obsessed with it, with everyone taking sides. It also appears to me that Depp’s team has run an excellent PR campaign, and strategically chosen the court to file the countersuit.

Of all the articles I read, this one from Vox seemed to make sense to me, and two quotes stood out.

Depp’s text about Heard: “I will f**k her burnt corpse afterwards to make sure she’s dead.”

Heard’s voice on record: “Tell the world, Johnny. Tell them, ‘Johnny Depp, I, a man, I’m a victim, too, of domestic violence, it’s a fair fight,’ and see how many people believe or side with you.”

This seems like two deeply disturbed individuals, who brought out the very worst in each other, got married and got into trouble. Had they been non-celebrities, the case would have remained a small paragraph in local newspapers.

Them being celebrities though has led to Depp becoming the hero of men’s right’s activists, and a cause for backlash against the #MeToo movement. Yes, there are male victims of domestic abuse (I personally know a few), but the fact that Depp is becoming their hero is disturbing. (Based on what I’ve seen of the evidence against Heard, her being the flag-bearer of the #MeToo movement doesn’t appear exactly ideal, either).

I may not know the exact details of their relationship, or the case, but this part of the Vox article made sense to me:

“In the end, perhaps that’s what’s most damning about the larger conversation around this trial: the inability to handle the ambiguities. Faced with a portrait of a relationship in which there’s compelling evidence of violence and toxic behavior on both sides, our culture seems unable to accept that we may simply be looking at a story without heroes. Instead, we demand a tidy narrative with a heroic redemption arc — and if the hero is a beloved, charismatic, and powerful white man, well, all the better.”

To me, this whole messy, ambiguous, Hollywood court case has no winners and no admirable qualities, but I notice  a disproportionate banding together against Heard. A woman is put on a witch trial all too quickly, and a man who has said and done everything Depp has, gets to win, and become a hero.

All over the world, women are silenced, assaulted, raped, paid unfairly, exploited in various ways far more than men. There is no ambiguity there. It is incredibly difficult for a woman, in a misogynistic society, to raise her voice against the injustices she suffers.

Heard tried to raise her voice against Depp, and failed not because of her own toxicity or mental health issues, but because of Depp’s patriarchal clout.

Rebecca Solnit says it far better than I ever can, about a woman’s voice, and what it means to be heard/ Heard:

“To have a voice means not just the animal capacity to utter sounds but the ability to participate fully in the conversations that shape your society, your relations to others, and your own life. There are three key things that matter in having a voice: audibility, credibility, and consequence.

Audibility means that you can be heard, that you have not been pressed into silence or kept out of the arenas in which you can speak or write (or denied the education to do so—or, in the age of social media, harassed and threatened and driven off the platform, as so many have).

Credibility means that when you get into those arenas, people are willing to believe you, by which I don’t mean that women never lie, but that stories should be measured on their own terms and context, rather than patriarchy’s insistence that women are categorically unqualified to speak, emotional rather than rational, vindictive, incoherent, delusional, manipulative, unfit to be heeded—those things often shouted over a woman in the process of saying something challenging (though now death threats are used as a shortcut, and some of those threats are carried out, notably with women who leave their abusers, because silencing can be conversational or it can be premeditated murder).

To be a person of consequence is to matter. If you matter, you have rights, and your words serve those rights and give you the power to bear witness, make agreements, set boundaries. If you have consequence, your words possess the authority to determine what does and does not happen to you, the power that underlies the concept of consent as part of equality and self-determination.”

Have you been following the Amber Heard Johnny Depp defamation trial? What did you think of the whole situation? Are there any heroes here? Did you take sides?

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Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her next literary crime thriller, The Blue Bar, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency, and was published by Thomas & Mercer on January 1, 2023.

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  • Natasha says:

    There is so much toxicity in this entire episode that I chose not to read up about it at all. Like you said, if it had been an unknown couple, this would have never made such headlines. It’s sad, but true that many couples go through a noxious relationship, as this. But celebs grab the headlines.

    I think they both need a deep cleanse of therapy and healing. God bless them and people who survive/live such harrowing relationships.

  • dgkaye says:

    They both need help, but Amber is psycho. I’m all about women’s empowerment, but I’m with Johnny on this one.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Both need help is right. I used to be a Depp fan, but no more. Some of the things he’s been recorded saying, and some of the proven things he’s done have made me lose all respect. I’m with neither of them on this one. The lawyers, the media and the audience have only made it more toxic.

  • Debbie D. says:

    I agree with literarylad’s comment. Both parties have issues, but Heard’s testimony seemed contrived.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I haven’t followed the testimonies, but seen some of the quotes from both parties. Neither looks blameless. Both appear extremely toxic.

  • literarylad says:

    I was glad of the outcome, because for too long we seem to have abandoned the principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’, and replaced it with trial by accusation. Undoubtedly many abusers get away with it, perhaps because it’s so difficult to prove what went on between a couple in private – ultimately it can be one person’s word against another.
    But equally, there have been many cases where one person has been shown to have made false accusations, whether as a form of revenge, or simply to get publicity and further their career. Depp may be rich and famous, but he deserves the same rights as everyone else. These accusations have apparently ruined his career, and challenging them has cost him dearly, both in money, and in reputation. The accusations needed to be either proven or withdrawn.
    As you rightly say, their relationship did not seem to be loving and respectful, and both look like troubled characters. We’ll probably never know the truth, but that principle of ‘innocent until proven guilty’ must be protected.
    I think there is a certain amount of naivety about #metoo. When I was younger the phrase ‘me too’, was often seen as a sign of envy, as in ‘I want some of that too’ (publicity, media attention, sympathy?) Celebrities have not typically shown much in the way of principles in getting what they want.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I agree that both are problematic, Graham. And Heard is not a shining example for anyone–but neither is Depp. He has been violent, proven to be abusive, and has got all the support from a well-run PR campaign. I’m not supporting Heard and calling her the real victim, but Depp being lionised, and shown as the receiver of abuse is not right either.

      In India, where I have direct experience, and in Singapore, I have had exposure to the women who have suffered abuse and violence. I’ve been at the suffering end myself too, only the abuse was from complete strangers, on the road.

      To call #metoo naive is rather misguided, I’d say.

      It simply started with women breaking silence about their abusers–saying ‘I have been abused, too’. Silence breeds a toxic atmosphere, and lets abusers get away. I’ve interacted with women who’ve been raped, and have suffered acid attacks, and it is hard to listen to their accounts.

      At least in the case of acid attack survivors, I hope no one thinks they throw acid on themselves to gain sympathy or notoriety.

      Yes, some women have falsely accused men, but the overwhelming majority of accusers have genuinely suffered atrocities that would make us shudder.
      It takes a great degree of courage to accuse a man in our patriarchal society, and a woman stands to lose a lot if she does so. Very few women would brave the utter nastiness of the process of accusing someone in order to gain revenge or notoriety.

      I’m fine with Depp being innocent unless proven guilty, but he Has been proven guilty in courts in the UK, where it is much harder to gain convictions in such cases. Granted, Heard is not blameless, but neither is Depp. To make him the mascot of abused males is a travesty.

  • I think they are both in need of professional medical help and have not been impressed with them enough to follow their self inflicted humiliations. 🙂

    • DamyantiB says:

      Very true Ian, I was so overwhelmed when my feed was flooded by this news. But it was too late by then, my curiosity had been piqued.

  • DutchIl says:

    Thank you for sharing!.. I haven’t followed, just a bit now and then on the news headlines.. believe there are no winners here unless it is the news media and the lawyers… 🙂

    Until we meet again..
    May the sun shine all day long
    Everything go right, nothing go wrong
    May those you love bring love back to you
    And may all the wishes you wish come true
    (Irish Saying)

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Depp does seem to have come out the winner, though I don’t know how deserved it is. You’re right that the winners have largely been the lawyers and the media.

  • hilarymb says:

    Hi Damyanti – I can’t be bothered and don’t think the public should either – it’s personal … a messy situation – sad too, that everyone feels they have an opinion and has enough knowledge to pass one. As far as I’m concerned the less said the better – I hope you can get through without worrying about it any further – all the best – Hilary

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Agree, Hilary. It should be nobody’s business. The couple are adults, and their antics don’t bother me. It has, however, been hard to understand the reactions from everyone–how either party is the hero in this situation.

  • Stace says:

    No I didn’t take sides and tried to ignore it as best I could

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Same. I didn’t know about it, but now that I do, it only makes me sad. There is no good side here, but the overwhelming reaction against Heard, but not Depp, has been difficult to understand.

  • ccyager says:

    I did not follow the trial closely and knew nothing about their history together. I was not surprised by the jury’s verdict, though. At least women in America have deluded themselves into thinking that just because we had the #MeToo movement, we’ve made progress. The Equal Rights Amendment still hasn’t been passed and it won’t as long as Republicans can block it whether in the states or in Congress. American women deal with the male backlash against them everyday in one way or another. The article I found the best about the trial and the reality it revealed was A. O. Scott’s in The New York Times: “The Actual Malice of the Johnny Depp Trial.”

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      I’ll check out that article, Cinda. Women all over the world do not enjoy their complete human rights, and though American women have it better than some others, it is shocking how much they have to face, as well.

  • I haven’t been following this story, but have been aware of it. What little I have been unable to avoid has struck me as very personal ‘dirty laundry’ put in public view. I would agree that there are no heroes here.
    And I worry about the numbers of people who feel free to make judgements about something about which they have only a very partial view.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Sue, so true. Everyone has an opinion on something that is no business of theirs. To be fair, though,both parties wanted to win in the court of public opinion as much as the real court.

  • Susan scott says:

    Excellent post Damyanti – shared on FB. No I didn’t follow it but had a sense of it. No winners, only the lawyers.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Thanks for sharing Susan. That’s very kind of you. Yes, the lawyers are clearly minting their fortunes out of this.

  • JLakis says:

    I didn’t follow the trial closely either, but I gleaned enough to realize exactly how toxic and visceral the response to Heard was. I was in an abusive marriage, and have learned that traumatized people don’t necessarily behave how you would expect. I read a lot of nit-picking about her reactions. It’s easier to communicate the type of responses abuse and trauma generate through the lens of a male with war-induced PTSD. The idea of the “thousand yard stare,” a dissociation between events recounted and your emotional affect, heightened fear responses, high pain tolerance. It’s all a part of how the human mind and body reacts to protect itself from the feelings of guilt, shame, terror, injury, etc. Recently I watched Full Metal Jacket again, the young recruits who end up in Vietnam are between 18 and 21. And they all respond in their own fashion, with even Modine’s Joker character finally embracing the heartless “killer” mentality R. Lee Ermy’s drill instructor character had trained him to be. And then what do they do? They sing the Mickey Mouse Club song as they leave a destroyed city behind. A perverse reaching back to their childhood before they were killers. Trauma responses take on many forms, and it’s not what most folks expect to see. Even if she was abusive or toxic, Heard, he ultimately held the power in that relationship. And he needed to destroy her in front of the world. It’s truly sick. Thanks for your piece! I suggest the Queen’s Jubilee if you want some diversion of zero consequence.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      So sorry to hear you were in a an abusive relationship. Thank you for that note on Watching Full Metal Jacket. Trauma response is indeed a subject that needs more study and attention. Hiding is not a valorous response, but I’ve been hiding in books–sometimes the world is too much.

  • John Hric says:

    Each time I hear of one of these stories the words “Not my monkeys, Not my circus” grows stronger. I was blissfully unaware of any of the details until reading your post. The burnt dead body quote decidedly takes me in the direction of your closing comments. There are severe flaws in our patriarchal driven society. Severe flaws. Failing to recognize the equality and worth of any individual only undoes us all.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      John, as was I. I try to stay away from news as much as possible, and that has helped my mental health.

  • Judging from that text message you cited, I would say that Depp’s winning his court case is a Pyrrhic victory at best.

  • I haven’t followed it. There’s no way to discern truth there, IMHO. I think she lost because of some of the horrid things she did in their marital bed (I can’t even repeat them). Not to say Depp wasn’t as bad. Hers was just too visual.

    • Damyanti Biswas says:

      Neither is a hero in my eyes, and Heard does not lack toxicity. But the banding together of audiences for Depp and against heard did not sit right with me. I don’t see Depp as the lone victim here. The more I think about it, it is two tortured souls torturing each other, but one of them had more power in Hollywood, and it was not Heard.

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