Much to the dismay of millions of Americans, closing arguments will be made on Friday, May 27, in the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard defamation trial. The case was initiated by Depp and has been taking place in Fairfax County, VA, since April 12. Millions of Americans have been riveted by the proceedings, watching and listening to every jot and tittle of the civil action. But why?
Nasty Hollywood breakups are hardly novel. And it is not as if there is no news. There’s the Russian invasion of Ukraine. There’s the leak of a draft US Supreme Court opinion that could mean the issue of abortion will return to the states. Then there is inflation, a critical shortage in baby formula, and a messy border situation – not to mention a horrific school shooting. But all these concerns pale in comparison to the massive public interest in the Depp-Heard trial.
“According to Google Trends data, there were nearly four times more Google searches for Heard’s name over the last month than there were for abortion or the Supreme Court,” wrote Sarah Lang for the website Capsule. But wait – there’s more. Lang extrapolated:
“From April 4 to May 16, the average number of social-media interactions per published news article, by topic, was: 508 on the Heard-Depp trial, 417 on tech entrepreneur Elon Musk (who is also Heard’s ex-boyfriend), 141 on abortion, 91 on the Russian-Ukraine war, and 44 on Covid-19. Wow.”
What could be the reason so many people are gripped by the nitty-gritty details of a Hollywood union gone sideways?
At issue is whether an op-ed in a prominent Washington newspaper written by Heard damaged Depp’s career. Although the Pirates of the Caribbean star was not mentioned by name, the article centered on Heard alleging she was a domestic-abuse survivor. Since she was previously married to Depp, it was not hard to put two and two together.
Accusations have been flying, and plenty of tears have been shed in court. In a nutshell, the usually quiet Fairfax County Courthouse has become a three-ring circus. From actress Ellen Burstyn to model Kate Moss, members of the jet-set have taken the stand.
Perhaps there is a bit of voyeurism involved: People want to see what goes on behind closed doors among the very rich and extremely famous. Or it could be a case of spellbinding reality TV, a sort of real-life survival story that has folks mesmerized. Another possible rationale for such high interest could be in the category of misery loves company. Spousal abuse can happen to the average Joe and Sally and to the mega-wealthy as well. Or it could merely be a case of escape: Who wants to watch Russian President Vladimir Putin rattle his nuclear saber when you can turn your attention to something far less worrisome?
With so many Americans tuning in, the curious phenomenon of taking sides has reached a fever pitch. Court watchers are vocal about whom they believe and whom they don’t. As of May 23, #IStandWithAmberHeard had counted 8.2 million views on TikTok. Pretty good, right? Well, not so fast. On the same platform: #JusticeForJohnnyDepp garnered 11 billion views.
When the curtain finally drops at the Fairfax County Courthouse, and the screen fades to black, it may not matter if Depp wins his long, expensive civil case because he has already won in the court of public opinion. That may be enough for him to call it a day, much to the chagrin of those who have enjoyed the made-for-TV drama.