Why Everyone Online is Having Such a Ball Trashing Amber Heard


If you’ve been off-planet for the last month, lucky you! You may have missed the fact that Johnny Depp is currently suing his ex-wife, Amber Heard, for defamation, based on a 2018 op-ed she wrote in which she identified herself as a “public figure representing domestic abuse,” but did not mention him by name. Heard is countersuing. The trial has made constant international headlines for the bizarre and shocking things that have been testified to under oath about both Depp and Heard. And it has unleashed a truly unprecedented torrent of pro-Depp shrieking in nearly every corner of Al Gore’s internet.

Some of it has not been exactly organic. Last Thursday, Vice broke the news that the Daily Wire (Ben Shapiro’s personal megaphone and the most likely publisher of whatever your racist aunt shared on Facebook today) has reportedly spent tens of thousands of dollars promoting biased and misleading pro-Johnny Depp content on social media. I wish I could say I was surprised, but honestly, the bear hug that “Hollywood elite” Johnny Depp is getting from “men’s rights activists” and white supremacists is the least shocking development since the hilarious failure of Truth Social.

Of course, they love him: he validates their entire worldview, which is that they are the real victims of feminism run amok and that saying otherwise is not just misguided but abusive. Of course, the right is invested in trivializing assault; there are enough 2022 GOP candidates facing allegations of sexual assault and/or domestic violence to warrant a New York Times trend piece. So of course conservatives are forking over loads of cash to flood the zone with pro-Depp propaganda.

But what feels genuinely shocking to me this time around is how many folks who should really know better are falling hard for it.

Yes, yes, Johnny Depp used to be dreamy. Trust me, I know. I was 15 when he broke through (my loins) as a face-meltingly hot damaged bad-boy cop on “21 Jump Street,” and 19 when “Edward Scissorhands” branded me with false (sexy) impressions about weirdo emo outsider men that I still haven’t been able to shake. Don’t bother me about Captain Jack Sparrow, that shit is like stevia compared to the pure cane sugar of early Johnny Depp hotness.


But this jubilant defense of Depp goes beyond the derangement of parasocial adoration.  And while I’ve seen some thoughtful stories about Heard as an “imperfect victim,” I don’t think the reaction is just about the “complicated” details of the case, either. If the common wisdom—that Depp was a victim of Heard’s alleged abuses too—was sincere, the cultural conversation would be solemn. Instead, the reaction has been ecstatic and deranged—we are getting cat memes and Lance Bass on TikTok. Even Kate McKinnon gleefully treated the trial like a joke.

Now, remember: Amber Heard has testified that Johnny Depp hit her so hard that blood from her lip ended up on the wall, pulled her hair out of her scalp in chunks, and made her fear for her life on more than one occasion, among many other allegations found credible by a British judge in a separate case (where it is harder to prove such things than even in the U.S.). Depp testified that Heard struck him, threw things at him, and mocked him for objecting. So why is everyone having such a good time joking about domestic violence?

The reason is simple but awful: we, as a culture, hate believing women. I don’t just mean we find it hard to believe women. I mean we hate it. Studies​​​​​​​ have shown that we like women less when we actually have to listen to them. It is psychologically painful for most of us to believe women, even when we are women. So after years of at least sort of holding the line on #metoo, what a giddy relief so many seem to be feeling to not have to right now.


The facts of this case are just easy enough to manipulate to give anyone who wants it permission to stop doing the painful work of treating women as credible witnesses to their own abuse—work that anti-violence advocates have, in recent years, succeeded in convincing more people to undertake. Evidently, putting that burden down feels, to far too many of those people, like taking off an ill-fitting bra at the end of a long day. 

Let me be clear: People of all genders can be abused, and people of all genders can be abusers. And most cases of intimate partner violence are hard to parse from the outside because it’s very common for victims to act in all kinds of ways that don’t seem like how we think victims “should” act. Abusers exploit this very fact in courts every single day. We just don’t usually get to watch it on live television. (If you’re having trouble sorting through what you’ve heard about this case, here are a few pieces I highly recommend.)

But whatever you personally believe, the way so many people have turned blaming Amber Heard into a bloodsport is already taking an awful toll on nearly every survivor I know—including myself. It’s hard to explain the hollow, falling feeling I get in the pit of my stomach each time I see someone I thought I could trust join in on the “fun,” somehow not considering (or caring?) that they might as well be laughing at one of the worst things anyone has ever done to me.

And the impacts on survivors only get worse from here. If Depp wins the suit against Heard for saying she was abused—again, without even naming him!—it is going to get a lot easier for abusers everywhere to use the courts to silence the exes they abused, too.  Whatever the jury decides, the euphorically vicious discourse has already sent a message to abuse survivors everywhere: if you dare speak up, you will be mocked and attacked from all sides. It’s no wonder that survivors are already considering backing away from their own cases, or that Depp fans are now turning on other survivors, as well as on Depp’s own daughter for not supporting him more publicly.

The impact of this misogynist Rumspringa will be felt by victims for a long time to come.

When I was in my 20s, my girlfriend Leslie had a therapist who explained the four steps of consciousness in the process of changing our behaviors and beliefs. You start out in unconscious incompetence, unaware of the things you’re doing or thinking that are harmful to you or others. Then, if you try, you move into conscious incompetence. This is the worst of all the phases: you’re aware of how you’re messing up, but you still somehow can’t stop doing it. If you keep at it from there, you can intermittently achieve conscious competence, where if you focus really hard, you can do something different and better. And if you keep at it long enough, you can sometimes get all the way to the ultimate goal: unconscious competence.


The reason it’s so hard for humans to change, even when we know we should, is because those two middle phases—conscious incompetence and conscious competence—take so bloody long, require so much work, and are painfully uncomfortable. Trying to change is the worst. That’s why we tend to hate women who force us to make the attempt.

I believe Amber Heard. I can’t make you believe her if you don’t. But for fuck’s sake, this case isn’t some metaphorical trip to Vegas where everything you do and say about this trial will stay there. It has already made the world a much scarier place for people who’ve been targeted by abusers, and a much friendlier place for abusive assholes who are right now selecting their next victims. Survivors don’t ever get a vacation from our trauma. So you don’t get a vacation from trying to teach yourself to care.

Jaclyn Friedman is a writer, educator, activist, and the founder and Executive Director of EducateUS: SIECUS In Action, a brand-new advocacy organization working to build a national movement of sex-ed voters. She is the creator of four books, including her latest, Believe Me: How Trusting Women Can Change the World. (Photo by Gene Reed)