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What The Onslaught Of Memes Means For the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard Trial

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial has become fodder for the internet's meme culture.

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Celebrities
3 min read
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Can you ever know what happens between two people? The internet certainly claims to; with the ongoing Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial, where Depp is suing Heard for $50 million, an overwhelming majority believe in Depp’s innocence – before the verdict is even out. And it’s easy to get swept up in the rush of the abundant memes, video mashups, and fan cams of the proceedings, and promptly pick one side. Never mind that there are roughly two more weeks of the hearing left. Never mind that there is compelling evidence on both sides to indicate a convoluted, baffling relationship between the two that goes beyond the internet’s sketchy assumptions.

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But the internet has a penchant to reduce an otherwise perplexing, serious court case to its very rudimentary form. The social media space is flooded with memes of Heard – she is under a microscope – her every move deconstructed. And the comment sections of some videos are merciless – quipping her testimony as evidence of her bad acting skills. Hashtags, such as #AmberHeardIsALiar and #JusticeForJohnny, are gaining fuel with the support being patently lopsided.

Johnny Depp is under scrutiny as well, but for his friendly demeanour and likeable attitude – expertly narrativized by strangers on social media, as they piece together bite-size videos from hours of footage. One of the videos had 2.1 million views within 19 hours of its release; others have gained 10 million views in 9 days. Reaction videos are also popular, with YouTubers willingly making a parody of the ongoing trial for hits and clicks. But even Depp isn’t spared from the cruel onslaught of memes with his “mega-pint-of wine” testimony spawned memes on his drinking problem.

All of this comes despite the strides the MeToo movement took for gendered violence. And it comes as no shock that women are still put through a wringer when attempting to talk about their past abuse. Especially when the internet is at its misogynistic best. Take, for instance, a video where Heard is merely listening to the speakers, headlined, “Amber Heard's Ridiculous Reaction to Johnny Depp Lawyer Wayne Dennison’s Objection”. The internet also claims that she used lines from the film, Talented Mr Ripley, in her testimony but that theory was debunked.

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It’s a circus act, where any sort of information is ammunition to disparage whoever you like, for whatever reason. Remember how Monica Lewinsky was mocked and slut-shamed after her affair with then-President Bill Clinton was brought to the fore? And how for the first time, the internet went berserk? This trial is in no way a comparison to the Lewinsky-Clinton scandal. But one can take a cue from how the internet began to and continues to react to women when it feels they are in the wrong. Women oftentimes do become a punchline, then and now.

The Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial has become fodder for the internet's meme culture.

Caricature of Monica Lewinsky in The Plain Dealer in 1998.


(Photo: Youtube)

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Johnny Depp, for the most part, is being revered. Every sarcastic comment, laugh or smile is being celebrated. His Pirates of the Caribbean persona seems to shine through – a man who has been around for over three decades, has entertained the masses, can do no wrong. This is a culture of dispensing the nuances of the case to narrativise an image of the person – villainising one and idolising the other. Hero-worship , at its peak, as fans deride anyone who disagrees. As if the trial is some kind of a popularity contest – an archetypal film – not real-life events that affect real people. These memes shouldn't be packaged for our instant gratification – no matter how convincing or hilarious they may seem.


Yet, the memes are so self-righteous and contorted that they could sway any viewer who isn’t well versed with the case. The meme-ification is, after all, the commodification of abuse and violence – for quick click-baity content. But it’s important to remember that nobody knows the truth – except for the two of them. She has accused him of abuse and so has he – he is suing her for defamation and so is she. In the end, the culture of misogyny is fervent on the internet with a bonus of quick views. And an army of people unwilling to fact check their claims. Ultimately showing disinterest in the trial and more interest in what they want to see, even if it isn't there.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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