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Two Minutes of Hate
Finally it's over. At least for us. The miserable case of Depp v Heard
I did not expect to write something about this nightmare. Maybe I shouldn’t. I don’t even know if I can. It’s late for it. There will be no pictures. I can’t stand to use the obvious pictures, the ones you’ve seen over and over, but any other kind of picture seems yet another insult on top of this ridiculously insulting thing.
I couldn’t write a magazine article about it even if I wanted to because I didn’t watch all of it or even most of it. It looked so predictable and dispiriting that I just avoided it at first. But eventually that became impossible.
Every time I went on YouTube to look at a music video or something (which I do a lot) rows of stop-timed Amber Heard faces popped up in identical squares, looking rageful and/or crumped and beaten, but increasingly crumpled and beaten, with mocking, hateful words written across her face—FILTHY LIAR—or sometimes just a turd emoji. I began to dip into various recaps and segments and—
Yeah, she was a liar, or at least she lied a lot, strangely and unnecessarily during the trial. At least some of what she said was true, and supported by evidence, but it was mixed with so much seeming theatricality and obvious lying that it became weird. I was never on Team Depp but it was hard to be fully on Team Heard.
My take, my guess, my projection:
1) that they were in a mutually abusive relationship 2) that he had the upper hand because he outclassed her in terms of social power, physical strength, charisma—just about in every possible way. He struck me as a person with a lot of potent cruelty in him. Why? Any number of things he’s said on tape or in texts, but particularly the oft-quoted statement “She’s begging for total global humiliation…she’s gonna get it.” Only a person with sadistic instincts would say that.
She on the other hand struck me as a weak person capable of weak cruelty who somehow got engaged in a power struggle with someone more powerful. Even in videos of she and Depp before the divorce, she looks haughty but insubstantial and light-weight set against his aura of grounded confidence. His strength may be unstable, but he looks very in his physicality, like he could burn it out with years of drinking, drugs, whatever and still have a crazily throbbing core of something. There was a little bit of a Marlon Brando/Vivian Leigh vibe to them (in Streetcar), though Heard’s beauty is less distinctive, without Leigh’s eccentric piquancy. So. I wasn’t surprised when she lost.
I was surprised, even shocked by the INSANE level of hate directed at her. I don’t know why; in spite of all the T-shirts and yards signs insisting that “Hate Has No Home Here,” hate has a palatial estate with a lot of out buildings here. Here, its normal to hate someone with a different opinion or someone who just says something you don’t like so much that you mobilize Twitter armies to blow up their phone so they can’t use it, to get them fired, possibly death-threat them and their family. Death threats against congresswomen, judges, electors—normal! It’s like there’s just monstrous, disembodied hate rearing around everywhere, looking for a place to land. Even so, I was shocked by the level of hate directed at Amber Heard. It’s unabashedly sadistic in nature, always linked to images of her looking hurt to the point of broken, as if the hate is actually inspired by hurt and brokenness rather than anything wicked she may’ve done. It’s like she became a fantasy object for people to fantasy-beat.
Even if the worst is true, that she maliciously lied to get revenge—even then she doesn’t deserve that kind of hate. I can’t think of anyone who does. When I say that to my husband he’ll answer that he thinks the people who stormed the Capital deserve it. I don’t. Lots of people might say Harvey Weinstein deserves it. I don’t. He deserved to go to jail, no question. So do the people who stormed the Capital, or at least a lot of them. Heard may’ve deserved to lose the case on its legal merits—though it’s hard to imagine she deserved that level of debt and penury over “twelve words in a newspaper” (Jessica Winter in the The New Yorker, May 23).
But the onslaught of hate from millions of strangers is something else. It destroys feeling. It destroys any small place of mercy and possibility that we in theory at least allow for the worst among us. In my first post I used the words “reverence” in connection with great fiction and “mystery” to describe a world “full of things we don’t understand, most especially ourselves.” I meant those words. I don’t think we know much about the secret invisible workings of any individual, the unique twists and turns and strange, deeply contextual strategies formed and forgotten in some baby dream-world where they were utterly harmless, but which have somehow matured in terrible, unrecognizable adult form often in the shape of decisions that are inexplicable to those around us.
I realize I am becoming incoherent. I’m sorry. I’m trying to say something simple and I don’t know why it’s so hard. I’m trying to say: outward actions can and should be judged and sometimes corrected. But that inner thing, that invisible core, should be left alone. I believe what the old religions believe, that only God, the only entity capable of seeing into it, should judge it.
In case you’re wondering, my compassion is not limitless and there are people for whom I can’t feel any. There are people I believe deserve eye-for-an-eye style retribution for things they’ve done—or at least I would not object if they received it. Even they I would not want to see paraded on YouTube looking alone and in pain, with shit emojis over their heads. It’s not even about morality or at least not entirely. Engaging in that kind of…what even to call it, puerility, bullying? trivializes whatever true evil was done. It also in some impossible-to-articulate way feels like intimate contact, like metaphorically sticking your hands in someone’s guts and why would you want your hands in the guts of someone you find loathsome?
Many people feel that the outcome of this case will have a “chilling effect” on victims of domestic abuse, that they will say to themselves “if she, with all her privileges and wealth could be treated this way, how will I be treated?” I am not sure but I don’t think “normal women,” whoever they might be need to worry. They will not be treated like Amber Heard was treated. She is someone whose privileges could be and were weaponized against her instantly, removing her from any realm of community warmth or common cause. She is the kind of beauty that people love to hate, especially other women, I suspect especially white women who look at her and think I know that type, I knew someone just like that in high school and she was such a bitch. Maybe even Heard came to see herself this way and to play the part.
It certainly seemed like she was playing a part. Her beauty—sharp and icy and somewhat generic—had a fixed quality that did not seem integrated with the rest of her so that when anything unpleasant showed, it seemed like a mask had slipped. It’s particularly painful to me that this unfortunate thing, this glitch in her persona which I doubt says anything deep about her moral character, may’ve contributed much to her victimization. And she is surely a victim now. I’m sure someone would reply “And it’s what she’s always wanted.” If that’s true, all the more tragic.
Looking over this, I realize a lot of what I’ve said seems inconsistent and projective. It’s hard to be anything else over this. It’s about so much raw murk that it’s hard to put words to it. But I had to say something.