I’ve been doing this a long time. Not just working in Hollywood, both inside and outside of it, but also, Life. So one would think that I should be able to understand certain aspects of this business and the way certain parts of our society work.
Then something like the Johnny Depp–Amber Heard trial happens, and I find myself totally flummoxed and unable to figure out much of anything.
Seriously. I mean… what the hell just happened?
The first TikTok Trial captured the attention of the entire world, was a centerpiece of actual news programs, and was commented on by pretty much everyone with an internet connection. People took sides, they were Team Amber or Team Johnny (much more the latter than the former, it seemed), they couldn’t believe how anyone would possibly see the other side of it, they were impassioned and vocal and it was all completely baffling to me.
Look, I understand that Heard accused Depp of stuff that he claimed he didn’t do, and vice versa, and so it was all about who was telling the truth and who was not. According to the judgment, Depp was viewed as being more reliable, as he was awarded more than $10 million, while Depp’s lawyer apparently owes Heard $2 million for things that he said.
I have been told that there was a previous version of this case in the UK, where Depp lost, but that’s not really germane to this conversation, because I think it’s fair to say that most people watching this one didn’t even know that one had occurred.
The point is, Depp had a good portion of the public on his side, and even though he hasn’t had any kind of real hit in years, he still enjoyed a much higher profile than a far less acclaimed actress whose biggest role so far was as Aquaman’s love interest. A role that millions of people now do not want her to play in the upcoming sequel, according to an online petition that has been circulating for some time. (Narrator: “She is going to appear in the sequel.”)
All this is easily found online, which I know since I literally just checked for the first time. I needed to do this because, and this is a little embarrassing, of a conversation I had just the other day with an industry professional friend of mine. Here is a bit of sample dialogue from the exchange:
Friend: So, what did you think of the whole Depp-Heard trial?
Me: Nothing. I didn’t pay a single bit of attention to it.
Me: Not one second. I heard Depp won, but…
Friend: What about that whole thing with Heard pooping in their bed?
Me: I’m here. She did what?
Friend: Yeah, she did it on purpose, apparently. Dropped one in their marital bed just to mess with him.
Friend: Did you not…
Me: I’m sorry, what?
Friend: I said…
Me: No, I heard you. I just… what?
And so on. I sort of can’t believe a well-known actress pooped in her own bed to spite her husband and I heard nothing about it. I’m supposed to be plugged in here, and yet I knew nothing about it.
Here’s my defense: This is gossip, and a lot of it is garbage. And my theory of why people were so enamored with this whole circus is because it was an escape from all the craziness that has surrounded us for years now. Take it back 28 months to the beginning of the pandemic, take it back seven years to the moment a game show host rode down an escalator and declared that he was running for President of the United States of America, our lives have not felt like our own for a long, long time. The idea that two rich and famous people might have to deal with crummier things than we do is an appealing one when we’re all so neck-deep in it.
Tuning in every day to hear about nuttiness like intentional bed-pooping — and the infamous “mega pint” of wine that Depp allegedly poured himself and later got a chuckle out of after being questioned about it on the stand — lessens our own load while giving us a sense of community at the same time. Think about how much fun you had talking about this with people, some of whom you probably didn’t even know in real life. It was a blast, right? Of course it was. You laughed and made fun of it all, and whatever problems you might’ve been having went away for a spell as you did it.
I get that part. I do. I even support it, to some degree. But my problem, and the reason why I so summarily ignored the whole spectacle, is that it’s all poison. All of it. Like how if you eat nothing but Twinkies, you’re going to die of malnutrition. Depp and Heard are both past-their-prime attention junkies whose careers have likely peaked, and to remain ignorant of their squabble was truly bliss, but you loved it. You reveled in it. You celebrated the lunacy and were thrilled that these members of the glitterati were suffering because you took some perverse kind of pleasure in their misery.
Schadenfreude has never really been my thing, but I know it is for plenty of others. That’s fine, as far as that goes, because it’s up to each and every one of us to decide how we’re going to live and how we’re going to conduct ourselves. If you decide that the suffering of others is something that helps you get through the day, so be it. We are all individuals who are ideally in charge of our own lives, even if the reality is a bit murkier.
But when so many of us do it, when we all gather under the circus tent to marvel at the sideshow spectacle, we are complicit, and we are all a little bit diminished by it. We’re lesser for it. It might be a momentary burst of sugar, but that’s all it is, and when it wears off, we all crash. When we take pleasure in the suffering of others, we all suffer for it. Thus, we must control those cravings, lest we become prisoners to them and TikTok becomes society’s jury as well as its court of appeals.
Neil Turitz is a journalist, essayist, author, and filmmaker who has worked in and written about Hollywood for nearly 25 years, though he has never lived there. These days, he splits his time between New York City and the Berkshires. He’s not on Twitter, but you can find him on Instagram @6wordreviews.
You can read a new installation of The Accidental Turitz every Wednesday, and all previous columns can be found here.