Sympathy for the Devil

On Johnny Depp, and our seemingly endless ability to humanize and forgive abusive men.

Jude Ellison S. Doyle
6 min readMay 24, 2022

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A man standing in the dark. We can’t see his face.
He could be anyone. Photo by KAL VISUALS on Unsplash

His speech is slurred. He’s puffy. He struggles to answer basic questions. Ask him what movies he’s been in, or who he played in those movies; sometimes he can’t recall. He’s trying some kind of accent these days — transatlantic, a Katherine Hepburn thing; on lines like “sir, this is a pathetic attempt,” he’s doing Godfather-era Marlon Brando — and his skin is orange under the fluorescent lights of the courtroom. He wears dark sunglasses. In the middle of the day. Indoors.

I’ve been having nightmares about the Johnny Depp trial. Footage keeps popping up on my social media feeds. It’s recommended to me on YouTube under titles like “Johnny Depp Being Hilarious in Court! (Part 3)” or “Amber Heard’s Lawyers ANNOYING Johnny Depp.” In those clips, the details of a domestic violence case are embellished with “quirky” Muzak, jumpy edits, and insistently unfunny humor (the subtitles note every time a chair — hilariously? — squeaks) that push the whole thing well past “surreal” and into pure uncanny horror, like a laugh track pasted over footage of souls being tortured in Hell.

These clips are so creepy that it’s difficult to believe they’re real: Is anybody actually deluded enough to find this funny? Are the videos being astroturfed by some PR team? Why are we all getting the same recommendations, whether or not we’ve been following the trial?

The answer, according to VICE, is that there is at least some outside funding: The right-wing outlet Daily Wire has poured tens of thousands of dollars into promoting false content demonizing Heard and “vindicating” Depp. (At one point, the site proclaimed that Depp had disproven “12 of the 14 allegations” against him. They then ran a brief correction noting that he had not, in fact, disproven any of them.) The apparent goal is to fuel a #MeToo backlash by painting the relationship as “mutually abusive,” when the truth, as established by previous cases Depp fought and lost, is that Depp was physically, sexually and verbally abusive, and Heard sometimes lost her temper or shouted back.

Anger is a reasonable response to abuse, and most victims have it. But reasonable responses are in short supply these days. Even…

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Jude Ellison S. Doyle

Author of “Trainwreck” (Melville House, ‘16) and “Dead Blondes and Bad Mothers” (Melville House, ‘19). Columns published far and wide across the Internet.