I always start my day with social media. The second I feel my body gain consciousness, my eyes are on a screen and stay on a screen for the rest of the day. For me, I’ve chosen TikTok as my poison of choice.
I open the app (it’s 8 in the morning) and the first video that plays is a Shoppee ad. The next: Amber Heard’s crying face. Next, she’s on the stand saying “my dog stepped on a bee.” Right after that is the same video but remixed into a song. And finally, the internet’s favourite obsession: a breakdown of the Depp vs Heard trial by a lawyer turned content creator. That’s what my TikTok feed looked like a few weeks ago. Literally.
If you haven’t been on social media in a while: Amber Heard and Johnny Depp’s trial just wrapped up. Now that the verdict is out and the hype of the trial has inevitably died down, the internet has moved on to its next celebrity scandal to eat up (looks like we’re never getting that One Direction reunion, thanks Liam Payne).
For those who’ve been following the trial from the very beginning, I think we can all agree on how much of a trainwreck it was. From infamous memes and parody songs and the notorious #Turdgate hashtag on Twitter, the biggest takeaway seems to be that Depp has definitely won in both the court of law and public opinion.
Personally, I didn’t participate in any of the meme-making and commentary, but I did watch all of it from the sidelines. Now that everyone’s starting to move on, what fascinated me most about the entire debacle was how the public viewed and enjoyed it. We watched from the position of spectators who were completely detached yet invested in all the ‘he said, she said’. And everyday, when the Youtube livestream ended (because obviously it was livestreamed on Youtube), we all went onto social media and collectively made fun of Amber Heard’s monologues, facial expressions, and lies. And while this was entertaining for a while, I can’t help but think ‘what does this all mean?’.
Reading through the numerous opinion pieces and articles written about the trial, all of them ask its readers the same thing: what has it taught us? For me, one word comes to mind: perspective.
According to the Cambridge dictionary:
a particular way of considering something
While the internet has treated this trial like a typical celebrity feud for fans to pick sides in, in reality it’s so much more than that. Among other things, it signals just how important fan culture has become in our modern society.
Fan culture, or fandom, is a term which describes communities built around a shared enjoyment of an aspect of popular culture, such as books, movies, TV shows, bands, sports or sports teams, etc
It’s the new way to get information on how to act, what’s trendy and current, and how to view the world around us.
Today, fandoms are an important part of internet culture across any generation. Whether it’s for baking, a TV show, or books, you can definitely find your niche community in all corners of the internet. But more than fawning over a K-pop idol or actor, fandoms have expanded their purpose to advocating for social issues as well.
Don’t believe me? Last year, in anticipation of Lil Nas X’s ‘Montero’ album, his fans helped raise money for a collection of LGBTQ+ non-profit organisations, in 2020, BTS’ fans (ARMY) donated $1 million to Black Lives Matter because BTS did too, after a victory in 2021, Buffalo Bills fans celebrated by donating to a charity that quarterback Lamar Jackson supported when he was in college.
With fandom culture being so all-consuming, and social advocacy being more accessible thanks to the internet, it seems that the lines between what were just hobbies and interests and real gritty issues have blurred. Now, every action (however small) seems to contribute to broader, more serious consequences.
During the duration of the trial, Johnny Depp’s fans banded together to advocate for male domestic abuse victims. Even while helming such a noble cause, the entrance of the court house reminded me of a concert venue: crowds of adoring fans holding up banners and merchandise, cheering and chanting, and frantically chasing down Depp’s car for an autograph.
Simultaneously, others were sharing their own experiences with domestic abuse under hashtags, and sharing links to various charities and fundraisers that helped victims of domestic abuse. News outlets and opinion sections were interviewing professionals in psychology, sociology, and even politics to assess the ramifications of the trial on society and other domestic abuse victims.
Because of this monumental support from Depp fans, many people have speculated that his faithful fandom influenced the verdict for Depp's benefit. Maybe it did. And to many, this is what all the hashtagging, TikToking and memeifying was all for- to help Johnny Depp win.
But that’s not the point- Depp winning is much more than a famous actor’s victory over a big bad, or a popular contestant winning a survival show for our entertainment. It shows us that people can be deeply flawed, no matter how well-loved they are or used to be.
While we can’t change what has already happened, we can definitely learn from them. Some people have argued that we all picked sides too soon, others have commented on how misogyny and the failure and notoriety of the #MeToo movement contributed to Heard’s negative public perception.
Nonetheless, the internet has already begun backtracking. With Depp due to return to court next month over an assault charge and his history of alcoholism and other personal issues coming to light, many people have begun to publicly rally behind Heard.
And for the rest of us: the constant thrum of social, political, and economic matters that infiltrate all aspects of life, and the internet becoming a messy cauldron of issues that all matter, how do each of us navigate the messy and confusing mess that is the world, and above everything else, stay good people?
In the aftermath of this trial, we need to remind ourselves of what we truly care about and what’s important to us. Until we figure that out, I’m sure I’ll see everyone on the internet, scrolling and scrolling until the next scandal catches our eye…
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