Why Are We So Obsessed With the Johnny Depp vs. Amber Heard Trial?

Jim Lo Scalzo/Pool Photo via AP

Unless you’ve been living on Mars, you’ve probably heard and seen the juicy celebrity intrigue that is the Depp vs. Heard defamation trial. Tik Tokkers have been earning loads of likes on their daily recaps. Daytime talk shows have picked their sides. Meme makers are having the time of their lives. Depp’s reactions have catapulted him to a public popularity he’s not seen since he first picked up the rum bottle of Captain Jack Sparrow.

Why is the rum always gone?

Given the myriad of frightening and tragic politics to worry about these days – war in Ukraine, parents being labeled domestic terrorists, transgender chaos, COVID madness – one must wonder why this silly trial of two self-absorbed celebrities who have both made terrible decisions with their romantic lives has taken up so much of the public consciousness.

The answer is, of course, that we have a myriad of frightening and tragic politics to worry about these days – war in Ukraine, parents being labeled domestic terrorists, food shortages, COVID madness, etc.

It’s easy to look at these wealthy celebrities and laugh, or pretend their pain (even if it’s self-imposed) is somehow not as important as ours. It’s unfair but that is the nature of celebrity. They are “other.” I don’t wish to make light of the very serious consequences this trial has had for their lives. That being said, it is precisely because it is so juicy, and bizarre, and completely divorced from the reality the rest of us live that it has become so enthralling.

We need a break from terror.

Heard and Depp certainly don’t mean to make their personal lives into an entertainment sport. Some of the revelations have been utterly embarrassing and deeply personal. But it is what it is, and we here in “regular America” are so inundated with the direst of news on a daily basis that this celebrity trial feels like an escape from reality. It has become like watching a movie…we are not personally attached to the characters. We can watch them win and lose without a stake in the game. Nothing that happens to the former couple will have consequences for our wallets, cupboards, or politics. We can watch with pure curiosity. We can laugh at the discomfort of someone else for a change (as wrong as that may be). We can pretend for a few hours a day that the world isn’t falling apart at the seams, only Amber Heard’s defense.

The OJ Simpson trial kicked off a new era of trial-watching, but it was intimately connected to deep racial tensions at the time, both in Los Angeles and the nation at large. It had a political element that made it particularly relevant to the stressful times we were living in.

The Depp/Heard trial is precisely the opposite. It is not connected to our current political woes, and that is what makes it so palatable.

I apologize to Heard and Depp for making a sideshow out of their very personal main event, but that’s the way the Hollywood cookie crumbles. Fame has a very steep price.

Perhaps they will eventually find some comfort in the notion that this trial has become a much-needed escape for a world-weary audience.