The cost of lying

FIONA HERE: This is my second-hand copy of I, Fatty by Jerry Stahl. I bought it for the handsome second-hand price of £2, with fulsome praise by Johnny Depp on the front cover. Now go to Amazon, observe how any mention of Johnny Depp has been erased. I imagine that when he enjoyed this book in 2004, he never imagined in a million years that he’d be facing similar allegations to Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle’s. I’ve also just noticed that Johnny Depp’s original quote used on the front cover has been replaced, with supreme irony, by a quote from The Washington Post of all places — the very publication Amber Heard’s op-ed appeared in.

Addendum – News! On The March! I’ve gone back to Amazon and now there’s nothing’ nada, on the cover apart from the title and the author’s name. Make of that what you will.

The quote from Johnny Depp on the inside goes like this – “Finally, the true skinny on Fatty. Jerry Stahl brilliantly gives life, voice, truth and respect to Roscoe Arbuckle, redeeming the unjustly tarnished memory of a wildly great talent and a great wild man.” Clearly, Mr Depp does romanticise addiction culture which is a sad state of affairs but does not make him a ‘wife-beater’ in my opinion. Closer inspection of the contents of the book reveals why he was quite so invested in it.

There are similarities between Arbuckle’s childhood and his own. Both were brought up in the midwest and had abusive backgrounds which they seemingly overcame by conquering Hollywood. But as Oscar Levant put it, “Strip away the phony tinsel of Hollywood and you’ll find the real tinsel underneath.” The ‘phony’ conceals the ‘real’, and the ‘real’ is the same old shit we all have to put up with in life (sometimes at Christmas), whether you have wealth and fame or not. And that is why a large percentage of the world is enthralled by this trial.

DC: I don’t usually feel bad about being entertained by things, but I do feel some guilt about how enjoyable the Depp-Heard defamation trial was. Two people tearing each other apart. It shouldn’t be done in public, but at the same time it was important, obviously, from Depp’s point of view, that it was. If he could convince the world at large that he’s not a wifebeater and rapist, it doesn’t matter how much collateral damage his reputation undergoes, because ANYTHING is better than being thought a wifebeater and rapist.

I tried to believe both sides, and couldn’t quite do it. But I couldn’t do it more with Amber Heard’s side. Depp’s side produced a psychologist to say that Heard has histrionic personality disorder, which maybe she should just embrace, because her performance in the witness box is hard to account for otherwise. I tried to find a way I could believe she was telling the truth, but the best I could do was to imagine that her histrionic personality disorder was causing her to exaggerate real abuse to horrific heights. Because none of the photographs she produced showed more than light bruising, from what she described as repeated savage punching (while wearing heavy rings). But the problem is, if we can’t believe all of what she’s saying, it’s hard to be sure of any of it.

I think it was a mistake for her to say that no genuine victim of domestic abuse would alert the media to her appearance in court to get a restraining order, because it was pretty obvious that’s what she did.

FIONA: The reason my whole being has been consumed by this case is because I suffered psychological abuse at the hands of my mother, who was a covert narcissist. It’s been enormously triggering for me: I feel like I’ve aged a decade just watching it, but I can’t look away. And the reason for that, and the reason I imagine millions of other people (many of them abuse survivors no doubt) can’t look away, is the feeling that in this case the victim might get justice. But at the very least, the story is out there, and WE can see the mechanics of the abuser at work. We recognise them. It doesn’t matter that it’s a man being abused. #ME TOO should include everyone.

DC: I’m not an expert in detecting dishonesty, but Heard often seemed to be making up her testimony as she went along. I could be entirely wrong there, that’s just the impression I got. But she would say provably false things, like that the producers of LONDON FIELDS added nudity to the film without her permission, using a body double. Which I would think she could sue over, if it were the case. Sadly, nowadays every nude scene anyone’s ever done is online, including Heard’s. Maybe the producers also deepfaked their body double to add Heard’s face to a stranger’s naked body, but that’s not what she’s alleging, and it all sounds a bit farfetched.

My mind is blown by the way Heard gets all emotional when testifying, then calm under cross-examination, and much, much calmer in her recorded deposition from the UK trial. That makes no sense, but I guess anything’s possible.

It’s all about the tape recordings: we can assume Heard just doesn’t come off well, has a tendency to dramatise that hurts her credibility. But the recordings speak for themselves, despite her attempts to tell us they don’t say what they do say — a classic gaslighting technique.

FIONA: My take on Amber Heard is that she appears to be a profoundly damaged human being who, unfortunately, drags everyone down with her. The audio clip we heard of her screaming “Please stop, you’re killing me!” when Depp is trying to LEAVE THE ROOM shows her absolute terror of abandonment. She’s a terrified child. Narcissists don’t really develop emotionally beyond childhood, and she’s an enormously destructive child, full of rage.

And that’s not her fault. We can feel sorry for the abused child she was, but we can’t condone her behaviour as an adult. I’m actually concerned that she might harm herself if she loses this case. So aggressively going after her, as too many on social media do, is monstrous. It’s not a joke. These are real people’s lives.

DC: Depp is, to put it mildly, no angel. But he has a known history of avoiding physical conflict, whereas Heard has a history of instigating it — as she admits on tape. They were a toxic combination, with his drink and drug habits certainly not helping. And his commendable desire to de-escalate conflict by walking away turned out to be the worst possible strategy for dealing with his wife. She’s on tape basically saying she would prefer them to be hitting each other. There’s no right thing to do in this scenario: the only right thing to do is to never get into it.

FIONA: Right from the start, Heard’s legal team’s methods were underhand and cruel. On the Friday of the first week they played an audio tape of Depp allegedly moaning like an animal. He was in tears on the stand, and then the court adjourned for the weekend.

Here’s my tweet detailing the events.

“#JohnnyDepp #AmberHeard My god. What a low blow from Heard’s defence team to end the day like that. They do realise they’ve only generated more sympathy for him don’t they? And there’s STILL no evidence he ever physically assaulted her.”

This tweet was liked by 14.4K people and retweeted 1,578 times.

I ended up discussing the case with my psychiatrist as we reviewed my ADHD meds. We both agreed that there was a weird disconnect between the mainstream media — tending to be either studiedly neutral or carefully favouring Heard — and the reactions of online regular humans who are seeing the same live feed. He said he’d had men in his office crying because they’d had their own Amber Heards to deal with.

DC: I suppose both sides’ lawyers were obligated to treat their opponents as abusers. If Heard were innocent, the way she was treated in court would be monstrous. But in cross-examination, Depp’s team couldn’t admit that possibility. Same for Heard’s team, though I do wonder how they can have faith in their client.

It feels like the tide of opinion is turning. I have no idea if the jury will favour Depp. I’m not so much bothered with whether he gets a lot of money. But I can almost see myself hoping for a Roscoe Arbuckle style verdict, with hopefully a somewhat better career arc afterwards.

Acquittal is not enough for Roscoe Arbuckle. We feel that a great injustice has been done to him … there was not the slightest proof adduced to connect him in any way with the commission of a crime. He was manly throughout the case and told a straightforward story which we all believe. We wish him success and hope that the American people will take the judgment of fourteen men and women that Roscoe Arbuckle is entirely innocent and free from all blame.

Comments are welcome, disagreement is fine, but let’s keep it civil. I know this is highly emotive stuff.

37 Responses to “The cost of lying”

  1. Esther_S Says:

    Dear God, this is dispiriting. I’ve been reading your blog for five years now, always marvelling at your insight, wit and erudition, and I would have never expected you of all people to chime in on a celebrity court case. Not only are you threby partaking in a media circus, you are also defending an obscenely rich celebrity with an army of supporters who are flooding every website with their blatantly mysogynistic messaging. What’s more, you are doling out mental health diagnoses and character descriptions as if you’re watching a badly-scripted TV show. As if there’s not enough of that twaddle on the Internet.
    Well, one fewer blog to follow, I suppose. Wish you all the best in spite of whatever this post is.

  2. Johnny and Amber are tons saner than Woody and Mia. It’s like that great line in Jack Hazan’s Hockey docudrama “A Bigger Splash” — “When love goes wrong it’s more than two people that suffer.

    Oscar Levant isa Totemic Elder of mine. Among many things hewrote one of my favorite songs

  3. I have no opinion on the trial itself, but find the way that it has been pushed on social media very alarming – from the tiktok body analysis experts to the “5 times Johnny Depp was EPIC” youtubes. No doubt this case does as Fiona mentions tap into strong feelings for many, but I still think it’s notable how its media omnipresence is far greater than the celebrity profile of either party and, quite incidentally, of a much greater magnitude than any other previous #MeToo related case. With at least some of this push coming from right wing reactionaries – – I’m afraid that I do not share the optimism that it will empower victims; rather, I see it as the begining of a frankly terrifying backlash that will do its best to get us back to the pre-MeToo status quo, and if left unchecked, further back still.

  4. Sorry you feel you can’t read the blog any more, Esther.

    In case you check back, I agree that there are some awful Depp fans out there, and some who are low-key but still treating this as entertainment. And I think the area of his case where he’s at pains to deny coordinating with his lawyer to attack her is pretty unconvincing. And he himself has certainly said things that are misogynistic and unpleasant.

    In a sense the trial closely resembled “a badly scripted TV show.” But we heard mental health diagnoses by professionals during it – conflicting ones – so all we are doing here is looking at which of them seems supported by the evidence we saw.

    I don’t know what part Depp’s obscene wealth plays in the question of who abused who. I kind of think any suffering human being can be extended a measure of sympathy, so long as we keep perspective. I don’t wish harm to either side here.

  5. In Show Business the “Private” and the “Public” are never truly divided. Just think of Elizabeth Taylor Hilton Wilding Todd Fisher Burton Burton Warner Fortensky. The Burton maiiages alone were a vast spectacle in which the film that brought them together, “Cleopatra’ took a back seat to their off-screen shenanigans despite being the most elaborate and expensive film of its time. Actually of ANY time if you take in inflation.

  6. Daniel, yes, THAT I can fully agree with. “Men can be victims too” is an important part of the conversation, but regardless of the way it’s used in this case, I can well imagine we’re going to be hearing bogus claims of victimhood from male abusers inspired by Depp’s “success” here. There’s no reason to expect society to react in a sane or balanced way…

    Ophuls was inspired by the Burton-Taylor affair and the publicity around Judy Garland’s breakdowns to make Lola Montes, a film which has a lot to say about the destructiveness of celebrity culture.

  7. Tony Williams Says:

    DC. Ophuls died in 1957, LOLA MONTES appeared in 1955 so how could have been inspired by an affair that begun after he died?

  8. Good question! It must have been some earlier Liz Taylor story that animated his imagination. There was definitely something to do with her… I read it in one of Truffaut’s contemporaneous articles, but must have filed it under the wrong news event. Maybe her divorce from Michael Wilding?

  9. Tony Williams Says:

    Who knows, maybe Michael Wilding? I remember future Dame Anna Neagle becoming flustered when she found Liz avidly embracing a naked Michael and turning a blind eye like Nelson. I heard the tale from a Manchester press reporter in the 70s. They were married during 1952-57 so it would fit into your timeline

  10. So far, no one has mentioned Bogart and Mayo Methot — “The Battling Bogarts.” Nothing new under the celebrity sun.

  11. Fiona Watson Says:

    I agree that the repercussions of this trial will not all be good, and for lots of different reasons. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished reading Room 1219 by Greg Merritt, a fantastic analysis of the events of the Rappe/Arbuckle tragedy. It’s extemely even handed and meticulously researched. It’s conclusion lands in a grey area which feels as close to the truth as we’re ever going to get. Highly recommended.

  12. The mob hates nuance. Arbuckle was always portrayed as all guilty or all innocent. I don’t think anyone in the Depp-Heard case is wholly innocent, and the more I think about it I don’t think either should pay damages to the other, partly because the less they have to do with each other in future, the better for everyone.

  13. bensondonald Says:

    “The mob hates nuance.” True, but I’d put it a little less harshly. We all want straightforward things we can count on, from Newton’s laws to an assumption household appliances won’t explode. That extends to how we define right and wrong — we hate to allow exceptions, however valid they may be, for fear of the whole house of cards collapsing.

    For a long time — and to a large extent, still — American courts and other institutions worked from the assumption that any accusation by a woman is automatically dubious, especially if a “respectable” man or institution might suffer for it. The thinking appears to be that a hundred unprosecuted assaults is better than one innocent male being suspected. Worse, guilt is often weighed against the value of the man’s career and future (see Brock Turner).

    Beyond love or hate for the celebrities in question, or the facts of the case, the current public debate is really about defending or destroying that old status quo. Defenders of Depp may not even care about guilt, and defenders of Heard may read doubt of her as doubt of every woman. Both sides are thinking about the precedent, in law and in public opinion, to emerge.

    Arbuckle’s persecution was likewise less about the facts of the case than about moralists versus the movie industry. In the end it was a sort-of victory for Hollywood, which dodged government oversight by censoring itself and maintaining a sanitary facade. Arbuckle’s innocence was irrelevant — he likely would have been banned even if cleared in the first trial, since he was a symbol of Hollywood decadence.

  14. Yes.

    The Depp-Heard trial is bad for women, for sure. A friend on FB seems to be arguing that Depp shouldn’t have sued for that reason. That would certainly be very noble of him, if we assume for a moment he’s innocent. But I don’t think it’s realistic or fair to expect him to just shut up if he’s been wrongly accused.

  15. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Yeah, but when is Menilmontant going to be available?

  16. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    My own personal bias is pretty strong: I tend to believe IPV claims. However, this particular trial presents the relevant facts so clearly that all personal bias should fall away. The courtroom has proven itself here as an eminently and imminently fair domain.

  17. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Depp-Heard makes this anarchist want to hug lawyers!

  18. Even I wouldn’t go that far. I think usually, as soon as anything gets to trial, the chances of learning the truth about anything are close to zero. We can definitely see Depp’s expensive team working hard to warp reality wherever their client tends to look bad. But I agree that if you watch along, it gets very hard to believe the Heard side, which may be more due to her unfortunate tendency to improvise on the stand than to legal brilliance on the opposing side.

  19. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    You’re a Liberal. Anarchists adore truth — even when it emerges (spits) in a court of law.

  20. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I think Fiona gets it right.

  21. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Especially here: “FIONA: The reason my whole being has been consumed by this case is because I suffered psychological abuse at the hands of my mother, who was a covert narcissist. It’s been enormously triggering for me: I feel like I’ve aged a decade just watching it, but I can’t look away. And the reason for that, and the reason I imagine millions of other people (many of them abuse survivors no doubt) can’t look away, is the feeling that in this case the victim might get justice. But at the very least, the story is out there, and WE can see the mechanics of the abuser at work. We recognise them. It doesn’t matter that it’s a man being abused. #ME TOO should include everyone.”

  22. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Btw, this seems to be the consensus of the supposed “Mob”. Classism is not helpful and lacks nuance.

  23. Many of those following the news reports still think (or assume) Depp is guilty, because the news isn’t offering any interpretation of the evidence (which I guess is… responsible?) and because men are nearly always the abusers and accusers of IPV are nearly always truthful.

    So there are two different mobs in this case, and most of them are all-in on one side or the other. I’m not particularly enamoured of Depp and the case shows lawyers of both sides keen to distort the world’s perceptions. But I think anyone who followed it closely would see who the major abuser is.

  24. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Your last sentence — FINALLY! — that’s all that’s needed here.

  25. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    The audio recordings of Heard addressing her victim, after the fact — her parsings of “hit”, “slap” and “punch” delivered in regally condescending tones… Zounds.

  26. And the gaslighting that’s supposed to convince us that’s not what it clearly is…

  27. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Yup. This is why I appreciate Fiona’s “MECHANISM”!

  28. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Oh, “mechanics”…

  29. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    In a sense, the crummy lawyering Heard received, her transparently inept and corrupt “expert witnesses” — it all seemed of a piece. An extension of failed gaslighting.

  30. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I learned a bunch about institutional psychiatric practices: the built-in safeguards where diagnostic tests are concerned, and the ethical guidelines applicable to testimony by shrinks.

  31. “For a long time — and to a large extent, still — American courts and other institutions worked from the assumption that any accusation by a woman is automatically dubious, especially if a “respectable” man or institution might suffer for it.” Dylan Farrow anyone/

  32. I guess the Heard lawyers were doing what they could — get “experts” in who can just create a bunch of confusion, even if they can’t prove anything or even speak coherently. I worry that the whole adversarial system is wrong, especially when each side can just pay experts to say what they like.

  33. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    Bye Bye, Broadway Boogie-Woogie?

    Some quick context…

    In my book, “MoMA” = “Murders of Mondrian Amalgamated”. Harry Holtzman lured Mondrian to NY, then put him up in a cold-water flat, where he died of pneumonia. I have never forgiven the museum… And now? It’s a bloody orange disaster, folks. Ever-widening cracks and leeching from underlying reds have turned Mondrian’s erstwhile primary yellows… Orange. Did Piet prep paint poorly, or is this a curatorial failure? M and I are debating those questions. Another of MoMA’s Mondrian is unacceptably dingy so I suspect neglect — plus concomitant, crazy overcrowding and incessant photography (flash) by MoMA’s ticket-holding rednecks. But there are ameboid puddles leaching through BBW’s surface, and that suggests a Mondrian problem. A Vuillard could easily survive this damage. Here, the impact is absolute. The painting does not read, its meaning capital “N” Nullified. I rarely visit MoMA because of the awful behavior that the museum’s various airport redesigns inspire.

    So BBW may have been in this debased condition for a long time. You heard it here… last?

  34. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    No victory?

  35. Daniel Riccuito Says:

    I don’t think this legal case harms MeToo in the ways Liberal media tongue-heads worry over in their rather clueless assumption-making: “Now men will revert to dismissing women”, etc. What it MAY and SHOULD do is stop everyone, myself included, from presuming to know the facts before listening to them. Bigotry (yes, even bigotry on the Left) is a bad look.

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